*Disclaimer: Losing on the road by one score, in the always quirky Week 1 of the NFL season, in Lambeau Field, to an elite NFC team and one of the league’s all-time great quarterbacks … does not warrant knee-jerk panic and crisis mode. The sky is not falling, but there are alarming – and familiar -smoke signals that have already begun to rise. Thus, the Seattle Seahawks identity is in crisis.
Seattle Seahawks Identity Crisis
First, a look back at the 2016 Seattle Seahawks offense. In six of 16 games last season, they averaged 8.1 points per game. They had three games (at Los Angeles, at Arizona, and at Tampa Bay) where they failed to score a single touchdown. The notorious offensive line is routinely picked at like a never healed scab, and for good reason. But the problems go deeper than that.
What is the offense trying to be? Pete Carroll wants to run the ball, control the clock, wear teams down, and play ball control with the passing game by taking a few shots downfield here and there. However, the lack of a reliable offensive line and a running game neutralizes play action passes which quarterback Russell Wilson used to thrive in. Marshawn Lynch was the heart of the offense during his tenure in Seattle. Since his departure, the offense has struggled.
The huge problem for the Seahawks is they don’t have the personnel to be a ball control, power run team. The addition of running back Eddie Lacy in free agency already appears to be a mistake. Lacy is best served being able to get a head of steam and bulldoze defenders. The Seahawks zone blocking scheme and Lacy’s lack of quickness into the hole don’t seem to be a great fit. The return of running back Thomas Rawls and the continued development of rookie runner Chris Carson do provide some cause for optimism.
Philosophically, the organization has invested in an elite defense and a franchise quarterback. Tight end Jimmy Graham counts $10 million against the cap. They have chosen offensive line to be the position that does not get free agent dollars. Compounding the problem, the team is always very good and has reached the Divisional round of the playoffs the last five seasons. What that means is they draft in the bottom third of the first-round every season – where elite offensive line talent rarely exists.
Of the top 12 cap hits on the team, defenders account for nine. Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Michael Bennett, free safety Earl Thomas, newly acquired defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, linebacker K.J. Wright, safety Kam Chancellor, defensive end Cliff Avril, and cornerback Jeremy Lane account for 57% of the team’s contract commitments. 10 of 53 roster spots are consuming more than half of the salary cap.
Attempts To Fix The Offensive Line
In free agency last spring, the team was very close to signing guard T.J. Lang, formerly of the Green Bay Packers. Lang opted to sign with his hometown Detroit Lions. They signed former top-pick Luke Joeckel from the Jacksonville Jaguars, now the starting left guard. Projected left tackle George Fant bulked up and worked on the basics of footwork and recognition during the off-season (Fant tore his ACL in the second pre-season game and is out for the year). Veteran Oday Aboushi signed from the Houston Texans. The team also spent a second-round draft pick on versatile linemen Ethan Pocic from Louisiana State. They moved former first-round pick Germain Ifedi to right tackle.
Carroll, general manager John Schneider, and offensive line coach Tom Cable were all speaking the same optimistic tone during training camp. This group is better, we like what we have, we are going to get back to running the ball well.
Here is a look at how that looked in the first game against Green Bay, not exactly a “murderer’s row” defensive front:
— Dick Fain (@dickfain) September 10, 2017
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Elite NFL defensive fronts are going to cave this line in, without considerable changes put into place.
Of course, it was just one game. Weird things tend to happen in the first week of the NFL season. Lack of reps, teams not playing their starters much in the pre-season, and other factors tend to lead to a little rust and anomaly-like performances. The Seahawks line could come out this week and give Wilson perfect pockets, and clear holes for 200 yards rushing.
However, this gets back to offensive identity. The teams top three wide receivers – Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Paul Richardson – are all smallish and quick. Behind a “challenged” (trying to be civil) line, why is offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell calling plays that have seven-step drop routes? Why not designed roll-outs for Wilson, getting him mobile (where he is at his best) and allowing his quick receivers to maneuver in space?
The red zone is the Seahawks offense Achilles Heel, despite having a 6’7″ elite play maker in Graham. He draws lots of coverage from defenses near the goal line (rightfully so), so why aren’t other options open? Bevell still shows no real solid grasp on exactly how to employ Graham. They try to use him as an in-line blocking tight end, but he is not and never will be. He should truly be considered a wide out and should be deployed accordingly.
Where are the screen passes? Angle routes, swings, and floods to running backs? Draws and counter-draws? If teams are going to bring pressure, you have to make them pay. There is no singular reason for the offense to continually struggle. However, significantly improved game plans to marginalize deficiencies, instead of exacerbating them, are in order.
Sense of Urgency
The real shame of it all is the franchise is wasting the prime years of Wilson’s career. This is the second straight season (plus) the offensive line looks to be a major stumbling block. The Seahawks compensated for it down the stretch in 2015, when Rawls burst onto the scene in relief of Lynch and Wilson caught fire. Wilson ended 2015 as the NFL’s top-rated passer, which a rating of 110.1. He threw a franchise record 34 touchdowns (with only eight interceptions) and had a 68% completion percentage. Carroll and Bevell would be wise to go back and look at some of his game plans from that stretch.