Seahawks Offensive Line: Oh God, We're All Going to Die

The Seahawks got about as thorough a trashing as you can get in the preseason. Preseason is just preseason, and I couldn't care less about the final score, or about the fact that Tarvaris Jackson led a scoring drive by throwing to Sidney Rice and Mike Williams over the Denver Broncos 2nd team defense. I do care about how hopelessly outmatched the Seahawks looked, particularly in one of the most important areas of the NFL: pass rush. Our defense didn't get much except from stunts until Tim Tebow came in, and the offense was giving it up in spades, albeit to the likes of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. As a side note, not having seen much Tebow last year, I'm kind of surprised by how little progress he's made, he still has no pocket presence and an ugly throwing motion, this guy barely plays at a backup level.

Protection and QB play is often brought down to an either-or question where either one is to blame, in this case an obvious excuse for Tarvaris' play comes from horrible offensive line play. That's certainly valid to an extent but it's a simplification, there's always an interplay between the line and the quarterback (though it's worth noting it doesn't look like Tarvaris is making the protection calls on this line, it looks like Max Unger is, with help from Robert Gallery). In fact, an obvious answer is available for us after this game: it's not either-or, it's both. Both our offensive line and quarterback are playing well below the NFL level. Tarvaris missing wide-open reads and lack of pocket presence doesn't help the offensive line anymore than getting beaten up play after play helps Tarvaris establish a rhythm.

Going back over the first half with a fine-tooth comb, here's a bunch of plays that stood out:

2-10-SEA 25 (12:28) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete short right to Z.Miller [V.Miller].
Both Tyler Polumbus and Robert Gallery attempt to cutblock on Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. There's no pressure otherwise but the two sandwich Tarvaris. The commentator notes "everybody covered", which is patently incorrect, Obomanu is open for an inside throw on the LoS though he would not have likely taken it anywhere, but Tarvaris is staring him down while to his right Zach Miller is running a drag route with no one on him, constantly looking back for the pass that never comes. In fact, the commentators were prone to go "no one open" even when you could tell from the TV broadcast that people were, in fact, open. The incomplete is thrown into the dirt about five yards away from Zach, not sure how that wasn't grounding. It's also a jump-pass.

3-10-SEA 25 (12:22) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete short right [R.Ayers].
Zach Miller is lined up behind and outside of Polumbus, and picks up his guy (Dumervil) surprisingly well. Polumbus reacts late to linebacker DJ Williams and is in a bad position to stop him, but at least delays him. Gallery double-teams Unger's guy before almost changing his mind to help out Polumbus, he really doesn't do much. It doesn't really matter since on the right side, James Carpenter does a little half-step backwards, apparently expecting Miller to come straight at him, and Miller uses the allowed space to run around him for a near-sack.

1-10-SEA 41 (10:06) T.Jackson pass incomplete short left to J.Forsett (A.Goodman).
Broncos threaten the blitz but rush four with Von Miller dropping back in sorta-coverage on Zach Miller. Tarvaris telegraphs his read to Force who is immediately double-covered, while Sidney Rice is running an out with single-coverage and Mike William is freed up on a go route, with no one on him. Throw it that way and this play is big, but T-Jax never looks that way. Regardless, the protection is really good. Polumbus goes up one-on-one with Dumervil. The Broncos shift their line pre-snap and end up doing a little switch play with Bunkley and Ayers. Unger, John Moffitt and Carpenter respond sharply, Carpenter handing off Ayers to the Moffitt-and-Unger double-team and picking up Bunkley well on-one-on. Gallery is getting bulled back a bit but Tarvaris has time.

3-4-DEN 42 (8:03) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete short right to L.Washington [J.Mays].
Broncos shifted to a 4-3 under, with our strongside being on the offensive. Zach Miller picks up Dumervil on his own (he looked pretty good in pass protection all game), but this leaves Polumbus next to him with no one to block. Meanwhile, as the Broncos have three men on our weakside every blocker there is occupied. Miller and Ayers in particular occupy Carpenter and Moffit, and while they do well on their individual assignments this play allows the middle linebacker to come in unblocked at the quarterback, forcing the errant pass. This play highlights the lack of communication in our line well, which is an expected problem with a brand-new line.

2-9-SEA 47 (5:31) T.Jackson pass short middle to L.Washington to DEN 45 for 8 yards (K.Vickerson).
This one I'm just taking out to note two things: yes, we threw some nasty, nasty cutblocks, particularly one by Gallery on this play. But more noteworthy was Paul McQuistan coming in for the RG spot, and staying in for the rest of the drive. McQuistan got a few reps as swing depth at RG and RT, it's good to see the FO test our depth. Breno Giacomini also played some RT with the 1sts later in the 2nd quarter.

2-14-DEN 44 (3:57) L.Washington left end to DEN 34 for 10 yards (W.Woodyard).
This one is noticeable for both Gallery and McQuistan pulling out and blocking fairly well in space, and BMW doing really well blocking Goodman to free up space for Washington. Woodyard makes the tackle after Gallery has to let him go rather than hold, but he wouldn't have made the tackle but for Dawkins stopping Washington in his tracks.

1-10-SEA 20 (12:27) T.Jackson sacked at SEA 14 for -6 yards (sack split by W.Woodyard and E.Dumervil).
McQuistan is in at RT, with Moffitt next to him. Dumervil runs past him and McQuistan doesn't look his way (it's not his assignment) instead picking up Kevin Vickerson. Gallery is pulling from left to right behind the line and Leon Washington makes an appearance as well but both hesitate to touch Dumervil. Tarvaris flees the pocket the moment he hears Dumervil's footsteps. Woodyard is coming in off a delayed blitz from the offensive right, and McQuistan looks to pick him up after passing on Vickerson but never properly gets his hands on him. Dumervil and Woodyard wrap it up together.

McCoy, Washington and Miller stayed back to block. Rice and BMW are both covered (according to the commentators, but I'll buy it this time), so Tarvaris simply didn't have a passing option. He tries to scramble but there's too many Bronco and Seahawk bodies around him.

2-10-SEA 20 (8:46) T.Jackson sacked at SEA 15 for -5 yards (V.Miller).
Carpenter is back in after being subbed by McQuistan for a while. The first thing he does in pass pro is step back while going complete upright and let Von Miller get in his face. He never gets his hands on Miller to move him to the outside as he should when backpedalling like that. Bad, bad technique.

3-15-SEA 15 (8:11) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short left to B.Obomanu to SEA 15 for no gain (R.Ayers).
Jackson takes the snap and immediately stares at Obomanu. At least three Broncos read the pass before it happens, and Obomanu barely has a shot to make it to the line of scrimmage. Rice threw a nice cut block on one of the Broncos, but that doesn't really matter when there's a half dozen more incoming.

1-10-SEA 20 (6:22) T.Jackson pass short right to M.Williams to SEA 26 for 6 yards
McQuistan is playing RG, Giacomini RT. Good blocking all around, and a well-timed block by Forsett on the free rusher Dumervil buys Jackson enough time to complete the pass to Williams.

2-4-SEA 26 (5:49) T.Jackson pass incomplete short right to S.Rice (C.Vaughn).
A bootleg. Tarvaris doesn't look good throwing in the run yet the bootleg looks like a better option than the 3/5-step drop plant-and-throws we've been calling. But it doesn't work too well when Unger and Gallery ineffectually flail at Dumervil and let him run in free.

3-4-SEA 26 (5:43) (Shotgun) T.Jackson sacked at SEA 19 for -7 yards (E.Dumervil).
Speaking of Dumervil, he runs a little stunt inside here. Unger tries to pick him up but is bulled back even with Washington trying to help him out. Joe Mays is right behind him after beating the hell out of Polumbus. Rice is wide open but Jackson has that deer in the headlights look. Get used to it.

A few observations:

Polumbus/Unger not the worst: if you'd put the line Polumbus-Gallery-Unger-Moffitt-Carpenter in front of me a month ago, I would've picked Polumbus and Unger as the biggest concerns. They really weren't. Carpenter is kind of the fall guy for this game but with good reason. He has looked underwhelming right from the first week of preseason and that didn't change this game. Gallery continues to be a problem in pass protection, though he didn't stand out as much this game as the last.

Replacing Polumbus with Okung is not the answer for this offensive line's woes, but it will make a big difference. While Polumbus wasn't the worst, he still wasn't very good, and the gap between him and Okung is huge. The return of Okung should allow much more flexibility in scheming extra protection to the weaker right (the TE lined up next to Polumbus quite a lot), and designing plays to exploit the stronger left (assuming Gallery picks up his game).

Interior line isn't holding the point: While you may have noted an absence of the interior line on blown blocks, they're not exactly getting passing grades here either. As a unit, while Moffitt and Unger were probably our best offensive linemen, they weren't getting a lot of push, and there often wasn't a pocket for Tarvaris to step in to as the interior was bulled back. However, when there was a pocket, Tarvaris often wouldn't step into it. If you want a positive, that can be ascribed to lack of playing time together. If you want a negative, it could be Tarvaris' pocket presence and movement is awful.

Carpenter is not moving to guard: I've been seeing some speculation on this, but it's not happening. That's not to say it can never happen, but Carpenter's problems aren't due to the position he's playing and a switch would be detrimental to his current development, not a solution. It is however possible that if he continues this way he'll be moved in favor of Polumbus or McQuistan (a veteran who played under Cable in Oakland, if sparingly), but our line would otherwise remain intact, which would kick him to the bench.

Tarvaris looks bad: Now that the 3rd game of the pre-season is behind us, it's fair to say we're not seeing much of Tarvaris Jackson's system experience advantage, and he looks like he'll actively compete for worst QB in the NFL. I don't know if Whitehurst is much better, but Tarvaris' lack of quality play is disappointing, if not surprising to those of us who went back to watch footage of him playing behind the porous Vikings O-line in 2010. That doesn't mean I'm changing my opinion that I expect Tarvaris to start week 1, having him in with the 1s to score against the Broncos 2nd team probably helped quiet the critics a bit, and PC is sticking with his plan. Tarvaris' system experience should ideally become more noticeable as the team has more experience together, and with the offensive gameplan becoming more complex.

This line still needs time: Trite, isn't it? But it's true, and it's the song and dance we'll be doing for at least half a season. Despite the bad performance the talent is still there. The rotating in of McQuistan and Giacomini shows the coaches aren't too pleased about our right side either. We might see some personnel changes, but shaking things up too much at this point just isn't the smart thing to do, not with this much unproven talent on the line. There's a lot of ugly growing pains incoming, but they're unavoidable.

Despite my panic-mongering headline (which wasn't intended to be taken seriously), we're still a ways away from drawing definitive conclusions on this offensive line. The addition of multiple rookies and a new coach on a short off-season means we should've expected a lot of ugliness. I don't think many of us expected it to get this ugly, but it's not shocking that it does. Now Cable needs to show he truly is a good Oline-coach, as is his reputation, and steadily improve this offensive line's play from week 1 onwards. We can at least say there's lots of room to grow.

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