The Seahawks' Issues With Pass Protection, Part II

I have seen a lot of criticism leveled at J.R. Sweezy's NFL debut as the Seahawks' starting right guard. He had a tough matchup -- Darnell Dockett is probably the best 3-tech DT that the Seahawks will face all season, as Pete Carroll framed it -- and predictably, interior pressure was a problem all game long. While I don't think Sweezy was particularly effective in his first game as a rookie, in his first game as an offensive player, I also think it's a bit presumptuous to assume that putting John Moffitt back in there is going to solve all the problems the Seahawks had with pass protection on Sunday. I went back and took a closer look at many/most of the plays in which protection issues were apparent -- both forced scrambles and sacks -- and the blame, in my opinion, can be spread out to pretty evenly to every player on the line, save for maybe Max Unger. I didn't really see any egregious miscues on his part, though I certainly could have missed something.

I noticed specific plays where Breno Giacomini completely whiffed, where Paul McQuistan was overwhelmed, and where Russell Okung looked outmatched. Sweezy appeared to have some assignment miscues that exacerbated these problems, but it wasn't like he was the weak link. The whole line struggled. Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett were major disrupting forces on the inside. More importantly though, the Cardinals used delayed linebacker blitzes and creative overloads to cause assignment breakdowns.

As Mike Sando (t/c to Greetings) pointed out, Arizona blitzed (rushed 5+ defenders) on 50% of passing plays in Week 1, which was second-most in the NFL. They blitzed on 53.3% of 1st down snaps and 66.7% of 3rd down snaps -- "They pressured us a majority of the times, numbers-wise, more so than anybody we've seen them play," Pete Carroll told reporters Monday, Sando notes. "They had a real intent to mix it up and take their chances, and we weren't able to really take advantage of that. Sometimes they'd become vulnerable, but they held on pretty well, they covered well, and made it tough all day long passing wise." An ability to beat the blitz is going to be one major area that Russell Wilson will be judged upon over the next few weeks, because it seems likely teams will bring the heat until he shows he can make you pay.

Regardless -- it's more than a rookie right guard being overwhelmed. It was a line-wide issue. Let's take a look at a couple of plays.

1-5-SEA 22 (:27 1st Q) R.Wilson sacked at SEA 17 for -5 yards (P.Lenon).

This first play, the last play of the first quarter, is really pretty simple, from a schematic standpoint, by the Cardinals. It's not heavy motion prior to the snap like I broke down this morning; it's just a simple delayed rush. Below - I kind of screwed up the graphics a bit - but the middle linebacker is going to blitz on the snap. He'll come scott-free through the C-gap. I'm not sure what the line call here is or what the assignments are, but Breno Giacomini pretty much just turns his back on the rush - this might have been by design.

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Whether it was, in fact, by design or not, Breno can't see the linebacker rushing through the rather large hole in the line. Russell Wilson is supposed to dump it off to Michael Robinson here so it's entirely possible this was a bait move (similar to a screen) on the line's part. One problem is that Marshawn Lynch doesn't set up a strong enough block and the outside linebacker out in space, below, which takes away the throwing lane enough to get Russell Wilson to hesitate on the throw.

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Above, you can see Robinson looking for the pass but the throwing lane gets muddied. That second of hesitation is all it takes. Sack. This moment of hesitation may have contributed to several of Wilson's decisions, later in the game, as he looked to quickly throw into tight windows on called bubble screens. At least two ended up being thrown backwards, and one was dropped and recovered by the Cardinals deep in Seahawks' territory.

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Moving to much later in the game -- late fourth quarter. Crunch time.

2-6-SEA 35 (3:49 4th Q) R.Wilson sacked at SEA 27 for -8 yards (P.Lenon).

This play looks like what was supposed to be a mini-rollout on play-action - not necessarily out of the pocket, but a quasi-bootleg right on down-blocks by the offensive line to the left. Whatever it was supposed to be is tough to gauge, as the play is almost immediately broken.

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Above, you can see where each lineman will block. Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy are set up tight right, and will engage with the outside linebacker to that side. I assume this is to give Wilson time and protection on the rollout.

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On the snap, J.R. Sweezy downblocks on NT Dan Williams, aiding C Max Unger. Breno Giacomini is slow off the snap and Darnell Dockett knifes through immediately. I have no real way of knowing if this was a miscommunication /assignment gaffe by Sweezy or a very poor jump by Giacomini, but the outcome is obvious.

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Below, Wilson fakes the handoff and looks to rollout and throw. Dockett is in his face immediately, and so he evades and scrambles. Dockett whiffs, but It's called a sack as Paris Lenon cleans up the trash.

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A short while later. The Seahawks final drive...

3-5-ARZ 26 (1:05 4th Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson sacked at ARZ 27 for -1 yards (D.Washington).

Wilson in shotgun on 3rd down. The Cardinals will bring a double A-gap blitz here, but Unger and Lynch pick it up nicely. Too bad Paul McQuistan blows his block completely.

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Ball is snapped. You can see below that Calais Campbell administers a whip/club move to McQuistan and it's all over. McQuistan's balance is forward, and Campbell is into the backfield quickly.

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Above, despite a six-man rush, you can see that Unger, Sweezy and Lynch are holding the line. McQuistan is badly beat though. God, you never like to see a lineman chasing a defender into the pocket, as seen in the photo below.

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Wilson scrambles but gets nowhere.

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This is a small sample, sure. These were the three official sacks the Cardinals registered on the day, but pressure came almost constantly. Sweezy had some miscues, Breno looked a beat slow at times, Okung was hobbled and collected three false-start penalties. I trust that offensive line coach Tom Cable will make some adjustments this week, but it certainly wasn't the start Seattle fans had been hoping for from the offensive line unit.

As with any game -- some of these pressures and that first sack in particular can be attributed to quarterback play. Wilson, for a large part of the game, did look like a rookie. It's tough to know how big of a factor Wilson's pre-snap reads were during the game, and you have to assume he struggled in that area of the game - but Arizona was damn near relentless in their blitz schemes and the Seahawks' offensive line, for a large part of the game, didn't have a great answer.

Now -- on the Seahawks' final drive -- Wilson did make some tough, contested throws from the pocket in the face of pressure that were encouraging - one to Braylon Edwards for a first down on an out-route to the sideline, one to Charly Martin for a first down down the seam, and he utilized his check down to Marshawn Lynch on another occasion for a third first down.

He hit Zach Miller on a hitch route to the right sideline that gained 9 yards. He hit Braylon Edwards on another to the left sideline for 8 yards. He hit Marshawn Lynch in the flats for a 5 yard gain. He developed a rhythm and used the whole field. He utilized his weapons and got the ball out quickly. Two pass interference calls aided things - the back-shoulder throw to Rice and an early hit on Braylon Edwards - neither of which were controversial in my mind, but make no mistake, Wilson made some big time throws on that drive too. This is what he'll have to do against Dallas. He who hesitates is lost.

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