Everyone knows the Seahawks' offensive line struggled mightily in their loss to Arizona, but one name I haven't really seen brought up a whole lot in the media is James Carpenter. Specifically, in reference to his possible impact on the loss in Arizona. In my opinion, the offensive line, as it's currently constructed is not strong enough to build successful pockets. Everyone on that line - save for Okung - is an influence blocker that does their best to control the momentum of the defender, but rarely are they going to stand in and finish a guy with strength.
I wrote about the best duos in Seahawks history last year, and my #1 duo was Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. Part of my reasoning was the fact that both men made each other better. However, I could have also expanded that thought, because in the whole picture, Walter and Steve made the entire line better. When you watch this team's best line of all time, you can't help but notice how both men impacted - especially in pass protection.
Walter and Steve gave you two guaranteed wins against whoever they were facing, in nearly every case. This left the right side with 3-4 blockers on 2-3 defenders. Robbie Tobbeck and Chris Gray were really finesse blockers, who, because the left side didn't need much - if any - help, essentially could double any defender or pick up blitzes with ease and with their combined skills. Blitzes were rarely successful and in 2005, with the breakthrough of tight end Jerramy Stevens, who could man-to-man block defensive ends, it made blitzes all but impossible.
I realize I'm taking the long route to get to my point, but please bear with me. I also hear you grinding your teeth. "Josh, Russell Okung and James Carpenter are not Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson." This I know.
Russell Okung and James Carpenter are two strong guys who, squared up and matched with the defender, should win and will have good shots at it (I assume Russell's struggles from last weekend are not indicative of a longer term problem). This ability will move down the line and allow the other linemen, who lack real strength, to play a bit differently. Even if they aren't Walter and Steve, they can have a similar impact on each other and the rest of the line.
My next point is a matter of a opinion, based on a guess and some proven fact - so please just take it as that. I believe if the Cardinals had not been blitzing so much, Russell Okung would not have had so many false starts. I also believe that if he's playing next to James Carpenter he doesn't play as poorly. The reason for this is pretty easy to understand. When being blitzed, a line will try and squeeze the line gaps and try to prevent lanes for free men. This is accomplished by having your tackles turn themselves in to a position to provide some protection for the gap between him and the guard, while also controlling their defender. This makes it hard for him to look at the football - which most tackles will do. He had to guess, and then be careful not to give too much ground in case there was a blitz in the gap between him and Paul McQuistan's.
If you put James in there, once he's ready... in my opinion, Russell Okung would then be more confident and probably not looking to get a jump, and can probably focus much more 1-on-1. It certainly allowed Walter Jones to get great jumps on the edge knowing he never had to turn in and help Steve repel a tough inside rush.
A reason this is so important is that it allows the pocket and edge to expand just a bit more and a rusher will have a longer route to the QB. In a matchup where you are outnumbered, it is almost preferable to force that to the edge or to a back or a motioning tight-end. This is almost impossible if your guards struggle to repel any interior pressure. The line not only must try to compress, but with flat edges, speed rushers will kill you.
An example of good interior pass protection is when you really see lines with much wider edges and a solid wedge in the middle, or pocket to step into. An archetypal example would be the Saints offensive line of the past few years. When you have to play with a compressed line to prevent interior pressure, this pocket cannot form, throwing lanes the QB would naturally account for don't appear and so he has to quickly find one on his own or pull it down. In most cases, the best lines filter pressure towards the edges and force rushers to take a longer route to the QB.
However, we have plenty of examples where guards can't stand up to rushes one on one and when gaps get challenged they need a lot of help. A series of examples of this was in the Seahawks' 2010 win against the Bears. Red Bryant played Left End and Right End on some key third downs, and his only job in these situations was to try and force his way into the G/T gaps. He manhandled the guards on those plays, forcing the tackles to stay in and help repel the interior rush or risk Red saying 'hi' to Jay Cutler's face or upper torso. This left nice flat edges for Jordan Babineaux and Roy Lewis and Lawyer Milloy to get easy or free rushes on Cutler. Had the guards been able to at least challenge Bryant's rush allowing the tackles to give even two or three steps of ground they could have picked up the rush just enough to have the outcome in doubt on these plays. It's a game of inches or in this case an angle and a couple of steps.
If you want to go back even further, Grant Wistrom was a master at forcing a play in this gap on a weak guard and helping flatten the edge for good ol' Julian Petersen. If you don't have some quality at guard on an interior rush it makes everyone's job harder down the line.
The hope here is that James Carpenter can be a guy on the interior that not only repels these tough rushes but does it on every down and forces teams to account for his strength. Of course, this is a very speculative, theoretical proposition and not a rock-solid prognosis, but consider the above before you think that the moving of James Carpenter to LG is a last-ditch, desperation move. Instead, it could be the exact right assessment of both line need and player fit that could result in a big upgrade.
Any offensive line will always be dependent, not just on the talent level of its parts, but also on how well they fit together. A good player might not be the right fit. This in turns affects the rest of the offense. Paul McQuistan is doing an OK job as a stopgap, but he's not the long-term answer at LG, and other than Carpenter no such answers present themselves on our roster. I don't know if he will be the answer, but I didn't see him look weak last year when engaged, I saw him look slow for his position, and that reinforces the belief that he may work out well at guard. Hard to know, but he looks the part.