I was just able to finish catching up with the Seahawks-Raiders game this week and I am thoroughly impressed with how much the play of the offensive line has improved overall. In only the second year of Cable's tutelage, the Seahawks have shown tremendous production and potential within the running game - and only in a time span of about 14 months. Not only do I consider this impressive towards the PC/JS building/development of the team, but it speaks a lot about how effective and influential the overall scheme and coaching staff is on their players. Even in the NFL, where pure athleticism and natural ability is considered the norm, even the best players of the league are in their place today due to coaching itself.
The Seahawks offensive line is probably the most conclusive piece of evidence that I think tells a lot about how much of the culture has changed since the team was rebuilt in 2010. Even compared to the end of last year, where the OL was riding on a streak of dominance, the unit has shown me how much it has improved, albeit just in the little things. Some of those I think are especially notable:- The biggest improvement I saw is how - instead of just getting their hands on a guy and simply trying to "zone" them away from the area - Seahawk players are now actually getting into the defender themselves. To clarify, since the zone blocking scheme is not a direct result of man-on-man, the offensive lineman is not necessarily subjected to blocking a specific linebacker or defensive tackle. This, in turn, is sometimes a bit confusing at first, primarily because a play can still be run as it's designed even if an offensive lineman does not get block a man at all. A lineman just has to be in the area of a defender. This is a bad habit I noticed last year, but I think this has improved already during the preseason this year. It makes a big difference, even if you just get your body onto another defender instead of simply being in his way.
- In addition to that, I think the unit itself has become much more confident, in general. The whole O-Line is a lot more in-sync, going right off the snap and attacking on point to a specific area/defender, while rarely hesitating in deciding who/what to do/block, specifically. This is a trait that can only be learned through experience, and it certainly shows how much the players have matured from their rough beginnings in 2011 last year.
- Such maturity has also shown within the "meaner" and "nasty" aspect of the ZBS as well. It's no secret to know that Cable demands a lot out of his unit, physically, and has continuously stressed that they must be punishing and relentless. The team has embraced such truths in 2011, albiet maybe too well with the continuous frustrating, drive stalling penalties. Again, this has become less of an issue in preseason 2012, and it shows with the level of play the first unit and second unit had in the past four games.
- That's not to say that the O-Line has gotten soft, far from it. What Cable has achieved is a sense of nastiness controlled with discipline. Since the ZBS is a scheme of sideline-to-sideline running instead of a typical north-south, the defenders typically have to move with the play/offense in order to have a chance to stop it. This "wave" movement is extremely disadvantageous to defenders, as they not only have to hold their ground against the defender, but are also forced to move along with the play or else open up a potential cutback lane. In turn, this allows a TE like Anthony McCoy to make plays like these:
- McCoy makes square contact with the defender 5 yards away from the line of scrimmage, proceeds to get the inside shoulder turned on him, then gets leverage inside and drives him to the ground and away from the play. Three step drive block, almost text book like. The FS, counted on holding the edge on the outside, was more focused on forcing the play into the sideline. McCoy takes advantage of this wholeheartedly and bulldozes his ass to the turf. This is pure classy nastiness right here.
- I thought the "starting" O-Line of Okung-McQuistan-Unger-Moffitt-Giacomini has delivered as advertised (when on the field - Moffitt has been hurt). Giacomini is probably the weakest link out of the five, in my opinion, perhaps due to his leaner frame. Still, he's good in run blocking and does good work in setting up the edge against the pass. However, he doesn't posses enough athleticism to be consistently effective against a pure pass rusher like Jason Babin, and he needs to work on getting good leverage in order to compensate for his leaner frame. (See: McCoy, Anthony)
- Unger seems to have gotten a lot stronger lately. Rarely has he gotten pushed back by large DT's, and had good games against the 3-4 defense Chiefs and pass blocking against the DT rushing duo of Jurell Casey-Karl Klug of the Titans. See one of the highlights here.
- The play of JR Sweezy has been impressive, but I think he's still a good two years away from handling a first or second string comfortably. While he has shown flashes of dominance on the run he's still raw from playing at a completely different position. Playing inside already limited his pass blocking deficiencies and potential holds. On the Unger play above, Sweezy was beaten off the LOS by the DT and actually driven back before the block itself was shed. Sweezy's also only 298 pounds, which, even by ZBS standards, is a bit on the light extreme. I think he'll bulk up to the 310, 315 next year before he gets any regular season action.
- Of the pass rushers Russell Okung faced off in the preseason, there was one whom he dominated, one whom he did solid against and there were two in which he struggled with. In order, he was tacked against Kamerion Wimbley, Elvis Dumervil, Tamba Hali and most recently, Matt Shaughnessy. Can you guess which players belong to which category?
- Speaking on Russell Okung, I find it ridiculous that he always draw comparisons to Walter Jones. I know he's the natrual successor to Big Walt, but only Walter Jones can be Walter Jones. Russell Okung can't be, and ever won't be Walter Jones, both in terms of play-ability, looks, etc. In two injury-shortened seasons, Okung has shown splashes of what Walter Jones used to look like, but not everybody can be Walter Jones in anchoring the whole left side against the likes of Dumervil and Hali consistently and effectively. However, Okung allowed no sacks in that of span time, even if he did have to do it illegally, and that's already something notable.
- Finally, I am anxious about our depth overall on the line. Lemuel Jeanpierre, who started the last few games of the season at RG after Moffitt was injured, was pretty solid against 2nd stringers and completely dominant against the thirds. But that's only one man, and between Frank Omiyale and Sweezy, I am hesitant about any one of our five getting injured. Still, we do have plenty of guys in the market that have backed up or been at camp with the Hawks, so if worse comes to worse, at least we won't have another 2009 situation.
On the running backs and their style of play in general:
- Marshawn Lynch is Marshawn Lynch. Not really expecting any actual analysis there are you?
- Actually, Lynch really hasn't changed much from his style in 2011. More so that he has continued such style and commitment as he did in the later half we saw. Expect a faster pace and more effective running with a experienced line and another year under the helm.
- Robert Turbin looks to be the steal of the draft right now. We talked about him earlier - about how he quickly responded to the challenges of adjusting to the ZBS. He has been hitting the holes more decisively and quickly week-by-week. I have absolute confidence in him filling in for Marshawn should the latter be suspended/injured.
- It's funny, but Turbin is actually sort of like "mini-Beast". While him and Marshawn may not share the same running style (as we've discussed extensively before), they are also eerily similar in some aspects. Like Marshawn, Turbin seems to have a knack of making defenders miss and not going down on first contact.
- Turbin also seems to get a lot of looks in the passing game, which was a element I thought the the Seahawks underutilized last year. While it's true that we never really had a "true" receiving RB since the days of Maurice Morris, it's always easy to forget that Turbin has great hands and was frequently thrown to for a RB (67 catches combined throughout three years). Add to the ability that Turbin has in making people miss on the first try and his explosiveness off the ball, and it's safe to say that I think he would be consistently used on swing routes or screens.
- What I don't like about Turbin is his ability to run downhill. Now this might sound surprising to you, but the fact of the matter is Turbin fell face forwards on the turf many times during preseason. This might come close to nitpicking, but I really believe that Turbin has "home run" power and could've turned many 5-10 yard runs into something more had he kept his feet up. Again, not that much of a negative, and more nitpicking.
- I think Leon Washington's skills on pass blocking and special teams are what attracts the Seahawks, not his running ability. Granted, he has improved a lot from his short-comings in 2011, and again this is due to the rigor and discipline of the ZBS for the RB's role. Washington definitely seemed more confident in hitting the hole, and to me I think he's the most disciplined runner out of the group. Whereas Turbin might always lose his feet and Lynch might blindly run into defenders at times just to stiff-arm them, Washington definitely tries to out maneuver people and avoid most defenders when possible. If Lynch is power and Turbin is moves, then Washington would be shifty.
- Kregg Lumpkin is also shifty. He does hit the hole accurately and quickly, which is probably what Cable saw a lot as well. He isn't a Lynch clone, more of a Turbin-lite. Lumpkin also reads the play very well patient enough to let it develop before hitting on the opportunity. See an example here.