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A breakdown of the Seahawks offensive line and if Tom Cable should be on the hot seat

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Does Seattle's offensive line coach deserve to be in hot water?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have an embarrassment of riches on their roster, especially on defense. On offense, their depth chart at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end looks sterling as training camp approaches. The main issue with Seattle’s player personnel, as it seems to be on an annual basis, is the confusion surrounding the offensive line and how it will fare once the season begins.

It is common opinion, at this point, that the offensive line will begin training camp as Garry Gilliam at left tackle, Mark Glowinski at left guard, Germain Ifedi at right guard and J’Marcus Webb at right tackle. Center is up for grabs and will be fought for by incumbent starter Patrick Lewis, former right tackle and left guard Justin Britt and rookie Joey Hunt.

If Lewis doesn’t win the battle at center, there won’t be a single positional starter carrying over from 2015. The beginning of last season got off to a terrible start of 0-2 due to offensive line inexperience, rendering the Seahawks unable to run block worth a damn or pass protect for Russell Wilson. Seattle was on pace to give up the most sacks in a season ever during the first half of 2015.

Last season definitely wasn’t the first time that the offensive line has been an issue for the Seahawks. In 2013, there were games where opposing defensive linemen lived in Seattle’s backfield, wrecking plays before they even began.

Seattle’s offensive line coach Tom Cable has been the frequent recipient of blame from intrepid internet commenters.

Notice that all three tweets are from different years. It’s not an uncommon sighting on Twitter to see people calling for Cable’s head. But is he the one truly to blame for Seattle’s offensive line woes over the last three seasons? Let’s dig into this.

THE PERSONNEL

The first thing to look at when discerning Cable’s responsibility in all of this is whether or not he is given enough capital to work with and mold into a capable unit.

According to Field Gulls' own Evan Hill, the Seahawks currently allocate 8% of their cap space towards the offensive line, lowest in the league. This is, of course, after losing Russell Okung to the Broncos in free agency. When Okung was still on contract, there was a higher percentage of the cap spent on the line, but it is obvious that offensive line spending is not Seattle’s top priority. Their foremost objective when filling up the cap is, predictably, funneling money towards defense, which takes up 57%. Because of Pete Carroll’s defensive mindset and the organization’s determination of where funds are most valuably allotted, the most practical way for the team to gain talent on the offensive line is not through free agency – it is through the draft.

Though Carroll has inevitably had to adapt his mindset over the years on numerous fronts, it has been clear throughout his tenure in Seattle that he values defense over all else. Let’s take a look at the draft capital that the Seahawks have invested in the offensive line over the Pete Carroll era.

Offensive Line Picks 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
1st Round Russell Okung James Carpenter - - - - Germain Ifedi
2nd Round - - - - Justin Britt - -
3rd Round - John Moffitt - - - - Rees Odhiambo
4th Round - - - - - Mark Glowinski, Terry Poole -
5th Round - - - - - - -
6th Round - - - - Garrett Scott Kristjan Sokoli Joey Hunt
7th Round - - J.R. Sweezy Ryan Seymour, Michael Bowie - - -
Undrafted Lemuel Jeanpierre - Rishaw Johnson Alvin Bailey, Jared Smith Garry Gilliam - George Fant, Lene Maiava

Cable’s tenure as a Seahawk began in 2011, but for the sake of things, we’ll include linemen added in 2010, as Seattle invested a first round pick in Okung that season. Before the 2016 draft, Seattle had selected 11 offensive linemen, an average of approximately 1.83 per year. This number would obviously be higher if we factor in the three linemen drafted this year.

This value might be misleading, as Ryan Seymour, Garrett Scott, Terry Poole and Kristjan Sokoli have not seen any playing time, while Glowinski has played all of one game. Then again, every draft pick is a valued commodity that coaches don’t see as a waste at the time. There is no reason to ignore them, as the intention to invest is visible.

Overall, there have been 297 offensive linemen (excluding converted positions, which are so few and far between that it doesn’t skew the mean significantly) drafted across the league since 2010. Over seven years and 32 teams, that is an average of approximately 1.33 linemen drafted per team per year. The Seahawks draft a half of a lineman more than the rest of the league averages per season. Even if we ignore the picks of Ryan Seymour and Garrett Scott, Seattle still averages 1.5 linemen drafted per year, above the league average.

Seattle has also brought in seven undrafted free agents since 2010; Lemuel Jeanpierre, Alvin Bailey and Garry Gilliam have all seen notable playing time since joining the organization, denoting the fact that no matter the method of acquisition, all linemen obtained by Seattle are important cogs in the machine.

All of the information above indicates that Cable has no shortage of moldable talent coming under his tutelage. The question then becomes a dichotomy of whether the organization is passable at identifying offensive line talent in the draft or if Cable himself is just subpar at developing line talent.

James Carpenter is a perfect example. I’m not a huge Pro Football Focus fan, but we’ll use their numbers for the sake of quantification. Receiving negative grades in all four seasons in Seattle, Carpenter’s first year as a member of the Jets resulted in a positive grade of 81.2. In comparison, Mike Iupati earned an 81.9 grade in 2015. Carpenter seriously outplayed his career average output, leading to the notion that these players have talent – they just aren’t being developed or they don’t fit the scheme.

John Schneider has come out and said that the Seahawks aren’t going to draft someone that Tom Cable doesn’t like as a prospect, so Cable possesses a good amount of influence in who the organization acquires. This leads to the conclusion that whether it’s a scouting issue or a developmental issue, either way it falls squarely on Cable’s shoulders.

HEALTH

Something to consider when judging Seattle’s offensive line woes is the health of the unit; Okung, Carpenter and Max Unger battled injuries throughout their tenures as Seahawks; Giacomini missed a lot of time in 2013; Britt wasn’t healthy much of 2015; J.R. Sweezy would sit out a game or two here and there.

When running a zone blocking scheme like the Seahawks do, adjacent linemen need to trust each other and have a good feel for their linemates’ blocking tendencies. This leads to continuity being the most vital quality of a solid zone blocking line. With so much discontinuity on the line scattered throughout Cable’s reign as the Pacific Northwest’s trench lord, it is easy to point to injuries and say that this is the cause for Seattle’s struggles along the line.

Unluckily, linemen that the Seahawks have drafted are injury prone players Okung has never played a full season, peaking at 15 games in 2012 and averaging 12 starts per year since 2010. Carpenter played in 16 games for the only time in 2013, only 10 of which were starts.

It is puzzling, though, that the injury bug hasn’t reared its ugly head a lot of the time in the NCAA. Both Okung and Carpenter had never missed a start in college before being drafted and struggling with durability in Seattle.

Intrigue is amplified by the fact that Carpenter started all 16 games at left guard for the Jets in 2015. This reveals that Seattle’s scheme leads to linemen being more oft-injured than on other teams. This theory is supported when looking at Unger’s departure to New Orleans in 2015. Unger started all 16 games in 2012 but had never played another full season while Tom Cable was his offensive line coach. Immediately upon leaving Seattle, he started all 16 games for the Saints.

This trend moves the concern towards whether or not Cable’s scheme asks too much of linemen. We all know that Tom loves brutes; guys that are willing to get into a dogfight on the field to get that one extra inch. I love that intensity and punishing mantra as well, but at the cost of offensive line continuity, is it really worth it?

The issue is compounded when the Seahawks draft a player such as Rees Odhiambo out of Boise State, who tumbled to the third round because of injury concerns. The principal ambition of the 2016 draft in regard to offensive line philosophy was to improve pass protection for Wilson. Guys like Odhiambo and Germain Ifedi can do just that. But inserting an injury-prone player into a scheme where players have historically gotten injured doesn’t seem like the best idea. As referenced above, Cable has a heavy influence on players drafted, so pulling the trigger on Odhiambo has his name written all over it.

My fingers are crossed that Rees stays healthy in his Seattle career and becomes the monstrous road grader that he has the potential of being. Unfortunately, there is a definite possibility that he will get hurt. An ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless. And a good portion of the blame should be placed on Tom Cable if it happens.

OVERALL EFFECTIVENESS

This progresses us into the final phase of our discussion: after analyzing how Cable has played a pivotal role in the offensive line’s ineffectiveness, does any of it really matter?

Let me rephrase that. If the Seahawks can keep winning and making deep playoff runs, does Cable receive a get-out-of-jail-free card? The answer to this is a bit less binary than one might think.

Taking a look at Seattle’s offensive DVOA rankings over the last five years may surprise you. We all know that the Seahawks four-peated as DVOA Champs and that isn’t just because of the defense. A lot of the ground is made up by Wilson creating magic on a weekly basis.

Digging deeper, the Seahawks have placed 1st, 7th, 1st and 3rd in rushing offense DVOA in 2012-2015. Wilson is once again a contributor and the team has been #blessed with Beast Mode and Balls to the Walls Rawls, but there is something to be said about a team being consistently that effective on the ground. A successful rushing attack has been described by Pete Carroll as "the most consistent, proven championship formula in the history of this game," and if Tom Cable’s lines can continue to spit out these rankings, maybe he shouldn’t be on the hot seat.

Of course, rushing is only half of an offense and Wilson has taken his fair share of sacks over the years, especially in the first half of 2015. After the bye, Darrell Bevell’s offense was altered to include more quick-rhythm throws to keep Wilson out of harm’s way. The offensive line, in turn, started to mesh better, which also coincided with the relative health of the unit. The offense can game plan around shitty pass protection, but having an above-average unit for one of the best quarterbacks in the league would be a much more ideal situation. If Russell Wilson wasn’t Russell Wilson, he would have been eaten by Calais Campbell long ago.

CONCLUSION

Much of the blame for Seattle’s offensive line woes rest on Cable, but his smash mouth, violent methodology is exactly what Carroll desires in a system. Realistically, though, plugging athletes into this brutal of a blocking scheme isn’t the greatest of ideas, as it results in discontinuity and ultimately consistent lapses in line competence.

But, of course, Seattle has been a perennial contender with a top offense in terms of DVOA and weighted DVOA for multiple seasons now. This points to the fact that, no matter how much Seattle’s line blows, the negative repercussions can be mitigated with wins. The main priority moving forward must be keeping Wilson standing and healthy. This seems to have been the obvious philosophy thus far in 2016, when looking at the drafting of Ifedi and Odhiambo.

If Wilson continues to get time to pass like he did in the second half of 2015, then all of Cable’s faults likely can be swept under the rug. On the other hand, if ineptitude begins to set in resulting in games and seasons deteriorating, Cable deserves to have some toasty buttocks.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.