The Seattle Seahawks will be doing some shuffling to their starting offensive line for the Sunday game against the San Francisco 49ers with Luke Joeckel returning to his spot at left guard following surgery back in October. With Joeckel playing for the first time since week five, that will displace rookie Ethan Pocic who had taken over the starting left guard role after platooning with Mark Glowinski during the week seven game against the New York Giants.
The timing of Joeckel’s return may prove fortunate for the Seahawks, as starting right guard Oday Aboushi dislocated his shoulder during the Monday game against the Atlanta Falcons. With Aboushi listed as out on the injury report, the team has remained mum on who will be the starter at the right guard spot. The logical choices are either Pocic or Glowinski, with many fans calling for Pocic to be given the job based on the fact that he would simply be moving from starting on the left side to starting on the right side.
There is, however, a solid argument to be made for Glowinski to start: While Pocic has performed well as a starter over the last month, the simple fact is that his big weakness remains a lack of strength. Watching tape, Pocic gets consistently tossed aside and bullied by defensive linemen, and opponents have learned that it takes little more than a powerful bull rush to knock Pocic into the backfield.
In contrast, watching the film on Glowinski from the Falcons game, he appears he might have corrected the biggest flaw in his game—lunging. Glowinski is a strong guy, having recorded 31 reps on the bench press at the NFL combine in 2015, and in the past he has seemed to like to use that strength to power opponents. The thing about using power as an offensive lineman is that it must be used at the proper time. Glowinski would try to use his power by driving into opponents, seemingly lunging at them with his full force in an effort to absolutely obliterate the defender.
That’s great when it works. Unfortunately in the NFL, defensive linemen are athletic enough and quick enough to step out of the way a large portion of the time, or to simply use a swim move to go right past the lunging lineman. That was a major part of the issues Glowinski showed both last year, when he started all 16 games at left guard, and during the first two games of this season—and led to significant pressure on Russell Wilson as defensive linemen would simply swim right past Glowinski and into Wilson’s lap.
The film from the game against Atlanta showed a slightly different Glowinski, however. During much of the first full drive in which he was on the field, the way Glowinski moved appeared tense and as if he was worried about something. His movements come across as someone doing something for the first time who appears unsure of himself (Glowinski did start one game at right guard as a rookie in 2015) and he didn’t have many opportunities for a one-on-one blocking matchup for much of the drive. Then on first and ten at the Atlanta 29 following the unnecessary roughness penalty on the Falcons, he goes head to head with Dontari Poe. The play starts out as any other, Glow steps back into his pass protection, still showing the unsureness of a newborn foal taking its first steps, and Poe steps forward, engages and simply tosses Glowinski aside like a bag of trash.
On the very next play Glowinski again lines up across from Poe, and Poe attempts to again use the same power to toss Glowinski to the side. Glowinski, however, is having none of it a second time. Glow retreated into pass protection just as he did on the prior play, and just as Poe steps in to engage, Glow perfectly blasts Poe in the numbers with both hands, and Poe gets stood up by the engagement. Poe then attempts to use the power move to toss Glow aside. However, as Glow has properly engaged Poe without lunging, has set a strong anchor and used that 31-reps-on-the-bench-press strength to properly gain leverage on and control of Poe, Poe’s attempts at tossing Glow aside again instead result in Poe dancing all over the field while Glow stands statue still. Without a Falcons defensive player anywhere near him, Wilson stood in the pocket and delivered the touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin that brought Seattle within three points (after the two point conversion).
Now, this is not to say that all of Glowinski’s issues have been fixed. It would be ridiculous to make that assumption after getting a sample of barely a dozen and a half snaps of play, but his performance on the touchdown pass to Baldwin was fundamentally sound and near perfect execution of exactly what an offensive lineman should do. So it at least opens the door to some hope.
On the next Seahawks drive, Glowinski is also a part of something that shows the continued growth and development of the Seattle line. Here is the particular play.
In case you missed it, the pre-snap alignment of the defense indicates it is possible, though not likely, that the cornerback lined up across from Doug Baldwin might be blitzing. Baldwin is the slot receiver lined up closest to the offensive line on the right side, with the corner lined up at the line of scrimmage. The cornerback could be lined up there for multiple reasons, with two of those reasons being that the corner is playing press coverage on Baldwin or he could be setting up to run a cornerback blitz off the edge.
Looking further at the defensive alignment pre-snap, the deep safety is lined up directly over Baldwin, which could be an indication that of a blitz. Now, at fifteen yards off the line of scrimmage, it’s unlikely that he is indeed in coverage against Baldwin because fifteen yards is a ton of cushion for someone as dangerous as ADB is in space, but the line takes no chances. Here is the same video again, but this time watch what Glowinski and Justin Britt do before the ball is snapped. It’s not as apparent on the sideline footage, but is readily visible as soon as the video cuts to the end zone angle. Here again is the clip:
That simple arm gesture, that swing of the arm is the offensive linemen communicating to be on the lookout for the corner blitz. It is Glow signaling to Britt that he is going to pass his man to Britt, and Britt then signals to Pocic that Pocic will need to deal with his man all alone because Britt is going to be helping on the right side. As the play develops, Glow tap passes the defensive tackle to Britt, watches the outside for the blitzer and helps deliver a nearly clean pocket for Wilson to stand and throw an 11-yard completion to Jimmy Graham.
Now, the reason I say nearly clean is because, if you go back and watch the play yet again, Dontari Poe, who had been stood up and cleaned by Glowinksi on the previous touchdown pass as I mentioned, absolutely beasts poor Ethan Pocic on the play. Poe simply drives into Pocic, the left guard, knocking him off balance and then tossing him to the ground. Not to harp on Pocic, but this is an issue that has been seen over and over again in his five games filling in for Joeckel. Harking back to Pocic’s draft profile from NFL.com, it’s reminiscent of the report made of him in the spring:
Athletic ability offset by below-average core strength. Doesn't play with the pad level or leg drive to uproot defenders without help. Gets jarred by power across from him. Upper body strength needs work. Anchor will always be an issue against zero-technique nose guards. Gives into pocket pushers, creating traffic in the backfield. Defenders able to drive through his edge and redirect attempts.
And that’s the issue with Pocic as a starter right now. Fundamentally he is not just sound, but fantastic for a rookie. However, his ability to execute those fundamentals is limited in certain areas by his lack of strength. This is not simply an issue in the passing game, it is an issue in the run game as well. Taking a look back at a play from the Washington game in early November provided by Samuel Gold, watch Pocic in this play. He steps, engages and drives the Washington defender, but as soon as Rawls approaches, Pocic is tossed to the side and Rawls gets tackled.
Again, this is not to state that Glowinski is all of a sudden an All-Pro guard after having been sent to the bench or relegated to special teams, or that Pocic is worthless. This is simply to take a look at whether Glow has potentially improved since being benched and another glimpse into Pocic’s biggest weakness.
Pocic allowed six pressures during week 11, which was more than 54 of the 55 other guards who started across the NFL. Pocic will have a chance to add strength in a professional weight program during the season, and with Glowinksi showing signs of potentially having learned from his past mistakes, I expect the third-year guard to be given the start in place of Aboushi against San Francisco. This will give the team a chance to evaluate Glowinski, who has likely qualified for the proven performance escalator and a significant raise in 2018, and thus they can use this game as measuring stick. That said, if he reverts back to his earlier form and Wilson is running for his life, I won’t be surprised to see the team run Pocic out onto the field.
In short, Glow showed some potential against Atlanta. Now it’s time to see if that was a fundamental change or simply a lucky flash.