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Tom Cable consolidates his control over Seahawks’ run game

The offensive line’s dreadful performance in 2016 didn’t do anything to loosen assistant head coach’s grip on the team

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the Seattle Seahawks falling from first in the NFL in cumulative rushing offense over the first five years of Tom Cable’s tenure as offensive line coach to 25th in 2016, not to mention the difficulties protecting pass plays and developing talent that persisted for several years, a certain segment of Seahawks fans hoped this miserable performance might startle Pete Carroll into reorganizing the coaching staff. Many have asked for Cable to be fired outright but at the very least, this segment insisted, Carroll and the Seattle front office should be taking a hard reassessment of Cable’s stewardship as Assistant Head Coach and “run game coordinator” entering 2017.

Instead, the organization doubled down on Cable’s position. Speaking Wednesday at the NFL Draft combine in Indianapolis, John Schneider defended and even praised the embattled coach.

More telling, perhaps, are the moves Carroll and the front office did make to shake up the staff.

Last month, Carroll dismissed a handful of coaches including running backs coach and original Seahawk Sherman Smith (Smith was a second round pick in 1976, the third ever rookie picked for the franchise not including that year’s expansion draft, and played seven seasons in Seattle before joining Carroll’s staff in 2010). Given the inconsistent ground attack in 2016, it’s certainly possible to read this move as a reaction to the disappointing season although as with Rocky Seto’s departure from the defense all we can really know for sure is what the principles say publicly. According to Smith himself in an interview on Brock & Salk, while the veteran coach had been contemplating retirement already, Carroll made the decision before consulting with Smith—suggesting the maneuver was indeed performance-related.

However, rather than making a more dynamic switch by bringing in an outside hire the new running backs coach will be Chad Morton, an assistant to Smith and special teams coach Brian Schneider since 2014. Morton played at USC, but unlike Seto or Kris Richard never overlapped with Carroll as either a player or assistant there. Reportedly, Carroll favored Morton going forward because the 39-year-old Morton brings more energy and enthusiasm to his leadership of the position group.

None of this means there was any conflict or rivalry between Smith and Cable, but considering Smith had formerly been an Assistant Head Coach himself (under Jeff Fisher from 2006-07) and even an offensive coordinator (under his former teammate Jim Zorn from 2008-09) before joining the Seahawks, it’s reasonable to imagine Smith had some authority in involving himself with the run schemes. Cable’s expertise is the blocking packages but we already knew, based on reports about his guidance of Marshawn Lynch, that Cable was hands-on with running backs even during Smith’s time. Who knows what else went into the decision to fire Smith (maybe Carroll or Cable disagreed with the way Smith handled Christine Michael?) but by declining to go outside the organization to find a new position coach, Seattle indicated that Carroll was mostly fine with the direction of the unit. Now working with Morton, primarily a kick return specialist in his coaching career, Cable looks like he has nearly unilateral control over Seattle’s running game.

Some fans won’t like that, but Cable is still the guy who constructed a group able to produce dominant rushing seasons from 2012-2014 and serviceable enough pass blocking to compete for Super Bowls in those years. As Kenneth Arthur pointed out on 3000 NFL Mock Draft last week, the same mode of construction that built those functional lines is in place today and, however indelicate the transition, with some continuity among the starters with perhaps one fortifying addition, may even shore up the one great weakness on an otherwise championship-caliber team.

After all, even after the disastrous 2016 season the Seahawks still lead the NFL in total rushing during Cable’s stint in Seattle. That tells you a little about the danger of interpreting cumulative stats across multiple seasons, but it also illustrates the equity Cable has built up.