The Seattle Seahawks offensive line was as Seattle Seahawks offensive line as they could get in the first two weeks, surrendering 12 sacks against Russell Wilson vs the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. At least, that’s pretty much what we assumed was the problem given the two-year history of Germain Ifedi and the task of blocking potential Hall of Fame pass rushers in Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Issues ran deeper as the team was without free agent guard D.J. Fluker and was suffering through potential growing pains of second-year guard Ethan Pocic.
Then Fluker returned, J.R. Sweezy took over for Pocic on the left side, and Wilson has gone from six sacks per game to less than two. And whether you recognized it at the time or in hindsight, part of the issue in those 12 sacks was not the play of Ifedi necessarily, but likely had something to do with how much Wilson trusted himself (probably a little too much) and his receivers (too little). And Miller and Mack. And waiting for Brian Schottenheimer’s playcalling to make even a little bit of sense.
The fear was that it wouldn’t be getting any better any time soon with this upcoming slate of pass rushers: DeMarcus Lawrence, Chandler Jones, and Aaron Donald. Especially Donald, who in last season against the Seahawks had three sacks (all in the 42-7 blowout) seven QB hits and four tackles for a loss. In Jones’ last game against Seattle he had two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and three QB hits, plus a sack in their first matchup of the year. Last season, Lawrence had a sack and two QB hits vs Wilson.
And by the way, all three of these players are still elite, with Jones and Lawrence at 5.5 sacks and Donald at four. They just weren’t as elite against Seattle, a game most of them likely had marked on the calendars as “time to bump the bonus checks!”
Instead, the Seahawks haven’t just bought Wilson an extra quarter of a second, they’re maybe protecting him as well as any team in the NFL is protecting their quarterback. Yes, you are still alive and in the universe you were yesterday — I think. I actually have no idea. Maybe I’ve crossed into a pro-Seattle o-line universe, which, if we’re being honest, is a pretty unexciting place to cross into. Why couldn’t I go to the universe where sweets are good for you and veggies are fatty?
According to ProFootballFocus, the Seahawks are the number one team in the NFL since Week 3 at pass blocking efficiency. Number one.
From weeks 3-6, the #Seahawks offensive line ranks first overall in pass-blocking efficiency, allowing only 13 pressures on 106 pass-blocking snaps in that time span.— PFF SEA Seahawks (@PFF_Seahawks) October 17, 2018
Among those 13 pressures, there are seven sacks:
- Sean Lee and Lawrence shared a sack of Wilson
- Jaylon Smith got one
- Jones got one
- Haason Reddick got one
- Donald got one
- Ndamukong Suh got one
- Arden Key got one
Key is the only player among them who is not elite or a high draft pick, and even some saw Key as a top pass rusher who could be in the first round though he ended up in round three. Duane Brown, Justin Britt, Sweezy, Fluker, and Ifedi have faced a difficult string of defenses (and the Oakland Raiders) and managed to pass with an A+.
That’s wild. While many would like to bring up a dude who does not coach in Seattle anymore as the sole reason for this, instead this is likely because of a few factors:
- Brown was added in the middle of 2017 and the Seahawks offensive line improved to being at least mediocre during that transition. He’s a very good left tackle and that’s why he was costly. You can’t deny that Brown is a massive upgrade over Rees Odhiambo or George Fant.
- Fluker was added.
- Sweezy, a player molded by the last offensive line coach, was added.
- Ifedi was going into year three, a time when many young players, often offensive linemen, take further steps towards being quality starters. The first two years of coaching he had was not throwing out the window. He wasn’t MIB’d and reset. He’s been coached in Seattle for three years, not just beginning in August.
- Schottenheimer’s offense is making a little more sense week by week.
- The receiving weapons seem to be better this year than previous years and have improved every week.
- A low number of actual dropbacks. Yes, that’s a part of it too ...
Seattle has the fourth-fewest pass attempts since Week 3 (96) despite playing in four games and not three, as many of the others at the bottom of the rankings have. The Seahawks do not intend to throw the ball a lot this year, getting back to where they were around 2012 (32nd in pass attempts), 2013 (31st), and 2014 (32nd). After ranking 28th in attempts in 2015, they were 18th in 2016, and 16th in 2017; much of that has to do with the fact that Seattle was just a worse team in those seasons (lose more, pass more), but there is philosophy and intent tied in there too.
Play better defense. Keep scores low as opposed to high. Play longer timed drives with fewer plays. Get to the point where you only run it in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks are probably somewhat better at pass blocking in these last four weeks because they’ve had more opportunities to call passes at the times and in the situations where they know they’ll have their high-percentage shots of a successful pass play rather than forcing it.
The Seahawks have not had to force it as much in these last four games. Wilson had 69 pass attempts in Weeks 1 and 2, as compared to 96 in the last four weeks, an NFL-low average of 24 attempts a game. Increase the number of times you pass, increase the opportunities for the defense to pressure you.
Not that we shouldn’t be praising the job done by these five players, because it is as impressive as it is unexpected. Seattle still ranks 26th in money spent at the offensive line position in 2018 and this was the first time since 2013 that the team didn’t draft a single offensive lineman in the first four rounds. The only lineman they did draft, Jamarco Jones, is on injured reserve.
So deserved props to Mike Solari for overseeing a much better performance from this all-important group in 2018. It’s a much more pleasant venture for him I’m sure than 2017, when he coached the New York Giants to one of the worst seasons by an o-line in their history. Because the Giants didn’t have any talent.
Right now, by all accounts, the Seahawks somehow do.