One of the weird things that I do not quite understand about writing is where the “inclinations” to write certain things come from. What ever prompts me to write anything? That is certainly something that many of the people who dislike my articles and tweets have asked over and over again, but I don’t mean to say, “why am I a writer at all?” I mean, where in the psyche do words and sentences come from? What made me want to write this paragraph? What made me want to write the sentence that started it?
I say all of that because I wanted to start this piece by writing, “I hate to say it, but I predicted that I’d be writing this article this season...” and then I asked myself (a concept, “I asked myself,” explored in the book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, which also happens to be one of Pete Carroll’s favorites), why do I hate to say it? I don’t think I actually hate to say it, but I fear that people will hate me for saying it: I’ve felt for months that we’d continue to overrate the contributions of both Tom Cable and Mike Solari.
I have a feeling Mike Solari is going to get a lot of credit for John Schneider trading for Duane Brown last year.— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) August 10, 2018
I believed that the Seahawks would have a better offensive line before Cable was fired and before Solari ever had a chance to coach both the old guys and the new ones. Not to say that Solari couldn’t be a better coach than Cable, but Seattle made an incredibly noticeable number of changes around their blocking and it started well before Carroll changed out his line coach, so why are people continuing to focus on only these two men?
The Seahawks made a ton of changes to the offense, arguably most of which were centered around improving the run game. The change from Cable to Solari was just one part of that, but the fact that the running improved put a spotlight on both coaches that both overrates the importance of coaching as opposed to talent and ignores the immense amount of success that Seattle had during the majority of Cable’s time with the team; probably not because of Cable, but because of the players that Cable had to coach from 2011-2015 before the drop-off in talent in 2016.
I’m not even arguing that I’m a Tom Cable fan and I’ve got nothing bad to say about Mike Solari. That is not what this is about.
This is only about one thing above all: the scapegoating of a single person so that we can relieve ourselves of the guilt that goes into blaming those who we want to stay. Which I guess is basically the definition of ‘scapegoat’ so please excuse my redundancy. I didn’t need to write these sentences at all, I could have edited them, but again I go back to the mystery of inclination.
Where do feelings come from? I don’t know. So I want to focus on the facts.
The facts of where Cable started, what he did with those pieces, and then moving onto where his time began to deteriorate and what led to the firing of him and the hiring or Solari. In my opinion, the facts will make it hard to deny that an overrating is transpiring, but I’m willing to be convinced. Hear me out and I’ll hear you out. Respond directly to my points and I’ll read your points in kind. Use the points that literally can’t be argued against. “Russell Wilson is the 4th-best QB in the NFL” is a defensible opinion, but still an opinion. “Russell Wilson had 35 touchdown passes in 2018” is not arguable. It happened.
Change my view or be open to me changing yours. That’s all we can hope for in the world of debate, though it’s rarely accomplished in the world of sticking our foot in the ground.
This is where Tom Cable started.
Given his reluctancy to make changes for many coaches over the years, it’s interesting to consider that Carroll fired offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and offensive line coach Art Valero after only one season in Seattle. It also goes against the idea being spread around a bit that Carroll “does not adjust” either in-season or in-game. Carroll adjusts all the time. I think it’s the heart of what makes him one of the most successful football coaches in history. He has underlying tenets that do no change, such as Inner Game, but he moves players around constantly. He changes the game plan at halftime. He adopts the zone read option offense midseason. He drops it if it doesn’t work. Carroll is a master of making adjustments, if anything it’s the start that slows him down.
But even with a playoff appearance and BeastQuake, Carroll had seen enough from those two coaches to change things over to Darrell Bevell and Cable, the latter of which had been fired after 2.5 years as the guy in charge for the Oakland Raiders.
I kind of wonder if it’s that negative spotlight — not being good enough to coach the Raiders — that has caused fans to harbor anger for Cable over all these years, but that’s completely speculative. Cable also has a reputation as an awful person, which is neither here nor there in terms of this piece, because I don’t think it’s what most people have held against Cable for the last five or more years. In football, people often love, like, or hate based on football results. And in the beginning, the results were undeniably spectacular.
I do feel confident in saying though that the hatred for Cable never came close to matching the deservedness of such vitriol.
These were the tasks assigned to Cable from year one:
- Improve a run game that ranked 31st in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry in 2010
- Improve an offensive line that allowed 35 sacks
- Help develop Marshawn Lynch, who had spent less than one year with the team
- Assistant Head Coach, whatever that means
- Develop Russell Okung, the sixth overall pick in 2010
- Make the most out of Max Unger, a second round pick in 2009
- Help find and develop more offensive line talent, like rookies James Carpenter and John Moffitt, castoff Breno Giacomini, free agent signee Robert Gallery, plus Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and others
Here’s what happened in 2011:
- Run game improved to 21st in rushing, 25th in yards per carry
- QBs were sacked 50 times
- Lynch rushed for 1,202 yards, 12 TDs, made the Pro Bowl
- Okung started 12 games at left tackle
- Unger started 15 games at C after previously playing guard
- Carpenter started nine games, Breno started eight games
Here’s what happened in 2012:
- Seahawks finished 3rd in rushing yards, 5th in YPC
- Russell Wilson was sacked 33 times
- Lynch rushed for 1,590 yards, 11 TDs, and was a first team All-Pro
- Okung made the Pro Bowl
- Unger was a first team All-Pro
- Carp started seven games at guard, Giacomini started 16 games at RT
- Seahawks made the playoffs and won a wild card game
- Also drafted J.R. Sweezy, a defensive lineman in college, in the seventh round
Here’s what happened in 2013:
- Seahawks finished 4th in rushing yards, 12th in YPC
- Wilson sacked 44 times, makes Pro Bowl
- Lynch rushed for 1,257 yards, 12 TDs, Pro Bowl
- Okung starts eight games, goes on IR, returns for playoffs
- Unger, Pro Bowl
- Seattle survives McQuistan at left tackle for half the year
- Carpenter moves to left guard
- Sweezy, a defensive player a year earlier, starts 15 games at right guard
- Giacomini, who was out of the league from 2009-2010, gets majority snaps at RT
- THEY WIN THE SUPER BOWL. EASILY.
- Drafted Christine Michael in round two
Here’s what happened in 2014:
- Seahawks finished 1st in rushing yards, 1st in YPC
- Wilson sacked 42 times
- Lynch rushed for 1,303 yards, 13 TDs, Pro Bowl
- Okung starts 14 games
- Unger only starts 6 games, forced to start Stephen Schilling, Patrick Lewis, and Jeanpierre in the other 10 games
- Justin Britt drafted in late 2nd round, starts 16 games at right tackle
- Sweezy, Carpenter continue to start at guard
- Nearly won the Super Bowl again
- Michael continues to disappoint
Here’s what happened in 2015:
- Seahawks finish 3rd in rushing yards, 7th in yards per carry
- They do this despite Lynch only starting 6 games, being injured, and turning to an undrafted free agent named Thomas Rawls
- Rawls leads NFL in YPC (5.6) and DYAR with games of 169 and 209 yards on his resume, more yards in a single game than Lynch had ever had
- Though still a disappointment, Michael averaged 4.9 YPC in this season and 4.4 YPC in his Seattle career
- After trading Unger to the New Orleans Saints, the team is forced to go with UDFA journeyman Drew Nowak at center for the first seven games, then Lewis for the final nine. Neither would start another game in the NFL after 2015
- Okung plays in 13 games
- Britt moves again, starting 16 games at left guard
- UDFA Garry Gilliam starts 16 games at right tackle, Sweezy starts 15 at right guard
- The starting lineup is then a first rounder, a second round conversion, a UDFA, a seventh rounder converted from defense, and a UDFA
- New tight end Jimmy Graham is notoriously one of the worst blocking tight ends in the NFL
- Wilson is sacked 45 times, but manages a career-best 110.1 passer rating, 34 touchdowns, 553 rushing yards
- First in DVOA for offense, including second in passing and third in rushing
- Wild card appearance and win over the Minnesota Vikings
Those are the first five seasons of the offense under Carroll, Bevell, and Cable, and I believe that it is fair to say, and well supported by facts and stats, that it was one of the top-five offenses in the NFL from 2012-2015. The fact that they “only” won one Super Bowl will likely be seen as a disappointment forever based on how good their defense was during this time as well, but may have more to do with how difficult it is for any team to win the Super Bowl. This year, the Chiefs, Rams, and Saints all had fantastic seasons but only one team can win it all — and sadly, it could still be the Patriots.
This is also where things took a negative turn for Seattle, both offensively and defensively. But Carroll, Bevell, Wilson, and Cable didn’t change, so I don’t think it would necessarily be my first inclination to believe that the reason for the downturn — the Seahawks dropped to 16th in offensive DVOA — was one of them. They can all adjust, they can all add and remove wrinkles, but it’s a notable setback to go from first to 16th in DVOA, including 14th in passing and 22nd in rushing, and that’s not usually because of a “wrinkle.” So what did change?
Here’s what happened in 2016:
- The team dropped to 18th in scoring, 12th in total yards, 25th in rushing yards, 24th in yards per carry, and were ninth in net yards per pass attempt
- Wilson was sacked 41 times
- Wilson threw the ball 546 times, 63 more times than 2015
- Michael led the team in rushing at 469 yards and 4.0 YPC
- Lynch opted to not play football for a year, while Rawls struggled to return from a broken ankle that ended his previous season; Rawls has never recovered his 2015 abilities
- The team opted to not re-sign Okung, who essentially signed a one-year incentive-laden deal with the Denver Broncos; the Seahawks may have felt uneasy about an expensive deal for an oft-injured tackle
- Britt was moved again, this time at center, and he’s become a league average to above-average player at that position
- Sweezy signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that I’d argue was smart to not match
- Mark Glowinski, a fourth round pick in 2015, started 15 games at left guard
- Rookie Germain Ifedi started 13 games at right guard
- Gilliam started 13 games at right tackle
- Left tackle was split between UDFA rookie George Fant and journeyman Bradley Sowell
- J’Marcus Webb made three starts on the offensive line
- Rookie center Joey Hunt made one
- Seattle somehow still managed to make the playoffs and beat the Detroit Lions in the wild card round
Let’s again circle what we know to be true:
Did the Seahawks get worse in 2016 compared to 2015? Yes
Did they change the coaches? No
What did they change?
Lynch and healthy Rawls to Michael and hobbled Rawls, plus Alex Collins and C.J. Prosise, also injured
Okung to Fant and Sowell
Sweezy to Ifedi
Britt to Glowinski
Lewis to Britt
The running back situation was significantly worse, as was the situation at left tackle, which is possibly the most noteworthy number in this entire equation. The fact that the only constant on the offensive line from year-over-year was Gilliam, a player who was not expected to be a starter when he entered the league and still isn’t, should have also been a major red flag. If you want to blame the failures on an inability to find quality contributors, even at a low cost a la how the Saints or Packers have often done it, fine, but even then we must not attribute all of Seattle’s draft picks and free agency decisions onto the shoulders of an assistant coach.
These were the pieces of bread that coaches were given in 2016, I’m not surprised that the sandwich tasted like shit. And even coming out of all of that shit was a player being converted to center and thriving like he never had before.
Unfortunately, despite a failed effort to do something unlike they ever really had under Carroll’s tutelage — sign free agent guard T.J. Lang to a lucrative deal — things did not improve in 2017 and that’s when coming short of the playoffs sealed the fate of Cable, Bevell, and some others.
Here’s what happened in 2017:
- The offense finished 11th in scoring, 15th in yards, 23rd in rushing yards, 21st in yards per carry, 31st in rushing touchdowns, 15th in net yards per pass attempt
- Wilson was sacked 43 times
- Wilson also led the team in rushing at 586 yards, which was more than Rawls, Mike Davis, and Eddie Lacy combined; it turned out that Seattle had the worst RBs in the league once seventh round rookie Chris Carson broke his ankle in Week 4
- Carson was among the league-leaders in broken tackles — a quality that Carroll clearly values very highly — before his injury; the signing of Lacy was also supposed to help in that area but it turned out that Lacy had nothing left to give
- Graham continued to not block, and Green Bay’s coaches haven’t seemed to be able to coax that out of him either (spoiler alert)
- They were 14th in offensive DVOA, roughly unchanged from 2016
- Rees Odhiambo started the first seven games at left tackle before the team bit the bullet and gave up future picks to acquire Duane Brown from the Houston Texans
- Once Brown joined the team, the Seahawks improved in pass blocking, with Brown and Britt both ranking in the top-10 at their positions for pass block efficiency rate
- Issues mainly existed with left guard Luke Joeckel, a known failed product with the Jacksonville Jaguars who never signed with a team in 2018, guards Oday Aboushi and Ethan Pocic, and Ifedi, now at right tackle (remember, we’re not asking if Cable is a good coach or a bad coach, we’re asking if Solari has proven to be a better coach or that the offensive line has been better in 2018 than they were in 2017 absent the personnel changes that should have made them better regardless of the coaching)
- The team went 9-7 and failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2011
And that’s what finally brings us to Mike Solari and the comps.
Carroll likely didn’t just fire Bevell and Cable because of missing the playoffs but due to the fact that the offense had fallen from first in DVOA and third in rushing in 2015 to back-to-back seasons of mediocre to below-average play on that side of the ball with the worst rushing attack sans QB play in the league. For better or, as most would claim worse, he’s the head coach who stresses a successful rushing offense over all else and the results were not cutting it anymore. But Carroll is not an idiot either and he probably realized that the offense would improve even if he didn’t make a change with Bevell and Cable; it’s possible that like me, he just tired of all the calls by fans to blame Bevell and Cable.
Hey, if it’s them it’s not him, right?
So let’s recap the changes in 2018 and the results thereafter:
- Replace Bevell with Brian Schottenheimer
- Replace Cable with Solari
- Get back Carson, the team’s intended starting running back in 2017, from a broken ankle
- Draft Rashaad Penny in the first round
- Utilize Mike Davis for an entire season
- Replace Joeckel/Pocic with J.R. Sweezy, a player who learned how to guard under Cable
- Replace Aboushi and co. with D.J. Fluker, a player who spent 2017 with Solari
- Replace Graham with Ed Dickson, Will Dissly, and Nick Vannett, all known as superior blockers to Graham
- Essentially attempt to pull the reins on Wilson as a runner
Now the results:
The Seahawks went from 11th in scoring to sixth in scoring, from 14th in offensive DVOA to ninth, from 23rd in rushing yards to first, from 23rd in rushing DVOA to seventh, from 12th in passing DVOA to sixth. This all looks pretty good on the surface, especially the ground game, so should we assign credit to the changes in coaches?
Maybe. Certainly there’s an effect. But to what degree? Especially given that we know that Seattle finished first in offensive DVOA just three years ago, with the same quarterback, same head coach, and Bevell as OC, Cable as OL coach. What was different in the two years in between?
It wasn’t the coaches that were different. It was mostly, from what I can gather as an unbiased observer, that Odhiambo, Sowell, and Fant were starting at left tackle, and then a Pro Bowl lineman came in to fill the void midway through 2017. In their first seven games of 2017, the Seahawks averaged 97.5 rushing yards per game and 3.65 YPC. In their final nine games, after acquiring Brown, they averaged 105.1 rushing yards per game and 4.26 YPC. It may seem a slight change, and one often elevated by Wilson because the running backs were so bad, but it should not surprise anyone that upgrading your left tackle spot — still one of the most important positions in football — from Odhiambo to Brown should make your offense significantly better.
What else would help the rushing offense, including at times when your offensive line may not be very good at run blocking? Good running backs who gains yards after contact or avoid contact.
Last season, Carson forced 21 broken/missed tackles on just 56 touches per FO for an incredible BT% of 37.5%. Lacy’s figure was 17.3% and Rawls was at just 13.4%. Mike Davis was at 30.1% on his 84 touches, which happened over the final six games.
This season, Carson came in at 22.8% on 267 touches and the only running back in the league who had a higher BT% on more touches was Saquon Barkley (26.7% on 352). Ezekiel Elliott was at 12.1% and he led the league in touches. The only backs in comparable territory to Barkley and Carson would be Derrick Henry, Phillip Lindsay, Nick Chubb, Dion Lewis, Kareem Hunt, Adrian Peterson, and James Conner. And Carson, compared to Lacy and Rawls in 2017, was in another stratosphere.
It’s no wonder that the run game would improve with a running back who was better at forcing missed or broken tackles, of which Carson had plenty of opportunities. You’ll find a lot of different figures on things like yards after contact and broken tackles and Carson should be listed near the top of every leaderboard you find.
Most yards per carry after first contact:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 13, 2018
1. Derrick Henry: 2.83
2. Nick Chubb: 2.53
3. Royce Freeman: 2.39
4. Marshawn Lynch: 2.49
5. Chris Carson: 2.41
6. Mark Ingram: 2.36
7. Saquon Barkley: 2.35
8. Frank Gore: 2.30
9. Austin Ekeler: 2.29
10. Melvin Gordon: 2.23
#Seahawks RB Chris Carson has been tackled on first contact on just 60.4% of his carries this season, which stands as the second-lowest mark among RBs through Week 11.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) November 16, 2018
And Rashaad Penny is now starting to find his stride in the NFL.
: https://t.co/R6nr5Fb6CK pic.twitter.com/yrt2pjwsSU
And sometimes those stats will show you that Carson rarely had places to run without having to force a broken tackle:
chris carson averaged 0.23 yards before first contact/run, lowest of any RB last week. numbers aren't up for gurley and anderson, but I'm guessing they're gonna be quite a bit higher. https://t.co/z9fQSi6vLW— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) January 13, 2019
Chris Carson forced 7 (!) missed tackles last night and averaged 3.8 yards after contact versus the Chiefs. #Seahawks— Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) December 24, 2018
Meanwhile, Penny had a Rawls-like 12.8% BT% on 91 touches per FO, but also seemed to be the type who would run around contact rather than into it and he finished with 4.9 yards per carry. Now, I say “seems like” which is not a fact, so count that or discount that as you will.
Davis at a BT% of 16.4% this time around on 164 touches. I should note now that these BT% do include receptions too and none of these backs were “receiving backs.” Carson actually led the NFL in broken tackles off of runs, more than Barkley, with 58. Penny had 11 broken tackles on 85 carries.
We know that the rushing game was vastly improved, but we also know that the running backs vastly improved and that Brown’s presence would always increase the quality of blocking at that position over Odhiambo. Would someone argue otherwise?
One thing that could be added info is the Adjusted Line ranks of the Seattle Seahawks by FO, which includes stats like “Adjusted Line Yards” and “Power Success,” the latter of which had the Seahawks ranked fifth this season. What’s the definition of “Power Success”?
Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks.
This measures the success of the team on first-and-goal, second-and-goal, third down, and fourth down, with two yards or less to go. The team.
No quit from Chris Carson gets us on the board first. pic.twitter.com/OUUmMVsdrr— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) December 24, 2018
And oh shit, maybe like this:
Hey y’all, Chris Carson might be good.
Now I’m open to being told that I’m wrong on my interpretation of these stats, but it sounds like an evaluation of the offense to gain difficult yards, not the offensive line to block for said yards. In terms of “Stuffed Rate,” a stat the measures how often a back is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks improved from 32nd to eighth. Undeniably better and I would certainly think that the offensive line must have helped to some degree (including the already folded in addition of Brown from Week 1 of 2018), but it’s still a team stat. How often was Carson, Davis, and Penny hit or near-hit at or behind-the-line of scrimmage compared to last year would be a more accurate depiction of the success or lack thereof from the line, right?
Let’s also account for the defenses they faced. In 2017, the Seahawks faced the 10th-most difficult slate of defenses by DVOA. In 2018, they ranked 16th, right in the middle of the pack. Seattle gained 463 rushing yards in two games against the LA Rams, who ranked 28th in run defense by DVOA. They gained 210 rushing yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, who were 32nd. They gained 353 in two games against the Arizona Cardinals, who were 29th. The rush offense was not as lucky against better competition, like the 74 yards against the second-ranked Chicago Bears and the 73 yards against the ninth-ranked Dallas Cowboys in their wild card loss. It’s hard to quantify how much the run-blocking improved, how much of the success in rushing should be attributed to Carson, and how much goes to being highly successful against awful run defenses like the Rams, even though they still lose both games.
What about pass protection? You’ve probably already heard several times before that Wilson was sacked a career-high 51 times. He did this while throwing the ball only 427 times, his fewest pass attempts since 2013. He dropped back to pass way fewer times in 2018 but was sacked eight more times than he was a year ago. Now some of the anecdotal arguments you’ll hear (unless there’s empirical evidence presented, which is totally possible and welcome) are that Wilson held the ball too long, ran himself into sacks, and that he was forced into “coverage sacks” often, but to what degree? Because Wilson has always “held the ball to long”? He’s always “ran himself into sacks.” That’s been a known issue of Wilson’s since he entered the league, so how many additional sacks do you think he ran himself into?
Do you think Wilson ran himself into 20 more sacks than usual? Either the pass protection was the same as it was a year ago but Wilson ran himself into eight additional sacks (but really, given that he had 126 fewer attempts, this means that even eight additional sacks is a wild deviation from the norm) or the pass protection improved and he what, ran himself into those 20 sacks? Or it could be that he was sacked more often because he didn’t have good pass protection.
Let me ask you this: if literally the 2018 season went exactly the same, and nothing was different except for the fact that Cable was still the offensive line coach, do you think anyone would be letting the offensive line coach “get away with” Wilson being sacked 51 times?
In my experience, it would be marked as a negative on the offensive line coach’s resume. In this case, it was not.
Finally, how do you evaluate each 2018 offensive lineman on an individual level? It’s nearly impossible for a consensus that can be agreed upon by everyone, but there have to at least be general concessions made for each player, both now and in the past. For example, going back to what I was saying about how the line was already improved last season by the addition of Brown and that the changes to coaching would suddenly give credit to them rather than the upgrade, Brown was among the best left tackles in the league last season in pass protection:
courtesy @PFF_Louie:— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) December 13, 2017
Since week 9, Duane Brown has allowed 0 sacks, 3 hits, 6 hurries; 9 total pressures allowed over that span are tied for 4th fewest of all OTs with at least 200 pass block snaps.
Seahawks ranked 30th in pass block efficiency before, 9th since.
I would say that a year later, Brown is still the only above-average offensive lineman on the team, and all four other spots could use an upgrade. Outside of Britt at center, the other three are in even more dire need of having superior play if Seattle is going to have success against above-average to elite pass rushers. The Seahawks consistently had issues with interior pass rushers under the tutelage of Cable, but that’s probably because none of the guards they had were very good. This is where “But they weren’t good because Cable wasn’t good at coaching them” is oddly used as a weapon against certain coaches, to which I ask you:
What’s the name of the person who coaches the safeties?
What’s the name of the person who coaches the linebackers?
What’s the name of the person who coaches the wide receivers?
If Cable isn’t a good coach because Mark Glowinski didn’t provide adequate protection as a fourth rounder, what’s the name of the receivers coach who failed to make Kris Durham, Chris Harper, and Amara Darboh into starting caliber NFL players? Why is an offensive line coach expected to make a starter out of anyone regardless of their actual ability to play at a professional level, but no other assistant coaches are held to this standard? Why does everyone know Tom Cable’s name but probably couldn’t name a single other assistant, because offensive line is not even close to being the only position group on the team that needs better production?
Getting back to an inability for this offensive line to protect Wilson at an adequate level against premium pass rushers, here’s Chris Jones of the Chiefs against Sweezy and company:
Week after week, Chris Jones lives in the opposition's backfield. Against the Seahawks, it was no different. Over 16 percent of his snaps were pressures, sacks, or TFLs this week -- an OBSCENE rate. He's been an absolute monster for this Chiefs team. pic.twitter.com/9AhZDgOyFM— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 26, 2018
It’s been hard for me to find anyone who’d claim that any individual Seattle offensive lineman besides Brown actually had a good season. In fact, when Joey Hunt replaced Britt at center in Week 3 vs the Cowboys, the team seemed fine, if not better than they did in their previous two games, both losses in which they allowed six sacks. In the Week 3 game vs Dallas, Schottenheimer was actually able to get 32 carries out of Carson, including seven on the first drive.
It wasn’t even like the gameplan was different than it was in the wild card, only the results: Carson went run-run on the first two sets of downs, and the team picked up firsts. Penny ran on 2nd-and-10 and picked up five yards, gaining a first on the next play. Then they ran later on the drive on 2nd-and-22 and Carson picked up 13 yards. The drive ended in a punt but in Dallas territory and was a much better start than their most recent game, eventually resulting in a 24-13 win and 102 yards by Carson. I’m not saying it’s a good strategy, I’m just saying that the execution was far better and they didn’t have Britt.
Earlier this season I noted how much I liked Fluker, and I still think that he’s a great presence and most likely a huge upgrade over Pocic, but he also missed six games with injury. The rushing game did pick up after he returned in Week 3, but with Jordan Simmons at right guard in Week 10 vs the Rams, the Seahawks rushed for a season-high 273 yards. You can’t rely on Simmons either because of health, but I’m not sure you could argue that Fluker’s presence this season was vital.
And it’s hard to know what to make of a Week 17 game against the worst team in the league, but the Seahawks started Pocic and Fant against the Cardinals and rushed it 34 times for 182 yards, though Wilson was sacked six times for the first time since Week 2.
So how do I think Seattle should approach their offensive line in the offseason, with Sweezy and Fluker set to be free agents?
Fluker signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract because inconsistent-to-poor play and recent injuries made him expendable for the New York Giants and undesirable for many teams beyond a low-risk commitment. I haven’t seen enough for me to think anything has changed in the last year. He’s still an injury risk. The team survived stretches without him after Week 2. Fluker also picked up two fourth quarter penalties this season that were costly, first on a game-ending drive in the loss to the Rams in October, and next in the wild card loss to Dallas.
Sweezy signed the same deal after spending most of the offseason as a free agent. He missed all of 2016, two games in 2017, and will be 30 in April. I don’t see it being a major need to retain him if the next deal is anything more than a minor increase in pay from the last deal. In what should not be at all surprising, he had three key fourth quarter penalties this season, including two in the loss to the LA Chargers and one in the loss to the 49ers.
And if Solari is a notably better coach than Cable or anyone else, he should be able to get Sweezy or Fluker-level production out of their replacements, right? Because I don’t think anyone could argue that the bar is very high though again, I’m open to the argument and I’d like it all laid out here.
The team would only save $2 million by releasing Britt, but I’m also curious about what a Hunt-at-center offense would look like. The issue is that there’s a risk it would look like the post-Unger offense and that’s potentially very frightening, but the team actually did fare well in 2015 with the center rotation. Britt had three fourth quarter penalties, including in the November loss to the Rams and in the wild card loss.
And as I wrote earlier, I do not expect the team to pick up Ifedi’s fifth-year option that would extend him into 2020. Despite insistence by many that the line is improved, I received almost no push back on the idea that Ifedi isn’t expendable. Ifedi’s penalty issue mentioned earlier, of course.
Instead, the team likely would be better served to try the same solution to the line in 2019 that they did in 2018, not by re-signing Fluker and Sweezy but by searching for the next version of Fluker and Sweezy. They’re both great values at $1.5 million, but at $5 million or more, they aren’t. And if this version of player was available a year ago, who is to say that they won’t be available in 2019? It is more likely than it is unlikely. Plus the team could give further opportunities to Fant, Simmons, Hunt, and Elijah Nkansah. (I’m maybe not going to be sold that Pocic remains on the team through the whole offseason.) And if the Seahawks did want to spend $5 million or more on a guard ... then they should do better.
The goal in 2019 should not be to maintain the status quo of the 2018 line, it should still be to improve on the 2018 line because the 2018 line was by no measure “good.” It seemed that way in the beginning based on some “pressure rates allowed” figures touted by PFF early in the season, but you could’t even get PFF to say today that any lineman was adequate outside of Brown.
You are more than welcome to like the offensive line coach better and of course you don’t need permission from me to think so. Maybe he is better. I am completely open to that idea and hope that it is true. He seems like a better dude and a more likable presence on the field and in the locker room. I just have no evidence that the line is any better beyond the obvious upgrade at left tackle that happened in 2017, the changes to scheme, the upgrades at tight end for blocking, the usage of Fant as a sixth offensive lineman, and the presence of Carson to do more on the ground despite his line, not because of it.
Now you reach into your inclinations, start to type some sentences, and change my view.