It’s no secret to fans of the Seattle Seahawks that the offensive line has been a point of discussion, and that it was an area that the team looked to improve upon following missing the playoffs in 2017. It’s now been more than a year since the Seahawks moved on from Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable and replaced them with Brian Schottenheimer and Mike Solari, so it’s now possible to take a look back and see how much improvement this change brought about.
The first thing that any fan who watched the 2018 and 2017 seasons will notice is the improvement of the running game. It’s no secret the team struggled running the ball in 2017, and that while they struggled at times to run the ball in 2018, they were vastly improved. How much of that, though, can be credited to the offensive line?
We know from the work of former Field Gulls contributor Ben Baldwin that the offensive line and scheme are largely the driver of success for running backs, and that it is one of the positions at which talent differential is less impactful than at other positions. That said, we know there is certainly some level of impact from talent differences at the position because if the Seahawks were to put me in at running back I’d be out there making post-ankle injury Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls look like generational talents worthy of the Hall of Fame. Thus, let’s take a look at some metrics and try to get a feeling for how improved the offensive line was.
For starters, the easiest thing to do is to take a look at where the Hawks running backs finished in the league in terms of yards before contact and yards after contact. It’s no secret that for 2017 the Seahawks were either at or near the bottom of yards before contact metrics, depending on which source one wishes to use. Well, for 2018 that improved to 20th in the league, while the runners in 2018 were fourth best in the NFL in generating yards after contact per attempt on designed runs.
Obviously it doesn’t take much to improve a terrible run game, so between the replacement of Ethan Pocic and Oday Aboushi on the line, neither of whom can be considered maulers in any way, with J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker, some improvement would certainly be expected. Add in the fire and intensity that Sweezy and Fluker are both known for, and it’s no surprise that the line improved. Then, replacing Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny and it’s a recipe for improvement in the run game. And that’s not even getting into the improvement that comes with upgrading from Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson to Will Dissly, George Fant and Ed Dickson.
Now, just as a special reminder for all of those who might think about bringing Graham back if he does become a cap casualty in Green Bay this offseason.
Doing a review of Chris Carson's Week 3 carries against Tennessee.— tropical storm john (@SeahawksMachine) April 13, 2018
This is Jimmy Graham a little slow at the snap.
Enjoy Green Bay. pic.twitter.com/PAKqnkma2w
Moving from the running game to the line’s pass blocking, the Hawks saw the line finish eighth in the NFL in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (PBWR), which was an improvement from their finish in eleventh place in 2017. Thus, a small increase, but I would not be shocked if this difference were largely attributable simply to having a full season of Duane Brown instead of half a season of Brown and half a season of Rees Odhiambo at left tackle.
By ProFootballFocus’s Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) metric, the Seattle line came in 19th in the league, which was an improvement from their 26th place finish in 2017. However, it is noteworthy that from the time Brown arrived from Houston through the end of 2017 the Hawks’ line was 21st by PFF’s PBE.
By pure pressure rate, according to PFF, the Seahawks went from allowing Wilson to be the second most pressured quarterback (41.4% of dropbacks) to being the fourth most pressured quarterback (39.7% of dropbacks) with at least 250 dropbacks. That’s an improvement of less than two percentage points, and barely a 4.1% decrease year over year.
That then leads to the question of why the line looked to be performing so much better during 2018, specifically in pass protection, when many of the metrics show that the line was only marginally better?
That answer to that question lies in the entire reason why Brian Schottenheimer was brought to Seattle, and, I’d suspect, a large reason why we saw former quarterbacks coach Carl Smith depart to take a job with the Houston Texans earlier this week. We’ll dig into that a little bit more over the weekend.