When the Seattle Seahawks take the field in 2020 one of the biggest questions facing the team will be how the offensive line will perform. The Hawks offensive line has long been an issue, with the team struggling through different strategies through the years without ever landing on a strategy that kept Russell Wilson upright in the pocket. While many fans are hoping that the offseason changes to the group could result in instant improvement, the reality is that the season could start out with some growing pains.
For starters, gone in the middle of the line are Justin Britt and D.J. Fluker, after having combined to start 109 games for the Hawks in recent years. In their place are B.J. Finney and Damien Lewis, each of whom brings significant potential, but neither of whom has ever been a full time starter in the NFL.
Lewis, of course, is a third round guard the team hopes can become a dominant road grader in the run game while providing adequate pass protection for Wilson. The Hawks haven’t had the best success with third round guards under Pete Carroll and John Schneider, with neither Rees Odhiambo nor John Moffitt panning out as hoped. However, hopefully the third time’s a charm when it comes third round guards.
At center, Finney is at the point off his career where he has the potential for everything to come together. Between five years of practice reps and the more than a thousand offensive snaps logged during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Finney could prove to be a steal. Offensive line coach Mike Solari and the team’s front office are likely hopeful that Finney proves to be another Casey Wiegmann. Wiegmann had roughly twice as many games started under his belt, 25 compared to Finney’s 13, when he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to play for Solari in 2001, and Wiegmann then went on to play 11,000 consecutive snaps for the Chiefs and Denver Broncos over the next eleven seasons before simply walking away.
In addition to those changes, the Hawks appear set to let Phil Haynes battle it out with Mike Iupati at left guard, and even if Haynes wins the starting job, the probability of Iupati staying healthy enough to play 16 games for a second consecutive season seem somewhat low. If the team does find itself in a situation with Lewis and Haynes starting at the two guard spots, it would be the first time the team had such inexperienced guards since 2016, when Mark Glowinski played left guard and Germain Ifedi manned the right guard spot.
Fans, of course, aren’t likely to have fond memories of that 2016 Seattle line, as it was one of the youngest, least experienced offensive lines assembled in NFL history. The youth and inexperience led to many of the same issues that other teams with multiple first year starters encounter. Teams like the 2015 New England Patriots, the 2016 Seahawks, the 2016 Indianapolis Colts and the 2019 Los Angeles Rams all had three first year starters on the offensive line, and all of those teams saw the impact of that youth in its on field performance.
It was just a year ago that the Rams were working to replace guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan in their starting unit and saw performance suffer drastically, particularly once the injury bug struck. After enjoying multiple years of probability defying luck on the injury front, Brian Allen took over at center for Sullivan and Joseph Noteboom was inserted at left guard to take over for Saffold, with the idea of eventually moving out to left tackle to take over for Andrew Whitworth, who uses his AARP benefits to avoid the refs calling him for holding.
In any case, before the season even made it to Thanksgiving both Noteboom and Allen were on injured reserve. The Rams were then forced to dig even deeper into their depth when Rob Havenstein missed the final seven games of the season, which was more games missed by Havenstein than he’d missed over the first four four years of his career. In short, the situation for the Rams line in 2019 was rough to begin with, and then injuries hit and things got even uglier.
This is no way an attempt to say the Seattle offensive line is destined to be a dumpster fire in 2020, just that with multiple new faces on the interior of the line, it’s something to keep in mind. The tackle positions would appear to be less of a worry, as Brandon Shell and Duane Brown are experienced, and they’ll hopefully both avoid injury. Shell missed two starts due to injury in 2019, while spending another three games in a depth role, while Brown missed five games due to a biceps strain and late season knee surgery.
However, even if things go sideways up front, the Hawks should be in good hands with Russell Wilson at the helm. Wilson has gained a significant amount of experience dealing with pressure, and while he’s certainly lost a step or two since entering the league in 2012, his pocket presence and discipline have improved by light years over the past two years. Those are huge skills for a player who relied more on his athleticism to avoid pressure in earlier years, and they could prove vital skills for him and the team this season.
Bringing everything full circle, though, how well the line performs is likely to have less of an impact on how many times Wilson gets sacked this year than Wilson’s impact on how many times he is sacked this year. In spite of the struggles of the Rams’ offensive line in 2020 and in spite of how much fun everyone who is not a Rams fan enjoys making fun of Goff and how much he struggles under pressure, one thing he is good at is not getting sacked. To get right down to it, even though he played behind one of the youngest offensive lines in the league last year, and a unit that was atrocious at preventing pressure from getting to Goff, Los Angeles managed to finish first in the NFL in Football Outsiders pass blocking rankings in 2019, a ranking that is built on little more than sack rate.
It’s almost as if even in spite of all the attention paid to the shortcomings of the Seattle offensive line over the years, that at the end of the day sacks are more a quarterback stat than a stat for which the offensive line is responsible.