With the Seattle Seahawks rolling out rookies at both tackle spots for the 2022 season, there were significant concerns that the offensive line of the team could struggle. However, through the first six games of the season, the tackles have exceeded the expectations of most observers, while it was the more experienced interior of the line that struggled earlier in the year.
In spite of the success of the rookies and the overall strong performance of the group to this point in the season, they have struggled in one key area, and that is protecting quarterback Geno Smith on third down. Specifically, Smith’s sack rate skyrockets on third down to near astronomical levels.
Geno Smith sack rate by down through first 6 games of 2022:— John P Gilbert (@JohnPGilbertNFL) October 17, 2022
1st Down: 2.2%
2nd Down: 1.4%
3rd Down: 20.7%
Passing situations on third down are where the inexperience of the Seahawks o-line hits them.
Now, while that third down sack rate is likely to come down as the season progresses simply because of how high it is, the protection being provided to Smith on first and second downs has been absolutely phenomenal. For reference as to where these rates fall in comparison to the rest of the league, through Week 6 (though excluding the Monday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers) the sack rates for the league as a whole are:
- First Down: 5.0%
- Second Down: 5.1%
- Third Down: 9.8%
A big part of the credit for the early down protection goes to Smith himself for making his reads quickly and getting the ball out, while Shane Waldron also earns a tip of the hat for deploying various tricks to provide Smith a little extra time and protection. These include the use play action on more than a quarter of dropbacks, as well as rollouts and plays that are designed to get the ball to the receiver before defenders ever have a chance to apply pressure.
That said, just as the Seattle offensive line for years took the blame when it was Russell Wilson dropping back and taking sacks at a high rate, at the end of the day the Hawks line is getting the credit for keeping Smith upright, and rightfully so. At least on first and second down. Protecting him better on third down will come in time as the youngsters gain experience and improve their skills as it is in known passing situations when defenses deploy their pass rush packages and front seven defenders are able to pin their ears back and rush without worrying about the run when pass blocking skills most required of the offensive line.