Seahawks Offensive Line a Major Concern
Sep 22, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Zach Miller (86) celebrates with teammates Breno Giacomini (68), J.R. Sweezy (64) and Max Unger (1) after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Seahawks came into 2013 with great expectations and for the most part those expectations have been met so far. This team is 3-0. It has defeated its most hated rival and the most significant challenger to the NFC West crown. It has also taken care of business in a tough road opener. Last week, the Seahawks showed the capacity for domination against a weaker foe as well.
The 2013 Seahawks have outscored their opponents 86-27 and outgained them by 414 yards. Those are the kind of numbers that people expected. This team is a really good one not just a really hyped one.
However, for a team with Super Bowl aspirations the Seahawks do have one enormous problem area on their roster. That problem area is the offensive line. Russell Okung going down due to injury was an enormous blow for this team but the problem goes well beyond losing the Pro Bowl left tackle. There are two major problems outside of the Okung issue, the first being additional injuries, the second being performance.
At yesterday’s practice three of Seattle’s starting offensive line quintet were either limited or did not practice (Sweezy, Giacomini and Unger). Unger’s absence is troubling and the signing of center Jason Spitz is a bit ominous in that regard but one suspects Unger will continue to play. Giacomini and Sweezy aren’t nearly on the same level as Unger as players but they are starters for a reason and their potential replacements are fairly unproven.
Even in a perfect world scenario where all three can both play and play up their normal standards the performance of this offensive line has been problematic so far, to say the least. It is often difficult to quantify offensive line performance, although Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders are starting to get there. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus has rated every starting offensive lineman for the Seahawks this year so far as below average. That can’t be a good sign. Additionally, according to Football Outsiders the Seahawks have been stuffed behind the line of scrimmage 23% of time, a number that ranks 22nd in the league. That’s usually on the O line, especially when they are blocking for a north-south runner like Marshawn Lynch. Very troubling stuff.
Another way that I like to tackle the problem of assessing offensive line performance statistically is to look at changes in productivity from the players who are most affected by offensive line play: running backs and quarterbacks. It is not perfect to assign blame for all sacks to offensive lineman and sometimes running backs make the wrong cuts even when the holes are there, but one can get a vague idea of what’s going on. For instance with Marshawn Lynch is clearly having trouble finding space and Russell Wilson is having trouble avoiding sacks, the offensive line may not be one hundred percent culpable for that but they are not innocent. The chart below shows what I’m talking about:
Marshawn Lynch: Yards Per CarryMarshawn Lynch: Yards Per GameRussell Wilson:Sack %Russell Wilson:Sack%+
Once again you can’t lay this all at the feet of the offensive line but certain things are unlikely to be coincidences. It’s unlikely that Marshawn Lynch has totally lost it at age 27 in the same offense he thrived in last year. To be fair, 2012 will likely go down as his career year so some regression to the mean is to be expected. Not nearly this much though. It’s also unlikely that Russell Wilson has suddenly become less elusive.
We are talking about early days and small sample sizes here so the time for outright panic is not now. The rest of this team can afford to pick up this offensive line for the time being. However, with all the injury concerns thrown in we are looking at a banged up, under performing, unit for the forseeable future. Maybe Russell Okung comes back in Week 13 and makes everything OK again but I think there are deeper problems here. It’s a bit unclear how things are going to get better, unless one of the youngsters (Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey) steps in and becomes a solid contributor. That’s not something it’s exactly reasonable to expect, although there is talent there. Hopefully we are looking at a question mark with this unit, not an anchor.