He hasn’t had one yet in two and a half seasons as Seattle’s quarterback, and Sunday in their 30-24 win over the Oakland Raiders the Hawks went with their 15th line combination in Wilson’s 40 games.
It was ironic that the five starters from the best line in Seattle history — the 2005 Super Bowl line — happened to be in the house to celebrate Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones’ induction into the Ring of Honor.
As Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear looked on, the Hawks started a third-string center, a second-year utility player at left tackle and a rookie right tackle — and by the end of the game they had another rookie playing left guard.
Patrick Lewis, signed less than a month ago, started at center for Max Unger (foot) and Stephen Schilling (knee). Alvin Bailey, who has become the team’s utility lineman in his first two years, started for left tackle Russell Okung (calf). Rookie Garry Gilliam stepped in for left guard James Carpenter (ankle) in the second half.
“I think there was a time when Alvin and Garry Gilliam and Patrick Lewis were in there next to (right guard J.R.) Sweezy, and we had a rookie (Justin Britt) playing next to him. That’s about as hard as you can get,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I think Tom Cable said this was the most challenging game he’s ever coached.”
The line struggled, with Carpenter, Gilliam, Bailey and Lewis combining for six of the team’s nine penalties. Marshawn Lynch tallied 143 total yards, but he also lost 71 yards to penalties — and 35 of those were forfeited because of the line: Carpenter was called for holding on a 4-yard run, and Gilliam was called for illegal motion on a 20-yard run and being ineligibly downfield on an 11-yard pass play.
Bailey and Lewis also were nailed for consecutive false starts on a third-quarter drive, producing a third-and-17. And Bailey was ineligibly downfield on a 12-yard pass to Kevin Norwood.
“For whatever reason, we’re getting penalties on big plays,” Wilson said. “And that really brings us back. So, that’s something that we have to pay a little bit more attention to, and I have to a better job of communicating, if that’s the case, or whatever it takes.”
The Hawks were not planning to use Unger or Schilling; but, when Carpenter got hurt, Schilling replaced the inexperienced Lewis.
“When it got where we were so young out there,” Carroll said, “Tom thought we needed Schilling to go in and just kind of settle it down and make sure that he could help Garry as much as possible.”
Aside from costing Lynch a ton of yards, the line did little to help the passing game. Wilson completed just 17 of 35 passes for 179 yards as the offense continually shorted out — five of their 12 drives lasted four plays or fewer.
It was Wilson’s second straight poor home game. His 48.6 passing percentage was his lowest of the season, behind the 50 percent in a 30-23 home loss to Dallas three weeks ago.
The Raiders sacked him only once, but he was hit six times and pressured many more. Like many teams against Seattle, the Raiders often had a free pass rusher.
“It was hard for him,” Carroll said. “I spent some time talking to him. It was hard to get in rhythm, and he never really felt it through the course of the game. Fortunately, everybody did their job around us, and he wasn’t having to be the focal point. But, he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been.”
“I didn’t think I played well at all, for whatever reason,” Wilson said. “Usually I know why something is off, footwork-wise or whatever. That’s usually something I try to find out, throughout the game, so I can adjust. I felt like I was in it. For whatever I was trying to do, it just wasn’t working.”
Asked whether Wilson’s struggles were attributable to the line, Carroll said, “He wouldn’t tell you that. He took it. But, we’ll have to wait and see the film and see how much pressure was caused by that. He wasn’t concerned about that going in and didn’t feel it during the game either.”
Instead, Wilson said using young linemen is “going to pay dividends down the road, as you go throughout the season. I think back to last year: We had to win a lot of tough games where we had three of our starting offensive linemen, sometimes four of our offensive linemen, out. Guys had to step in, and we still found ways to win.”
The Seahawks used seven starting combinations last season as Okung and Breno Giacomini missed half the season, Unger missed three games with injuries and the Hawks flip-flopped players at left guard. Seattle struggled against good defenses in the last six weeks of the season yet still managed to get it together and win the Super Bowl.
It was just a continuation of the same O-line theme we have seen for years in Seattle: No continuity. The last time the Hawks started the same five linemen all season was in 2007. Under Carroll, they have used an average of seven combinations per year.
The Hawks have used three combos this season, but Carroll hopes to have Unger and Okung back next week.
Meanwhile, he said, “Everybody came through and played hard and did well enough to give us a chance to win a good football game, and I’m happy to tell you that.”
“Remember last season,” he said, “it was (Michael) Bowie and Alvin. Those guys had to play all year, or it seemed like it — rookies playing championship football. This is the storyline for this year. We have to see if we can endure, but the good thing is they get better because they get to play, and so we get stronger when the other guys come back. That helps us.”
But, until they create some stability in that unit, the offense will be uneven and Wilson and the passing game will struggle to find rhythm.