At the midway point of the season, as the Seahawks prepare for a mammoth matchup in New England on “Sunday Night Football,” we know a number of things about Pete Carroll’s 2016 club:
Russell Wilson is an iron man. Jimmy Graham is a miracle man. The defense can’t be dominant without Michael Bennett. NFL refs love creating controversy during Seattle games. And …
The offensive line is every bit the problem we all thought it would be — and seems to be getting worse. Is there any hope it will improve? And if it doesn’t, will it prevent the Hawks from winning the Super Bowl?
The Seahawks’ 2.5 losses are due largely to their inexperienced line, and poor line play nearly cost them games against Miami and Buffalo.
The running game — one of the league’s best the past four years — has regressed to 2010 levels. It is so bad that they screwed up seven out of 10 called runs against Buffalo on Monday, according to Tom Cable. That explains why the Hawks ran for just 33 yards on 12 carries.
As they enter tonight’s game vs. the Patriots, the Hawks rank 30th in the league at 75.4 rushing yards per game — an average that’s even worse than 2010, when they ranked 31st at 89 ypg, and would stand as the worst in franchise history if they keep it up (or down).
Some people think the deficiency is due to the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, but Lynch was on the 2010 team, too, and ended up with just 573 yards in 12 games. Lynch and the Hawks ranked just 20th in rushing in 2011.
No, this is more about a lack of talent and experience — the same issues the Hawks had in 2010 when Russell Okung was a rookie and the Hawks used a bunch of second-tier guys (Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Tyler Polumbus, Mike Gibson, Ben Hamilton, Stacy Andrews).
This unit features another first-round rookie, Germain Ifedi, and some raw, less-talented tackles. But it also seemingly has more talented interior guys (Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski) and greater upside than the 2010 unit.
But even Pete Carroll and Cable are not sure when it will be fixed — and they are as frustrated as the rest of us that this crew is still holding back the Hawks.
“We’re not happy with the whole thing. The running game just isn’t where we need it,” Carroll said. “It isn’t any one aspect of it; we just need to do better in general. We’ve been talking about this a long time. We need to get something done here.”
Much of the focus has been on left tackle, where Bradley Sowell was terrible before getting hurt and neophyte George Fant has been learning under fire the past couple of games. But the right side of the line has been just as bad, if not worse. Garry Gilliam has not been physical enough, and Ifedi has not adapted to how opponents variously attack Seattle.
“I think we have to do a little bit better at right guard — be cleaner, get a little bit tighter, stay tight in the pocket,” Cable said of Ifedi.
Cable dismissed the excuse that Ifedi is a rookie: “To say it’s new I don’t think would be true or fair. It’s really just being able to adjust. Every week is a little different set of problems, so I don’t think we handled it as well last week.”
Carroll thinks the lack of offensive plays in recent games has been part of the problem, but he is sure the unit will get it together.
“We have to stay with it. We have to keep working towards what we want to get done,” he said. “We had 40-something plays again (vs. Buffalo), and it’s just been a season of out-of-balance play totals. There just weren’t enough chances.
“We have a lot of improvement to make, and we’re just going to keep banging away at it,” he added. “We know where we’re going; we’re just not quite getting on that track yet. We’ll see if we can pull it together.”
Walter Jones thinks they will.
Before the Buffalo debacle, the Hall of Fame Seattle left tackle told John Clayton on 710 ESPN: “They seem like they’re only a play away from being a good offensive line. They’re a very young offensive line. Your best player (Britt) is only in his third year, and everybody else is still learning this offense.”
He said he thinks the line “should be pretty good” by the end of the year.
That would be a big leap from where they are now. Seattle backs have been stuffed behind the line more than all but three teams’ rushers, and the Hawks are among the bottom five in pass protection.
Their struggles are not too different from every season under Carroll — except the running game is well below par, even accounting for Wilson’s reduced mobility over the first half of the season.
As we saw in 2013 and 2014, the Hawks can overcome their line deficiencies to reach the Super Bowl. They went through seven starting combinations in both of those seasons. In 2013, they went without their starting tackles for eight games, starting a journeyman and an undrafted rookie, and still won the Super Bowl. In 2014, they were without Max Unger for 10 games, starting two guys at center in his place, and still claimed the top NFC playoff seed and reached the Super Bowl.
Last year, they made a horrendous coaching decision at center, yet they fixed it at midseason and went on to put up the most prolific offensive season in team history.
This unit has talent in the middle and should be able to get marginally better by the time the playoffs arrive. But Wilson, Graham and the passing attack have matured enough that Carroll thinks they can carry the team if they have to.
“Maybe it doesn’t come around,” Carroll told 710 ESPN last week. “I don’t know. We’re going to shoot for it. I’m not leaving the thought of trying to balance this thing out, but we do know we don’t have to run the football to win football games. But we want to.”