As Luke Joeckel returns to Jacksonville to face the team that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, the Seahawks finally have put together a quintet of blockers that could carry them the rest of this season — and perhaps for the next few.
The crew of (from left) Duane Brown, Joeckel, Justin Britt, Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi looks like the best Seattle has had in two seasons. It should be, based on draft pedigree — Brown, Joeckel and Ifedi were first-round picks and Britt and Pocic second-rounders.
In the two games those five have started together, the Seahawks have tallied their fewest combination of sacks, QB hits and O-line penalties. Not every sack or hit is the fault of the line, but Seattle had averaged 14.8 sacks/hits/OL flags in the first 10 games; they aggregated just eight such negative plays vs. the 49ers and 11 vs. the very stout Eagles defense.
“I think we’ve been improving steadily,” Pete Carroll said. “This is Week 3 of our guys (Brown and Joeckel) being together on the left side. They’re getting to work together. They’re getting to log some time where they can start to relate and communicate on a good level. They’re two brilliant football players. There’s nothing holding these guys back. It’s already been a factor. I think as soon as Duane got on the field it was a factor, and we could tell.”
He’s right. Per Pro Football Focus, Brown’s presence has equated to a third less pressure on Russell Wilson (22.8 percent vs. 37.2 percent before the Hawks acquired Brown).
“We are thrilled to have him,” Carroll said, echoing every fan’s thought. “He’s affected our play in general. Think about how important that is: One guy goes to left tackle and things shift. Russell has been the beneficiary some, and we all have.”
Joeckel has been charged with surrendering 3.5 sacks in his seven games, but he has committed just one penalty, a false start in Week 12 against San Francisco.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Carroll said. “I think just the overall athleticism, the smarts, size — he’s got everything that you are looking for and that’s why he was a (No. 2 overall) pick. He’s done well for us.”
On the other side, Pocic has done well replacing Oday Aboushi (now out for the season with a shoulder injury). The rookie has now started seven games (five at left guard for Joeckel) and has just four penalties (two holds, two false starts) and has given up only one sack. He has played better than Aboushi did when the veteran was healthy.
“He’s been a great asset,” Carroll said of Pocic. “He’s a marvelous guy on the team, and he’s doing a good job and busting his tail to play hard and tough. He’s going to be a really smart football player and he’s going to get bigger and stronger. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
The future of the entire unit looks promising — finally. All but Joeckel are signed for next year, and Brown, 32, is expected to get a short extension next offseason as well. Joeckel’s injury history (he has missed 17 of 28 games the past two years) could make him an easier keeper, too.
Even Ifedi has settled down the past two games, more evidence that Pocic has been better at right guard than Aboushi or Mark Glowinski (who started the first two games). Ifedi had been called for a team-high 11 penalties in the first nine games (although giving up just 2.5 sacks). In the last three games he has just one flag (one of his six false starts on the season), and he looked very good in pass protection against the Eagles.
The Seahawks also seem to slowly be finding their running game. Tossing out Wilson’s team-high 432 rushing yards, the Hawks have run for just 801 (66.75 per game). But they have been over that average the past two weeks, so they are going in the right direction. Mike Davis has helped out with his powerful and elusive running — the style Seattle coaches favor.
While Jacksonville has the No. 1 overall and scoring defense in the NFL, it has been soft against the run (115.4 yards per game) — the Colts ran for 141 last week and Arizona hit 101 the week before. So the Seahawks might be wise to use Davis early and often and run more zone read with Wilson, too, as they did vs. Philly.
However they approach it this week, Seattle’s newfound five will be tested strongly again. But, if they play like they did against the Eagles, it will be a great sign for the rest of the season — and beyond.
“We can get better. We can continue to improve,” Carroll said. “This stretch right here is huge, and we are going to keep working at the fundamentals and the basics of it and see if we can’t end on a really high note.”