This bye is no rest week for the Seattle Seahawks’ concerns on the offensive line.
What the much-maligned line has done through five games is not sustainable. Not if the team wants to keep quarterback Russell Wilson upright and in one, fully functioning piece.
So the team is checking out some options.
The Seahawks hosted two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert for a free-agent visit on Monday, coach Pete Carroll confirmed.
Seattle is also reported to be talking to Houston about the possibility of obtaining holdout left tackle Duane Brown in some kind of trade. The three-time Pro Bowl selection, and 2012 All-Pro, hasn’t played all season. He wants his contract redone. It has this year and next remaining on it. He’s scheduled for $19.15 million — $9.4 million in base salary this year and $9.75 million in 2018. None of that money is guaranteed. Brown’s losing $550,000 per week in game checks while holding out.
So, yes, the Seahawks (3-2) are still trying to settle their offensive line five games into the season, even though they are back in first place in the NFC West after beating the Rams this past Sunday.
Sacks allowed are one measure that shows the Seahawks’ blockers are performing more poorly than they were at this time last year when Wilson suffered two major leg injuries in the first three games. This season their quarterback has been sacked 13 times. That’s tied for eighth-most in the league. After five games last season Seattle had allowed 10 sacks.
If Wilson wasn’t a magician escaping so many would-be sacks each game, as he was again against the Rams last weekend, that number would be far higher — higher than the NFL high of 20 sacks allowed by the Texans, who’ve been playing without Brown, their starting left tackle.
“Russell is being very resourceful in the pocket, keeping those guys alive, too, when they do have issues. He has been able to escape,” Carroll said.
That is the biggest understatement of the Seahawks’ season so far.
The Seahawks almost certainly will need another new starting lineman when they next play, Oct. 22 at the New York Giants, because left guard Luke Joeckel had arthroscopic surgery on his rebuilt knee on Thursday.
It could be Mark Glowinski, their 2016 starting left guard who’s been a backup right guard the past few weeks, or rookies Ethan Pocic or Jordan Roos. And as their interest in Albert and Brown show, they aren’t convinced Rees Odhiambo is their answer at left tackle in the wake of George Fant’s season-ending knee injury and surgery in August.
In mid-October, the Seahawks’ offensive line is still in flux. And in need of improving.
What is Carroll’s overall assessment of the offensive line through five games?
“That we have made improvement and we are kind of feeling our guys in terms of what their strengths are and how they are fitting together, with still areas that you can see that we will improve,” Carroll said. “In terms of identification (of which defenders to block), communication on the move, some of the pass rushes, there (are) just small things that we can do better that will keep us cleaner.
“But we are getting better. And so we just got to keep going in that same direction and keep improving.”
It’s hard to imagine the problems the Seahawks would have if not for Wilson’s mobility. Instead of a loss of yardage, Wilson scrambles away from rushers and keeps plays alive. He runs for positive yardage. He’s had the second-most rushing attempts (30) and yards (154) on the team behind rookie running back Chris Carson (49 carries, 208 yards).
But more telling, and more dangerous to the Seahawks’ season, is how many hits the line is causing Wilson to take beyond just sacks.
Wilson has been hit 43 times by pass-rushers through five games, according to the league’s official statistics and game logs. Only Arizona’s line has allowed its statuesque, older quarterback, Carson Palmer, to get hit more: 50 times.
Wilson is on pace to absorb 138 hits over 16 regular-season games. That is potentially lethal to Seattle’s goals of winning the division and getting a least a second-round playoff game at home for the first time in three years. That’s 138 chances to get injured, 138 chances to doom the Seahawks’ entire offense and season.
And we thought last year was bad. In 2016 Seattle allowed 111 QB hits. The most in the NFL last season was 140 by Cleveland — which went 1-15.
Those official league statistics on quarterbacks hits by a defense only counts dropbacks to throw. They don’t count the times Wilson has run. Of those runs 13 have been called QB rushes such as bootlegs, and 17 times Wilson has scrambled, for 144 yards. That’s been after giving up trying to throw and just taking off running from the pocket, usually with multiple defenders having beaten Seattle blockers.
He’s run out of bounds on 10 of his 30 runs. He’s slid down ahead of tacklers a handful of times, like he did last weekend short of the line to gain on third down in the first half against the Rams. Still, that’s an additional 10 or so hits, on top of the official quarterback-hit statistics.
So Wilson’s actually been hit more than 50 times through five games.
Last season showed how those additional runs are dangerous. Wilson got a sprained knee ligament while scrambling for the sidelines against the San Francico 49ers in Week 3. Although Wilson didn’t miss a practice, let alone a game, he was hampered for months by the gimpy knee.
Taking away Wilson’s mobility had a direct effect on the offense in 2016. Remember the 9-3 loss to the Rams? Or the 6-6 tie to the Cardinals? Or the 14-5 loss to Tampa Bay?
That’s why the Seahawks were a 10-win team that had to play a divisional playoff game on the road against a hot team — and lose — for the second consecutive January instead of a home game. The goal for 2017, Carroll has stated since that loss in January at the Falcons, is to earn homefield advantage in the playoffs to avoid those nasty away games.
And that will be harder to do if Wilson has to play behind an offensive line that can’t keep him healthy.