Breaking Down the Seattle Seahawks' Offensive Line Struggles
It is no secret that the Seattle Seahawks offensive line has struggled for much of the first two weeks of this season. The blocking has been poor, and the entire offense has struggled because of it.
After reviewing the tape, there are three things that the Seahawks have been doing that have been causing them tremendous problems. Luckily, there's hope that solutions may be available to help them get the offense back on track.
1. Pass Blocking
The difficulty in breaking down Seattle's current pass blocking problems is that much of it is technique based. Footwork, hand placement, proper knee bend and balance are all problems that can be seen leading to failed blocks.
These are things that can be worked on in practice, but there is no quick fix in this area that can be used to help QB Russell Wilson.
Instead, the Seahawks need to work on getting additional help for certain linemen who might be overmatched. There are plenty of examples of this to choose from the first two weeks of the season, but the matchup of 49ers defensive end Aldon Smith against Seattle's backup left tackle Paul McQuistan stands out as the largest mismatch.
Blocking Smith can be a tall order for any offensive lineman. For a player who has spent virtually no time practicing at OT over the past two seasons, it was almost impossible. The Seahawks needed to do a better job of providing McQuistan some help in blocking Smith.
Here is a play that demonstrates both the need and the ability to help McQuistan:
The Seahawks are lined up in the shotgun with running back Robert Turbin aligned on the strong side of the formation. Wilson fakes the inside handoff to Turbin and then rolls to his right looking for an open receiver.
McQuistan gets beaten around the corner, and Wilson ends up getting sacked on the play. Unfortunately, the play didn't have to end that way.
After the play-fake, Turbin stops in the B-gap and sets up to pass block any potential blitzing linebackers. None came, and Turbin was stuck blocking no one.
On the other side of the formation, tight end Zach Miller also stayed in to help pass protect. This left both right tackle Breno Giacomini and right guard J.R. Sweezy without anyone to block as well. The Seahawks had seven blockers for just four 49ers pass-rushers.
The solution here isn't complicated. One of the unused pass blockers needed to be helping block Smith. The easiest option would have been to have Turbin go to McQuistan's other shoulder after the play-fake. Turbin would have been able to chip Smith and slow him down, giving Wilson enough time to get rid of the football.
This is the type of adjustments that the Seahawks are going to have to make while starting LT Russell Okung is out. Whether it is McQuistan in there, or if rookie Alvin Bailey gets a chance to play, the LT is going to need help from the backs and TEs until Okung can return.
2. Run Blocking
Looking through the tape for the first two weeks of the season, the biggest problem in the run blocking for the Seahawks is execution. Oftentimes the players are in position to make a key block and just miss.
Here is a play from last Sunday's game vs. the 49ers that demonstrates the problem.
The Seahawks have two TEs in on this play, and they are going to run the outside zone to the weak side of the formation.
This is actually a creative play design. The pitch to Lynch and the outside path taken by fullback Derrick Coleman provide cues for the defense that this run is going to attack the edge, but the blocking of the five linemen tells a different story.
Both LG James Carpenter and McQuistan establish inside leverage, pushing their defenders wide. The defenders actually don't fight them for this position either, thinking the play will be going outside.
The other three lineman all attempt to cut their assigned defenders to try to get them on the ground. This should have created a huge "cutback" running lane for Lynch.
Unfortunately, all three of the lineman (underlined) failed to get their defender to the ground. Lynch was left with nowhere to go. He tried to bounce the play outside, but there were too many defenders for the number of blockers at that point, and the defenders had outside leverage. Lynch was chased down before he got back to the line of scrimmage.
That poor execution is the primary culprit for the inconsistent run blocking is actually good news for the Seahawks. These type of execution problems can be fixed. These same players were actually very efficient at executing these types of plays last season, so there is no reason to believe that they won't be so again in the near future.
The talent and skill on the offensive line doesn't mean anything if the players cannot work together. This is especially true for teams that use a zone-blocking scheme like the Seahawks do. All five players must move and act as one cohesive unit at all times.
For that the happen, the linemen must be able to communicate on the fly, especially when defenders move after blocking assignments have been established. Adjustments must be made, everyone must know what has changed.
Unfortunately, that hasn't happening on every play for the Seahawks on every play through the first two weeks of the season. Here is an example of from Week 1:
This run is designed to go to the right. The strong-side blocking assignments are fairly straightforward. Lynch is supposed to follow the blocking of Sweezy and Coleman through the B gap. The problem is that he never gets there.
This play breaks down on the backside. A late realignment of the Carolina linebacker creates a mistake by the left side of Seattle's offensive line.
Okung blocks the defensive end, and Carpenter releases to block the linebacker. There is no one left to block the defensive tackle, who steps forward and tackles Lynch for a three-yard loss.
Clearly, one of two different things were supposed to happen on on this play. One option would be for Carpenter to block the linebacker and have Okung cut the DT. This turns the DE free, but he's coming from outside the formation on the back side of the play. He would would have been unlikely to get across the formation in time to prevent Lynch from getting through the hole.
The other option is for Carpenter to block the DT and Okung to block the DE, thus leaving the LB unblocked. It would then be up to the two lead blockers and Lynch to negotiate a decent gain against the three Carolina linebackers.
Either one of those options could have produced a reasonable gain on the play, but instead the result was a disaster. It is impossible to know which of the offensive linemen was at fault on the play without knowing the visual cues that were set up in practice that week for making those types of adjustments.
The late movement by the linebackers clearly led one of the linemen to believe that there was a change in the blocking assignments, but that change wasn't communicated to the other lineman.
Mistakes like this one have have happened a few times in each of the two games so far this season. If the Seahawks can eliminate these mistakes and get all five blockers on the same page for each and every snap, then their blocking up front will become much more consistent.
This must become a point of emphasis this week for the Seahawks, especially with the possibility of having two new starters on the offensive line this week.
Overall, the Seahawks have a long ways to go on the offensive line before they will be back to the level of play the exhibited a year ago. They must find ways to get better, and they must do so quickly. If they can get help in pass protection for whomever is at LT, execute their cut blocks better and fix their communication issues, the offense will begin operating much more smoothly.
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