Seahawks O-Line Could Derail Super Bowl Aspirations Yet Again

Sean TomlinsonNFL AnalystSeptember 10, 2017

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 10:  Nick Perry #53 of the Green Bay Packers sacks Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at Lambeau Field on September 10, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

There are a few ways to know it’s definitely September beyond just looking at a calendar like a normal person.

The crispness of the air is the first giveaway, of course, along with plant life starting to fade away ahead of winter. The next is the influence of Big Pumpkin, with everything from lattes to beer suddenly spiced.

But the real glaring sign is this yearly question: How is the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line still this awful?

We asked that in 2015, a season when quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked a career-high 45 times. That was also the only year out of the past four when the Seahawks didn’t win their division.

We asked the same question in 2016 as Wilson was hammered again, and eventually hobbled because of it. The Seahawks’ sacks allowed improved, but only marginally, and Wilson went down 41 times. During both the past two seasons an otherwise talented and title-contending Seahawks team with a loaded defense failed to advance to the NFC championship.

And here we are once more in early September 2017, returning to a familiar problem after Wilson was sacked three times in Seattle’s season-opening 17-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

That number should have been much higher. As usual, Wilson’s nimble feet and nearly unmatched creativity away from the pocket kept plays alive when they had no business still having a heartbeat. Remarkably, the Seahawks even led at one point early, but by only three as they failed to score a touchdown.

There were brief signs of life from a sputtering Seahawks offense. Most notably in the fourth quarter, when Wilson piled up 52 of his 158 passing yards on one quick-strike drive that ended in another field goal, at the time making it a one-score game with just over six minutes remaining.

But the more common scene was of Wilson frantically running as multiple offensive lineman lost their assignments almost immediately after the snap. If you’re picking one picture to sum up the entire afternoon, it’s this one:

If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then that one is just “Are you kidding me?” repeatedly.

Wilson has surely had quite enough of this, thank you very much. He’s still only 28 years old and remains one of the NFL’s most gifted young quarterbacks. He has a Super Bowl ring and is capable of earning another one if even average offensive line play is in front of him. He’s highly elusive and has never needed the brick-wall treatment other statue-like quarterbacks crave.

But meeting that low bar has been an insurmountable challenge for the Seahawks, with much of their salary cap spending tied up in retaining key defensive pieces. That’s often resulted in a nearly lifeless offense while too much is asked of Wilson. And Sunday’s loss to the Packers may have been rock bottom for Seattle’s poor offensive line play.

It all started with three straight three-and-outs to begin the game. The pressure on Wilson was relentless, and the Seahawks couldn’t generate much of a push for their rushing offense, either. Of the Seahawks’ first nine offensive plays, four went for either negative yards or no gain.

The ransacking didn’t stop. Multiple Packers pass-rushers lived in the opposing backfield, highlighted by outside linebacker Nick Perry and defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who each finished with 1.5 sacks. The interior pressure Daniels applied really led to the Seahawks’ unraveling and was the difference in a statement game.

Early in the third quarter, Daniels roasted Seahawks guard Luke Joeckel, which should surprise absolutely no one given his career trajectory. Daniels busted through the line when the Seahawks were already backed up near their own end zone and was in Wilson’s grill immediately.

The surprise attack caused a fumble, and one play later Packers running back Ty Montgomery scored a touchdown in a game eventually decided by eight points.

Daniels continued to tee off on Joeckel, who couldn’t even be a minor annoyance. Beyond the sacks, his final damage report against the former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round bust also included four quarterback hits and one tackle for loss.

Joeckel shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame, though, as the Seahawks’ offensive line woes are always a team effort. Left tackle Rees Odhiambo was frequently embarrassed, too, and reminded us that it’s not possible to protect the quarterback from your backside.

For much of the game, Wilson had no time to even glance downfield. That led to some comically lopsided advantages for the Packers at certain points, even if the score was still close.

For example, at the end of the first quarter the Packers held the advantage in offensive yards, 83-3. The Packers easily won in that area after three more quarters, outpacing the Seahawks 370 total yards to 225. That came after the Seahawks mustered a mere 25 yards over the first 29 minutes of play. The Seahawks also didn’t record a first down until the 10:06 mark of the second quarter.

The most stunning reflection of the Seahawks’ nearly nonexistent offense came from the game clock. At halftime, the Packers had already controlled the ball for 20:14, and their time of possession topped out at 39:13. That’s equivalent to a little over two-and-a-half quarters of the game.

The Seahawks still have a stellar defense and showed it by applying plenty of their own pressure, sacking Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers four times over just his first 22 dropbacks. But even the most ferocious defenses wear down when faced with a daunting snap count.

With the Seahawks offense unable to generate any momentum, their defense faded while on the field for 74 snaps (Seattle ran just 48 plays). Ultimately, that sheer exhaustion was the final nail and why offensive line issues could again derail an otherwise talented roster.

Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

We’ve seen this too many times before. Wilson can weave, twirl, duck and sprint to avoid pressure and make magic happen. But asking him to do it almost every snap isn’t exactly the ideal blueprint for success. It’s also a fine way to put your franchise cornerstone on the shelf with a more serious injury.

Coming into 2017, Wilson had been sacked 40-plus times in four straight seasons. Worse, he entered the league in 2012 and is one of only two quarterbacks (Miami's Ryan Tannehill is the other) to be sacked 200-plus times over that five-year period, according to Pro Football Reference.

Wilson has still managed to dazzle often and lead his team to the playoffs. But he did it aided by a bulldozing rushing attack. Now Marshawn Lynch is long gone, and Seahawks running backs produced only 53 rushing yards Sunday.

Wilson has the talent to rise above basement-level offensive line play. But it sure would be nice if he didn’t have to endure a weekly pummeling.

That might be what it takes to keep championship-contending thoughts alive in Seattle. Because now the alternative—a great defense and an early playoff exit—is becoming a recurring theme after two straight Super Bowl appearances.