The Elephant in the Locker Room: Offensive Line the ‘Hawks “Weakest Link”?


Hawks-150Yeah, the ‘Hawks are big news. Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… including the national media. But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over–some topic that, for one reason or another, is being avoided. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

At the conclusion of the 2012 season, I remarked to my wife, “This offseason, the Hawks really need to find a decent nickelback and get better production at tight end. They do those two things, and they’ve got a real shot at a championship.” The Seahawks did exactly those two things, and for the most part the ball bounced favorably. Say hello to a Super Bowl victory.

But when you fix your weakest areas, it’s inevitable that another area becomes your greatest vulnerability.

After the Seahawks’ loss in St. Louis, ESPN’s Terry Blount wrote, “The offensive line was the weak link on a Super Bowl team last year. It still is, but it’s worse now.”

Let’s take a look at why that is… as I don’t see any point in debating whether Blount’s statement is true. So without further ado, meet your Super Bowl offensive line and their pedigrees (courtesy ESPN):

Okung-500
McQuistan-500
Unger-500
Sweezy-500
Giacomini-500

Bear in mind that Giacomini and McQuistan were castoffs from other teams. And a year prior to the Super Bowl, Sweezy was playing on the other side of the ball in college. And remember that McQuistan didn’t even get the start the previous week in the NFC Championship.

So McQuistan and Giacomini are gone. Our nominal starters are now Okung, Unger, Sweezy, and these guys:

Carpenter-500
Britt-500

Britt’s a rookie, and for all intents and purposes Carpenter might as well be given his lack of production in previous seasons.

Yet this “starting unit” has only played one full game together. Here are other role players that have been plugged into the line this season in the absence, at times, of Unger, Okung, and Carpenter:

Bailey-500
Gilliam-500
Schilling-500Lewis-500

Notice anything in common in that group? All but one went undrafted. And let’s throw into the mix the guy who was supposed to be Unger’s backup at center this year, another undrafted free agent:

Jeanpierre-500

But Lem got injured before the season even started. This means that, with Unger out, the line has been featuring a third-string center with Schilling… and in the most recent week, a fourth-stringer in Lewis. (Remember how we thought the Hawks would eat Green Bay and San Diego alive this year because they were starting second-stringers at center? Turn that around, and Russell Wilson should be dead right now!)

Finally, throw in the pedigree of another key contributor last season on the O line:

Bowie-500

So let’s be perfectly clear. Since Pete Carroll arrived with the Seahawks, the team has spent exactly two high draft picks on the O line: Okung and Carpenter. Okung has been pro-bowl caliber, but is still generally perceived as underperforming (particular as a pass blocker, and because of his frequent false start penalties). Until this year, Carpenter has almost universally perceived as a bust.

This has left Assistant Head Coach and run-blocking genius Tom Cable to cobble things together with castoffs, no-names, and mini-projects. And frankly, Cable has done exceedingly well in that regard. While pass blocking continues to be a major problem at almost every position along the line, there’s no question that Seattle’s run game does better than it deserves given the players we’ve got.

But here’s the thing: If a Pete Carroll team is successfully put together according to the Carroll design, the offensive line WILL be the weakest link.

Think about it. Where does Seattle expend most of its capital? On the defense first, then on the offensive skill positions, in order: running back, QB, tight end, and receiver. Heck, the O line even takes back seat to the kicking game.

Why is that? Why doesn’t Carroll put more juice into the offensive line?

Because budgets are limited and you have to prioritize. And with a top-flight D and a strong emphasis on the running game, Carroll and Cable have simply concluded that “we can make this work” is a good enough formula for a championship.

So the next time you hear color commentators carping about poor offensive line play from the Seahawks, don’t jump on the bandwagon and start badmouthing the players. Aside from Carpenter and possibly Okung (but he’s a pro-bowler, remember?), these guys are really over-performing considering their pedigree.

Could the offensive line be better? Yes.

Is the O line the weak link? Yes.

But if you’ve got a problem with that, point the finger at Carroll, not the guys who wear the jerseys.


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