The Elephant in the Locker Room: Winning With Whozits and Whatzits

be-back-smBy Greg Wright

Let’s talk for a minute not about the Seahawks offensive line but about other teams’ most potent weapons… and how to defeat them.

Wide receivers and quarterbacks, for instance.

Let’s say your team is going to be facing Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald two or three times each year. If you’re a defensive coach, how are you going to structure your defense to deal with that?

Well, league history has shown that just about the only way to defend against receivers is with a sound defensive scheme and high-quality defensive backs. A defense built like the Seahawks’ D, with players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. You’re going to need to draft and develop blue-chip defensive backs.

Or let’s say you’re going to be facing Frank Gore or Todd Gurley or Marshawn Lynch on a regular basis. Your defense is going to need defensive linemen like Brandon Mebane and linebackers like Bobby Wagner or K.J. Wright. Again, there’s really no way around it: you’ll have to find some defensive stars who are strong on the inside and quick to the outside if you don’t want to be giving up 150 yards a game on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, if you’re in a division featuring stiff defensive units with a host of quick, brutal defensive ends like Calais Campbell, Aldon Smith, and Jared Allen you’re going to need an agile and resourceful quarterback, and a running back like Marshawn Lynch who can move a pile four or five yard downfield. There’s just no way around it.

But let’s be realistic: you can’t stock your team with blue-chip players at every position and in every unit. It’s just not possible. Even if you could find them, you couldn’t pay them all. So something’s gotta give. At some point, at some position, you’ve got to find some way of neutralizing opposing teams’ strengths creatively rather than matching up five-star recruits against other five-star recruits.

It’s like finding a way to defeat chess pieces with checkers.

But it is possible. Just look at last year’s Super Bowl matchup to prove the point.

So given that’s it’s possible to sustain long-term success with less-than-topnotch players, which opposing unit are you most likely to find creative ways to defeat?

By Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa from Redmond, Washington. Cropped by User:Blueag9. ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Luis Antonio Rodríguez Ochoa from Redmond, Washington. Cropped by User:Blueag9. ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Quarterbacks and receivers? The great QBs succeed year in and year out regardless of the defenses they face. That doesn’t seem likely.

Running backs? Again, look at the history of the great ones. You may shut them down for a quarter or a half. But until their bodies break down–until they beat themselves with the old calendar–the best you’re going to do is limit the damage… even if you throw Pro Bowl-caliber defenders at them.

Offensive linemen? Take a look at the stats of the best sometime, like Walter Jones. You just can’t beat the great ones. Doesn’t matter who you throw at them, not even All-Pros.

In reality, defenses are the easiest to exploit, precisely because they are on defense. They are reacting to what offenses do.

So if, on average, the teams you face are allocating half of their resources on offense and half and defense, you are most likely to get a unit-to-unit advantage on the offensive side of the ball.

This means you can do more with less, if you have the will (and need) to risk it, a mind to scheme it, and the bodies to fit the scheme.

Which brings us back to the Seahawks’ woeful offensive line.

Make no mistake: this is not a good offensive line in terms of raw performance, much less a great one. And this point is much talked about, so I won’t belabor it.

But as I’ve remarked in the past, what offensive line in the Carroll era has been good or great?

By Neal (Neal D) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Neal (Neal D) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Super Bowl unit that featured J. R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini? The playoff-caliber unit from the previous year that included Paul McQuistan? Maybe last year’s Super Bowl squad with Carpenter and Britt?

But look at what Co-Head Coach Tom Cable has done with his offensive lines. The Seahawks rushing game consistently ranks in the top five in the league. Seattle’s overall offensive output (aided, of course, by the stingy defense) is never worse than middle of the pack in the league standings.

By exploiting defensive aggression, Cable’s zone blocking schemes, the read option, and the play-action pass keep defenses from simply pinning their ears back and demolishing Russell Wilson. Taking their cue from Lynch’s brutual running style, Cable’s athletic and highly-mobile linemen generally get a good push off the ball and leave defenders standing around asking, “Where did the ball just go?” while the O linemen move on to the second level and often find themselves throwing blocks ten or fifteen or twenty yards downfield.

Without offensive stars like Wilson and Lynch, though, the strategy would simply be a disaster. All too often this year, Seattle’s blockers have been the ones standing around asking, “Where did that d-lineman just go?”

But Seattle’s reality is that they do have Wilson and Lynch–and they pay them accordingly. Plus, Wilson and Lynch stay healthy.

And they have this Seahawk Secret Sauce: a sneaky-good scheme to beat blue-chip defenses with a cobbled-together line of whozits and whatzits. A scheme that doesn’t require the line to win one-on-one matchups play-in and play-out. They just need win as a unit the majority of the time.

Will they be able to ride that scheme into the playoffs for a fourth straight season?

I’m betting yes. And I bet that march to the playoffs starts this week.

And I’d rather bet on Cable’s scheme than bet on Carson Palmer finishing a season in the NFC West. Arizona and Seattle will likely be playing for the division title in Arizona the final week of the season, even though they lead by two wins right now.

Arizona is for real. There’s no mistaking it now. Their win here in Seattle in 2013 was no fluke, and Seattle would probably not have got away with two wins over the Cardinals last year had Carson Palmer made it past Week 10.

What can we expect this year? Well, Arizona is on a roll. Offensively, they’re a juggernaut and are stout on defense as usual.

Still, timing is everything, and this is the time of year that Seattle usually starts peaking. And it’s feeling like Seattle is finally gelling on both sides of the ball.

The believer in me, as evidenced by what I have written above, tells me that Seattle will win convincingly if closely. But the realist in me says: not so fast. Bruce Arians is a mad scientist in Christmas Story glasses. Seattle will play well, but lose another heartbreaker.

Arizona 24, Seattle 20.

After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. 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 NFC West Champions.

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