The physical run game finally returned to Seattle, by way of Chicago.
In the five seasons that he acted as the Seattle Seahawks team president, Tim Ruskell did very little to improve the teams offensive line, and a great deal to destroy it. The foul-up that led to Steve Hutchinsons eventual future with the Minnesota Vikings ranks right up there in Seattle sports history with some of the more boneheaded moves of the Wally Walker Sonics or latter-day Mariners, but it was the little things that did that line in. Ruskell rarely drafted linemen worthy of high picks, expected Walter Jones to play a full season in2009 after microfracture surgery, and bet the farm in athletic projects like Ray Willis and Mansfield Wrotto.
More than anything else, Ruskells inattention to the line led to the new regime that now run the Seahawks. And on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, Ruskell now the Chicago Bears Director of Player Personnel discovered once again what he should already know. It doesnt matter how great your skill position players are; if your line isnt blocking, championships wont bother knocking.
Chicagos line, constructed by former and current Ruskell mentor Jerry Angelo, has been brutalized by age, injury, and ill-advised personnel decisions. The only first-round pick in the roster, former Vanderbilt tackle Chris Williams, was recently moved inside to guard. The only first-round talent, former Washington Huskies center Olin Kreutz, is 33 years old, and theres no realistic replacement on the horizon.
The differences in Seattles 23-20 win over the Bears were the offensive lines how poorly Chicagos played, and how Seattles under-construction unit finally started to come together. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had been sacked a league-high 17 times before this game (including nine on the first half of a loss to the New York Giants on October 3, and the Seahawks added six more to the total. That Seattle defense also added nine quarterback hits and countless pressures. The result? A Chicago offense that lost the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes, failed to convert a single third down in 12 attempts, and scored only one offensive touchdown a six-yard run by Matt Forte to end the Bears first drive.
From then on, it was smooth sailing for Seattles defense. Obviously on tape we were licking our chops a little bit seeing the way the Giants had success, safety Lawyer Milloy said after the game of Chicagos pass protection. We had to get up and jam the receivers and give the rush time to get there. Sacks come from doing everything right on first and second down. We got them into some third-and-long situations, and we brought the kitchen sink and it paid off for us.
As for Seattles offense, observers saw something they could not have expected a better-than-functional running game against the NFLs second-best run defense. Losing linebacker Lance Briggs to injury before the game even started was a Chicago disadvantage, but that was supposed to have been mitigated by the matchup of veteran defensive end Julius Peppers versus rookie left tackle Russell Okung.
Peppers has been playing out of his mind ion his first Chicago season, while Okung has just been trying to stay healthy enough to get through a few successive practices. But in this game, Peppers was held to just one solo tackle and one quarterback hit. In a blocking scheme that is moving away from Alex Gibbs pure zone to a power hybrid that better fits Okungs skill set, the Oklahoma State rookie was near-dominant.
New running back Marshawn Lynch ran for just 44 yards in 17 carries, but he brought a consistently physical presence to the Seattle running game that had been missing for years. Fellow ex-Cal running back Justin Forsett picked up 67 yards on just 10 carries, and both players scored rushing touchdowns. Matt Hasselbeck was as bolstered by his running game as any quarterback would be, which Pete Carroll felt compelled to mention after the game.
There is no question that Matt continues to grow, Carroll said. Frankly, Marshawn Lynch makes a difference to us and our mentality. He was a factor in the game. He helps the quarterback understand what we are trying to get done. You can feel it, because you know there is a chance for the running game to be there. That fits the mentality. We were able to play today in a style that we have been talking about. This is the first time. We should have an opportunity.
Receivers Deon Butler and Mike Williams also stood out Butler by replacing Deion branch as the true deep threat, and Williams by catching a game-high 10 balls on 15 targets. If the Seahawks missed Branch, it sure didnt show.
I think the coaching staff really knows what type of offense, and what type of team we want to be, Butler said during the week, as it was announced that he was getting a bump to the big time. Theyre still feeling us out and kind of seeing what we do best and stuff like that.
“The good thing is that we really have a vision, we know what we want to become and were slowly getting there. Anytime you have a new coaching staff, theres going to be some lumps. The offense has kind of been slow but its just going to have to go through those times and I think were really excited to move forward and really get it going.
The Seahawks currently stand at 3-2, with the 3-2 Arizona Cardinals coming to Qwest Field next Sunday for what will be an unexpected fight for the top of the NFC West.