Seahawks’ new offensive line coach brings a blast from the past
Very soon after he was hired by the Seahawks last January, Pete Carroll brought offensvie line coach Alex Gibbs, his old friend, on staff to install and instill a sense of offensive toughness that was decidedly missing from the Tim Ruskell era. Despite his reputation as the Zen coach, ever full of positivity, Carroll has seen his offenses as balanced entities all along. People remember Reggie Bush making the splash plays at USC; they tend to forget LenDale White pushing the pile. To bring that thunder-and-lightning approach to Seattle, and have it used effectively, the Seahawks would need what they had not had since 2005 a portable run game, led by an offensive line that could work in any weather.
Going through his time with the Denver Broncos and several other NFL teams, Gibbs always brought a specific and unconventional value to the franchises he worked for. His version of the zone-blocking system, in which blockers work in tandem instead of going man-on-man, allowed his teams to enjoy great gains in run efficiency despite a frequent lack of marquee talent on those lines. This, of course, would allow those franchises to place more resources in other positional groups.
It was a great idea for the Seahawks, and it probably would have worked except that it didnt. When Gibbs abruptly retired on September 4, it left the offense in an odd place. Pat Ruel and Art Valero tag-teamed their way through coaching that line in the 2010 season, but as much as those two men did the best they could with no prep time, it was a bad situation all around. Without a strong personnel voice running the line, players came in and out with limited effectiveness. Rookie left tackle Russell Okung impressed with he was healthy, but overall, the 2010 Seahawks line failed just as its predecessors had.
Running backs Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett could never find consistent gaps. Offensive playsheets were limited by an absence of longer-running plays, because pass protection was an issue. Seattle finished the 2010 season ranked 29th in Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards metric (which places credit and blame on running backs and offensive lines based on the length of the play) after finishing 27th the year before. Lynch led the team with 573 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry, and the Seahawks were one of two teams that didnt feature a 100-yard rusher in any regular-season game.
Even Lynchs historic 67-yard run against the New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round, which propelled him over 100 yards for the game and set a rare example of toughness in that regard, came despite the fact that Lynch had to basically bull his way through without any real lanes. And in the playoff follow-up loss to the Chicago Bears, receiver Golden Tate was the teams leading receiver with one carry for 13 yards on that was essentially a backward pass.
Based on what Carroll had in mind for this season, its easy to say that Jeremy Bates fired himself on that day. But the dichotomy between the two coaches (what Carroll repeatedly called philosophical differences in his Wednesday press conference) went far beyond the results of one game. Bates had a history of being pass-happy and giving up on the run, even in optimal circumstances, and Carroll wanted the toughness Bates wasnt giving him in Gibbs absence.
And that, more than anything else, is why Carroll hired former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable to be the Seahawks new Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line. Cable is an acolyte of Gibbs (the two worked together on Atlantas staff in 2006), and built a brutally effective running game in Oakland despite the often-odd personnel moves made by Al Davis.
Im really excited about Tom, Carroll said on Wednesday. Toms been through a really challenging environment with the Raiders, and hes come out of it ready to work and put his expertise in order for us. To get back to the mentality and approach that we started this program with we got a bit sidetracked, and Tom gives us the toughness and direction and focus that we want to balance out this offense and this team. Hes a guy Ive watched coach for a long time, and had the opportunity to watch him coach on the field, compete against them, and Ive always been very impressed.
Carroll was probably never more impressed by Cables approach than when the Seahawks traveled to the Bay Area for a Week 8 trouncing. Cables Raiders beat the daylights out of Carrolls team, 33-3, and Cables run game outgained the Seahawks, 239 yards to 47 and 6.1 yards per carry to Seattles 2.5. There may be serious and legitimate questions about Cables ability to relate to others, but hes proven that he can take a ground game and set it on the right path.
A few days before that game, Cable met with the Seattle media and talked about the timeshare between running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, which could indicate how Lynch and Forsett could be used. We dont worry about whos going to get what and when, Cable said. The relationship theyre like brothers. As close as you could ever be to your own brother. Very good relationship. They understand that Darren goes in as the starter and if he needs a blow, Mike goes in. If Mike gets hot, its Mikes show. Thats just how we do it.
Cable also talked about his offensive line philosophy. Well, when I came here (to Oakland) as a line coach, they were last in everything last in rushing, last in sacks allowed and then the first year they were sixth in rushing and cut their sacks in less than half, from 74 to 34 or 35. The next year they were 10th in rushing. We play solid football on the offensive line. I think weve had some real issues this year in terms of protection early in the year but we seem to be getting better. Theyve had some flashing times where theyve played very and then some times where the inconsistency has gotten us. So its kind of a Jekyll and Hyde thing, a little bit. But theyre coming along and consistency is the key at that spot.
And just to wrap it up, Cable talked about the Seahawks he had seen. Matt Hasselbeck is a guy proven in this league at a very high level, good enough to take a team to the Super Bowl. Youve got an outstanding tight end in (John) Carlson, the big receiver, Mike Williams has turned his career around. (Golden) Tate is a very good, young player as is (Deon) Butler. So to me, as he said, theyve got the right pieces going. The trade for Marshawn is big. (Justin) Forsett is a good player, no question. He can impact a game; he can hit a homerun at any time. But Marshawn adds a dimension in terms of the physicality of the guy.
Now that these players are in Cables possession from a coaching perspective, it will be his job to fix what needs fixing in an offense that hasnt performed at a level above league average in over half a decade. Cable, a man used to strong challenges (both issued and accepted), should be up for this one.