BY Art Thiel 09:31PM 11/07/2017

Thiel: O-line fouls and the mystery of Wilson

The Seahawks lead the NFL in penalties. Part of the problem is young linemen who can’t tell when Wilson is scrambling, so they hold defenders too long.

RT Germain Ifedi leads the NFL in penalties, partly because it’s hard for him to know when QB Russell Wilson begins to run. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Most Seahawks fans — hell, most Seahawks players — are happy when Russell Wilson scrambles from the pocket and turns up-field. It usually means a notable rushing gain, as well as re-calibration of the game plan by a grumpy defensive coordinator to account for maneuvers that resemble a summer fly trapped in a jar.

Delight was never more evident than Sunday against Washington, when his 10 carries for 77 yards made him the game’s leading rusher. But there was an asterisk: The Seahawks lost to a mediocre team.

Wilson also had his second-lowest passer rating of the season at 70.3, barely ahead of the 69.7 he posted in the touchdown-free loss in the season opener at Green Bay. His career average is 99.2, and the NFL leader this year is Kansas City’s Alex Smith at 113.9.

There’s not necessarily an inverse correlation between Wilson’s productive running and diminished passing. But there does seem to be problem with mostly young offensive linemen not knowing what he’s up to behind them.

That tends to result in holding penalties, three of which were called Sunday among 16 Seahawks infractions, one shy of the single-game team record set in 1984.

The Seahawks were dunned 138 yards, or about what the feds gave the Corleone family. The don of the group is RT Germain Ifedi, who leads the NFL with 12 penalties. Thanks in part to the second-year man from Texas A&M, the Seahawks lead the league with 82 penalties, and are on pace to break the NFL record of 163 set by Oakland in 2011.

Since the Seahawks also led the NFL in penalties in 2013 and 2014 — the years they were rewarded with Super Bowls — it’s possible the federal government will extend its seven-nation travel ban to include Seattle.

The Seahawks also lead with 28 pre-snap penalties, those nasty little crimes like parking in a loading zone, unmatched socks and ending sentences with prepositions.

According to assistant coach Tom Cable, seven of the season’s 10 holding penalties came during quarterback scrambles.

“The truth of it is, he’s the best in the game at what he does,” Cable said of Wilson’s improvisational skills. “We have to adapt. But if we can stick to: ‘If you feel him go, let go,’ we can cut down penalties. It’s hard.”

Cable referred to his line’s tendency, as Wilson begins to run, to keep holding the defender after he has made a move to chase Wilson, which makes the blocker’s hands visible to officials.

“No one’s trying to hold, but there’s truth in seven out of 10,” Cable said. But he also was eager to prop up Ifedi’s fragile confidence.

“He’s playing really good if you let the penalties out of him,” he said. “He’s been exceptional for a second-year, first-time starter at tackle. That’s my goal: Clean him up.”

But a foul-free game doesn’t solve everything with the offense. Wilson was so eager to run Sunday that he apparently passed up passing opportunities. Whether it was for self-protection or tactics, coach Pete Carroll noticed.

“Sometimes,” Carroll said, answering a question about whether he wishes occasionally Wilson would stay in the pocket. “Yeah. Sometimes. There is a little give and take there, but sometimes it’s been like that. This was one of those games where he was moving quick, more than some other games.

“He did a lot with his legs and it was effective.”

Wilson was certain that he didn’t break from the pocket too often.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said. “A lot of times I have been in the pocket. Last game I was able to get out a little bit more, but I don’t think that is a concern or anything like that.

“I think that things kind of happen. You just play ball.  I don’t play scared.  I don’t try to think too much. Usually, it turns out pretty good for us.”

Usually, it has. Also usually at midseason, the Seahawks aren’t breaking in a left tackle new to the team, nor playing a rookie in his second start at left guard. It is asking a lot of those players and the rest of the team to adjust. But according to Carroll, it was the right side of the line, with Ifedi and Oday Aboushi, that faltered some Sunday.

Discussing Wilson’s erratic accuracy Sunday, Carroll said, “Coaches have gone through it with him, and there is something here, something there. He felt the right side (pressure) a little bit in pass protection and it caused him to move a little bit earlier than he needed to a couple times. But then he took over and made some marvelous plays by his movement.”

Complicating matters is that Duane Brown, the 10-year veteran left tackle acquired from Houston, has never protected a scrambler.

“I’ve been with pocket passers,” he said. “This is something different.”

Cable smiled when told about Brown’s remark.

“That’s one of the first things we talked about,” he said. “Your whole career, you’ve spent protecting the spot. Now the spot is everywhere.”

Remember last season, when the line couldn’t keep Wilson from being sacked? He has been dropped just 18 times in eight games, 17th in the NFL. Now the line has a hard time spotting the spot. Unfortunately for Wilson’s blockers, the trail to it has marked in yellow.


  • jafabian

    Biggest issue with the O-Line is familiarity with one another. They’re always retooling the line because the club locked up one of the core players, usually on defense. I’ve wondered if they’ve thought of bringing back Russell Okung, JR Sweezy or Paul McQuistan just to give the line some relative stability. Schneider and Carroll keep drafting O-Linemen but haven’t had the success that they’ve had with other positions. Pretty much confirming the NFL’s position that college football isn’t preparing those position players for the pros.

    • art thiel

      Fair point about familiarity. It can’t occur if the chosen players aren’t good enough to stick around (Nowak, Webb, Sowell, etc). But OLs and some players (Britt) are slower to develop than at other positions.

      College football is helping compromise linemen throughout the NFL. I’ll wager that 25 NFL teams have moderate to significant O-line problems.

  • Joe_Fan

    Speaking of penalties, how about special teams Art? It seems like every time we drop back to receive a punt there is a penalty. Very frustrating. And is it just me or has Lockett lost a step? He doesn’t seem very explosive. I wonder if McKissic might be a better option?

    • jafabian

      I’ve been thinking about when they do the coin toss and if they wn they always elect to kick off so why not receive and start off the game with their 2 minute offense? Get on the board first so the opposing team is always having to catch up.

      • art thiel

        Carroll likes his defense on the field first, and likes to get the ball first in the second half. It’s all about a slow build to a fourth quarter when the Seahawks offense zigs against a tired defense expecting a zag.

    • art thiel

      Lockett has not been as effective, and I’m not sure if even he knows why. He had a serious couple of breaks in the leg, so it may take most of the season before he runs as he did.

  • Matt712

    So, we’re asking our linemen to “feel” Russel moving behind them. Ah yes, much to learn, these young Jedis have. Maybe the Seahawks can bring yoda in as a consultant.

    Here’s the deal: when there’s a clean stable pocket, Wilson – like most QBs – tends to stay in it. His skittishness last Sunday looked to me Like it was caused mostly by interior pressure. Aboushi and Britt seemed to be having a tough time coming off the ball. I think Britt’s ankles are still bothering him. As for Germain Ifedi: his holding problems will persist until he gets quicker feet and/or more experience going against guys with quicker feet.

    The Force is strong in number 3.

    • art thiel

      Now that the Seahawks have on their side Obi-Brown Kenobi, fall backward, the pass rushers will.

  • Williec

    Just caught the article–love the analogy in your first paragraph.
    Also love “now the spot is everywhere.”