BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 08/26/2020

Thiel: The guys protecting Russ are better. Right?

The COVID-19 shutdown made it a bad time for Seahawks to be breaking in a mostly new O-line. But Schottenheimer says his guys won the Zoom meetings. Really?

In the 2019 opener against Cincinnati, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was sacked four times, this one by Bengals DT Carlos Dunlap. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The most noteworthy impediment to the #LetRussCook movement by many 12s is the regular inability to keep the varmints out of the kitchen. Nobody eats when the chef is skittering past the cooktop, looking to climb a footstool.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and his viceroy, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, understand this, and often call a run-heavy, lower-risk game early. As defenses inevitably wear down, QB Russell Wilson gets busy, by air and land, and the Seahawks, to cite a recent set of outcomes, in 2019 win 10 regular-season games and a playoff game by eight points or less, an NFL record for drama.

But lordy, do those meals produce indigestion. And at some point, the varmints will take a bite out of the cook.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks’ rate of pass pressures allowed after 2.5 seconds in 2019 was third-worst in the NFL, ahead of only the Jets and Dolphins. For his career, Wilson’s dropbacks have resulted in rush pressure 42 percent of the time, the only QB in that time period over 40 percent.

So the relative inability to protect Wilson has produced a layer of necessity atop Carroll’s longtime allegiance to “pounding the rock,” as he described it sarcastically this week.

To the surprise of some critics, Carroll is not oblivious. He let go three O-line starters, Germain Ifedi, D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt, plus backup center Joey Hunt, partly in an effort to get better pass pro.

That’s a lot at once. Unfortunately for him, the need for mass replacements came a bad time.

The COVID-19 shutdown cost NFL teams their organized team activities, their mini-camps and their four preseason games. Other than the teams installing new coaching staffs, the loss of practice time hurts most a team with an O-line chubby with newbies.

So given the chowdered calendar, the chance for an opening-game clank on offense is much higher than usual. Right?

Recall that in the 2019 opener against a mediocre Cincinnati team, the Seahawks won 21-20 at home. Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes, including five to wide receivers (how does a modern NFL team win a game with five completions to wideouts, on a sunny September day?). And that was with a veteran line that LT Duane Brown said in the preseason had “a chance to be one of the best in the league.”

For what it’s worth, PFF ranked the Seahawks O-line 28th last season.

As for the 2020 preseason, despite the impediments, Schottenheimer is enthusiastic, which is, of course, the minimum operating level for a Carroll assistant.

“I think we did it better than anybody,” he said on a Zoom conference Tuesday. Since all practices until the past two weeks were virtual, with players and coaches in their homes, I’m not sure how he knows that. Maybe there’s league-wide analytical measurements for trap blocks on living-room furniture per Zoom minute, or something.

But as with many things these days, we just accept someone’s word for it, and move on.

Except Schottenheimer wasn’t taking PFF’s word.

“You know, those stats are very interesting,” he said. “Most people look at (pass protection) that it’s just the offensive line, right?  They might block everything beautifully, and the defense brings too many guys. Or there’s (a failure) to adjust by a receiver, or a tight end, to take the hit, or maybe it’s the back.

“From time to time, Russell is back there hunting and he’ll end up holding it a little bit too long. Those (PFF) numbers can be very misleading at times.”

The No. 1 unit in camp so far has the two veteran returnees on the left side, Brown and guard Mike Iupati. Fourth-year Ethan Pocic is at center. Rookie third-round pick Damien Lewis is the right guard, free agent signee Brandon Shell, 28, is at right tackle. Plus the 35-year-old newbie tight end, Greg Olsen.

Naturally, Schottenheimer is thumbs-up.

“I think that this group of of offensive linemen — the protection group in general — we’re better off than we’ve been in understanding of our rules, our adjustments, and how to solve problems,” he said. “That’s a huge huge part of it, (done) with countless hours of talking through these looks over and over in the Zoom meetings.

“Our defense is throwing some fun stuff at us. We’re troubleshooting our protections, making sure that we see things the right way. No question we want to improve that (rush pressure) number. But it’s not just the offensive line, it’s us as a whole being better.”

Since there’s little else to go on, Schottenheimer gets the benefit of the doubt in August. By the late afternoon of Sept. 13 in Atlanta, we’ll begin to know whether Wilson will be able to cook, should he go wild and complete eight or nine passes to wideouts.



  • Kevin Lynch

    Excellent digestion, Art. “Chowdered calendar” says it all. If I was a betting man I would not want to bet the first game. Atlanta is hard to figure out in the best of cases. Not that a team sport like football is comparable to tennis but there has been some real scratchy, dicey play this week in pro tennis’ inaugural week back.

    • art thiel

      I’ll take your word on tennis. If I were a gambler, I would stay 10,000 miles away from the NFL in September.

  • Bruce McDermott

    All true. But this problem pales in comparison to the DL problem.

    • art thiel

      Will you allow just a single problem per presentation, your honor?

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    The Hawks have been notorious for shopping at the Family Dollar store for O-linemen. They have a gazillion dollar asset in #3 yet continue to place little to no emphasis on the OL. For the amount of pressure that’s put upon Russell week in and week out and literally running for his life. It’s mind boggling as to how he’s escaped serious injury from being run over practically every game. It’s simply just a matter of time before he and the Hawks run out of luck if there isn’t some real effort put into putting a competent OL around him.

    • art thiel

      You can get cool stuff at the Dollar Store. You can spend all day in Bellevue Square and never find a tackle who leads the NFL in penalties.

  • Stephen Pitell

    Rookie of the Year, 3rd round pick Lewis, right guard for the Hawks. We’ve seen our backups perform well in games, so if they can’t win a starting job, then the guys who beat them out must be fairly capable.

    OL statistics are inherently intertwined with the QB’s play. Wilson extends plays in unpredictable ways that makes it hard on the linemen to protect him. I judge our OL on running statistics more than pass protection statistics. I’m hoping our running game performs up to the level they performed at just prior to Carson and Penny getting hurt.

    Our running game was starting to percolate. I have hopes that this year will be one of our best ever. Art can piss on our parade all he wants. He’s good at it. I just hope he is wrong this time.

    • art thiel

      Better your shoes are wet than mine.

  • woofer

    Lots of burly beef available every morning at the Soho Home Depot parking lot. Get there early and take your pick. Time to bring back Tom the Cable Guy. He’ll get it done.

    • art thiel

      How about we send one of the HD guys over to your place to trim the rhetoric?

  • jafabian

    NBC Sports reported that the Hawks brought in Britt for a visit. If he hasn’t been picked up by a team then he is most likely still injured and won’t be able to play at the beginning of the season. However since the season isn’t a guarantee and the line is thin why not? Especially when there’s no veteran on the waiver or available for a trade right now? If anything when he can play he brings in depth. Be cool to bring him and Paul Richardson back who was also reported talking to the Hawks.

    • art thiel

      Britt and Richardson would be inexpensive additions. Before the Seahawks cut him mostly for salary reasons, Britt was making good rehab progress, Carroll said. I think they’re uneasy about both Pocic and Finney.

  • BD

    Every NFL Head Coach seems to have an Achilles Heel when it comes to a particular position. Holmgren’s Achilles Heel positions were Middle Linebacker and Receiver. Holmgren was hapless at filling both of these position groups until he stumbled into Lofa Tatupu, whose small body size couldn’t take the pounding but his brain could play some ball. And Matt Hasselbeck’s career would have gone very differently if Holmgren had given him somebody decent to throw the ball to that could actually catch (remember Koren Robinson, the one eyeballed receiver, who seemed to drop everything he touched? Well, duh, he had one working eye and no depth perception but Holmgren started him for four seasons). Bobby Engram was about as good as the Holmgren Seahawk’s receiving group got. But man could Holmgren pick and teach Offensive Lineman. Pete Carroll? Not so much.

    Carroll’s Achilles Heel was leaning too heavily on the talent assessment and teaching skills of Tom Cable. Which is why I’m not holding out a whole lot of hope of Ethan Pocic becoming a viable player. Tom Cable’s O Line draft choices set the Seahawks back a decade and they are just now recovering from it…maybe (it should also be noted that the NFL changed the rules on the chop block a few years into Cable’s tenure with the ‘Hawks, his bread and butter, and he never recovered).

    • art thiel

      In slight defense of the Seahawks, almost every team has O-line problems because of the college game’s changes. It’s hardest unit to fill in pro ball.

      Remember the great Rams O-line two years ago? Gone. Done. Age and free agency.

      But Pete/John overreached on Carpenter, Moffitt, Ifedi and other draftees. I do think Lewis is the real deal. Drew Nowak . . . still not over that one.