Seattle Seahawks

Quick passing in Pittsburgh, 2-0 record don’t mask urgent problem for Seahawks’ O-line

Russell Wilson wasn’t the only Seahawk who benefited — and appreciated — quicker passing later in Pittsburgh.

Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Justin Britt, D.J. Fluker, Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi did, too.

They are Seattle’s offensive linemen. They got ransacked by the blitzing, charging Steelers in the first half of Sunday’s game. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt and Pittsburgh’s defensive line were dominating them on long drop backs and play-action passes by Wilson.

The Steelers had three sacks on Seattle’s first two offensive possessions, including by Tuitt on consecutive plays. Pittsburgh had four sacks and at least that many hits on Wilson in his 23 drop backs in the first two quarters. The Seahawks produced one score in 37 plays. They trailed 10-7.

At halftime, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told Wilson he was going to call quicker passes with a faster tempo in the second half. One- and two-step drops, to get the ball out before the Steelers got to Wilson.

“Schotty zeroed in on some stuff at halftime with the guys, and I thought Mike (Solari, the offensive line coach) did a nice job with the guys up front, settling them down,” coach Pete Carroll said. “What really changes was Russ was just getting rid of the football so fast, and it was really hard for the rush to develop in that complemented what else we were doing with the running game. ...

“We had a tremendous second half, and it was the combination of the timing, getting the ball out, and the protection being impeccable in the second half. Gave us a great flow. Russ was on the mark, and he was quick with the football and just didn’t let the pressure get even close to him.”

The result: no sacks, Wilson completing 14 of 16 passes with touchdowns to Will Dissly and rookie DK Metcalf — and a 28-26 victory to push the Seahawks to 2-0 for the first time since 2013, their Super Bowl championship season.

“I think that it just tired them out,” Brown, Seattle’s left tackle, said after the win. “They did a great job of getting in their rush lanes and getting there early on and in the first quarter and stuff.

“(Then) We got the ball out. The receivers did a great job of getting there quick, getting their heads turned around. Russ did a great job getting the ball out and finding the right guys.

“You could just feel (the Steelers) kind of, you know, starting to get tired and wear down some. And that helped us in the second half.”

Sounds like a plan to keep for this week with the New Orleans Saints with their league-leading nine sacks through two weeks coming to CenturyLink Field on Sunday, eh?

Well, that won’t fix everything wrong with the pass protection and thus the offense.

The Seahawks are 2-0 with a scoring differential of just three total points through two games (a one-point win over Cincinnati in the opener preceded them hanging on in Pittsburgh).

Even if Schottenheimer and Wilson stay with the up-tempo, quick-step passing game Sunday to combat the pass rushers from the swarming Saints (1-1), it won’t matter if the Seahawks’ offensive line keeps committing holding penalties.

“Our hands have got to get cleaner,” Carroll said.

His line got penalized seven times on Sunday. Six were for holding. Four of those holds were in the first half: two on Ifedi at right tackle, one on Iupati making his Seattle debut at left guard and one against right guard Fluker. Ifedi and Iupati got caught holding on the same play in the first half. That negated a smooth, improvisational 43-yard pass to Dissly from Wilson on a scramble.

Even after the Seahawks went to the quicker passes after halftime, the linemen still committed holding penalties. Officials called the foul in the second half on Fluker and on Pocic, who entered at guard when first Iupati needed a break, then after Fluker turned his ankle. Carroll said Fluker’s ankle is a wait-and-see situation for Sunday’s game.

Officials are calling holding more across the league so far this season, as they told teams in their training-camp visits they would. The NFL had 74 holding fouls in Week 2. That’s nearly twice as many as the 38 called in Week 2 of the 2018 season. The 138 holding penalties through two weeks is 47 more than the league had through two games last season.

Carroll said the officials are right. His blockers are wrong. The officials are calling it. The Seahawks have to change.

Seattle’s eight holding flags are fourth-most in the NFL.

Carroll is making it perhaps his biggest coaching point of this week of practices before playing the Saints.

“We’ve just got to do a better job,” he said. “The officials, there are a couple of things that are really easy for the officials to see, and they can see when you pull on a jersey ... When that happens, that’s a penalty in all phases of our game now. When your hands and arms are extended in blocks, it’s just a red flag and here it comes. They can see that you don’t get it removed immediately, then you get called.

“That’s just being sloppy with their hands, and we have to do better. Our conscience isn’t right about it, and I hope this hit hard enough this week. I hope the lessons are strong enough that we can make an impression on our guys.”

The penalties — and sacks — are why Seattle has had a dozen plays of third-and-10 or more yards to gain a first down. That, in turn, is why the team is 16th in third-down conversion rate (36 percent) despite being 2-0. That rate on third downs is 1.5 percent below where Seattle was last season, and it has the Seahawks just 20th in the NFL in first downs.

If they could stay in even third-and-9 or less, the Seahawks would be one of the league’s best drive teams. They have gained 141 yards on 12 plays on third down and fewer than 10 yards to go. That’s an average of 11.8 yards gained per those third-and-not-so-long plays.

To Carroll, the Seahawks wouldn’t be in so many long-yard situations that kill drives if they weren’t holding so much.

“Look at us on third-and-10 or less, we’re a good third-down team,” Carroll said. “Everything beyond that, we stink.”

That’s an unusually blunt assessment from the almost-always sunny coach. It shows the urgency he has in demanding the penalties cease on the offensive line.

“That’s going to continue to be difficult,” he said, “and those happen because of sacks or because of penalties. And we’re getting third-and-15s and stuff.

“We have to clean that up.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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