Seattle Seahawks

O-line troubles in opener what Seahawks expected

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is sacked Sunday in St. Louis as offensive lineman Garry Gilliam is beaten. Wilson was sacked six times in the loss.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is sacked Sunday in St. Louis as offensive lineman Garry Gilliam is beaten. Wilson was sacked six times in the loss. The Associated Press

The offensive line wasn’t great.

It was what almost everyone — even their coach — expected, though.

“I thought in the first half we had our struggles. Didn’t think we were on time,” Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said of his blockers in last weekend’s 34-31 loss in overtime at St. Louis in the 2015 opener.

“But the second half was really cool. A lot of growth there.

“It was kind of what I expected, quite honestly.”

Cable and the offense expected problems because of players at three new spots along the five-man line. College defensive tackle Drew Nowak was in his first career start at center. College tight end Garry Gilliam made his debut at right tackle. And 2014 rookie right tackle Justin Britt debuted at left guard.

Cable also expected issues because St. Louis was a very bad matchup against which to debut. The Rams have five first-round draft choices among their front seven defenders, including one of the NFL’s most aggressive and talented defensive lines.

St. Louis not only stormed into Seattle’s backfield for the majority of last Sunday afternoon with its front, the Rams blitzed incessantly off the edge and up the middle with linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked six times. The league’s best rushing offense since 2006, Seattle averaged only 3.9 yards per carry in this season’s opener. That was a yard and a half per rush below what it averaged in 2014.

When the Seahawks needed 1 yard on fourth down on their only drive in overtime, Marshawn Lynch was engulfed from both sides by Rams. It was Seattle’s base play, a zone-read run. It began to the left but is designed for Lynch to read any hole he wants to try.

The problem was there was no hole for Lynch to read. The option to cut back to the right ended instantly when Gilliam was beaten off the snap by Rams tackle Michael Brockers on the play’s backside. Rams tackle Aaron Donald stood up Britt almost immediately after the snap, then Donald stepped inside and past him as Britt fell down. Lynch turned into Brockers, Donald jumped on, and the Seahawks ended a second consecutive game by not being able to gain a single yard.

You didn’t forget February’s Super Bowl, did you?

The Seahawks’ average of 4.3 yards per play against the Rams tied for their lowest in 22 games dating to the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco at the end of the 2013 season. Seattle also averaged 4.3 yards per snap last October in a thumping home loss to Dallas.

And despite running a whopping 83 plays — more than any game in 2014 except for the 85 it ran in a win at Philadelphia last December — Seattle’s offense produced just 17 points. Without rookie Tyler Lockett’s 57-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter and cornerback Cary Williams’ blitz, sack, forced fumble and return for a score in the fourth quarter, there wouldn’t have been overtime.

So for the offense — and the line that paves or fails to pave its way — there’s no way to go but up Sunday night in game two at Green Bay.

“If we just take the jump next week like they took in the second half (in St. Louis), we’ll be pretty good,” Cable said.

Indeed, the old football adage is the largest amount of improvement between games in any team’s season come between the first and second games.

Green Bay’s defense hopes so, too.

The Packers allowed Chicago to gain 402 total yards including 189 yards rushing in Green Bay’s 31-23 victory last weekend. Matt Forte had 141 yards on the ground. Nobody has ever likened Forte to Lynch.

On Tuesday, the Packers put starting inside linebacker and run stopper Sam Barrington on season-ending injured reserve. That may mean more of usually-roaming Clay Matthews inside against Seattle. Nate Palmer, who has made two starts in his three-year career, replaced Barrington last weekend when he hurt his foot and is likely to start against the Seahawks.

Nowak and his fellow newbies will spend much of Sunday night trying to find Green Bay’s inside linebackers. Cable said the Seahawks were late picking up assignments early in the Rams game, when Wilson had almost no time to find a receiver beyond a couple yards down the field. He also said some of the pre-snap protection calls were wrong.

Last week was a rare time in his four-year career Wilson was making the initial blocking audibles for the entire line. That task is usually the center’s, and it was one in which two-time Pro Bowl selection Max Unger excelled over the previous six seasons for the Seahawks.

But Unger and his unspoken synchronization with Wilson and the line on protection calls was Seattle’s price for trading in March for Jimmy Graham, the NFL’s most productive tight end the last four seasons.

Nowak said in mid-August, the first month he played games in his life, that he was progressing well on learning the intricacies of pre-snap line calls. That process is going to last well into this regular season.

Coach Pete Carroll echoed Cable that he could see progress within the opener. That’s how sharp the learning curve is for this offensive line right now.

“We improved. It was a game of improvement during the day,” Carroll said. “We were struggling a little bit early, but it seemed to right itself a little bit where we found more continuity.

“There’s a lot of hope there that we’ll play things well and continue to improve. They can’t help but get better.”

SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT

GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-0)

5:30 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 5, 710-AM, 97.3-FM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Against the Seahawks: The Packers lead the regular-season series, 8-7, and have won six of the nine regular-season games played in Wisconsin. Green Bay has won two of the three meetings in the postseason. Seattle’s first playoff win against the Packers was its overtime win in January’s NFC Championship Game, when the Seahawks rallied from a 16-0 deficit with 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

What to know: The entire Upper Midwest has been waiting for this rematch for eight months, since the Packers blew their Super Bowl chance in Seattle. Yet the Packers say they aren’t out for revenge. “We’re playing at Lambeau Field (on) Sunday Night Football,” coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay on Monday. “It’s our first home game. I don’t really think we need to get past that.” … Defense is the Packers’ biggest concern at the moment. They allowed 189 yards rushing by the Bears in last week’s 31-23 win in Chicago, 141 of those by Matt Forte. Chicago gained 402 total yards on Green Bay despite another mediocre passing day by Jay Cutler. … Green Bay allowed Chicago to covert 11 of 17 third downs. … On Tuesday, the Packers put starting ILB Sam Barrington (foot) on injured reserve. Third-year pro Nate Palmer is in line to make his third career start Sunday night for Barrington, and usually roaming Clay Matthews may play inside more than he has recently because of the injury. … Matthews intercepted Cutler last week. … Aaron Rodgers threw for 189 yards last weekend, the same amount he threw for against Seattle in last season’s opener. That was his third-lowest regular-season total of 2014. Rodgers then threw for just 178 yards against the Seahawks in January’s NFC title game.

Quotable: “I know who we’re playing; they’re an outstanding football team. They’re coming off a tough loss in St. Louis. But we’re focused on winning the game. We’re focused on getting our first home win, beating the Seattle Seahawks. And that’s about as far as it goes with us.” — Packers coach Mike McCarthy, explaining more of his claim revenge is not on Green Bay’s minds this week.

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

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