Seahawks Notebook: Importance of OL play, a college hire that impacts Seattle

Feb 4, 2022, 9:45 AM

Seahawks Ethan Pocic...

Ethan Pocic and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks gesture before a play against the 49ers during a 2021 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Go figure that the most basic concepts about football remain true, even in 2021. Because last time we looked at the playoffs landscape, one thing was clear: many of the league’s best teams were strong in the trenches. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, it was an area where they were lagging.

Clayton: Latest on Seahawks offseason, including D-coordinator opening

Adding to that misfortune is the fact that it’s also an area where two of their NFC West counterparts, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, were decidedly not lagging.

Both teams combined for 98 sacks in the regular season and represented the NFC in the conference championship game. They also both finished in the top 10 of Pro Football Focus’ offensive line rankings. On the Rams’ defensive line is First-Team All-Pro Aaron Donald, one of the finest players in the league, and on San Francisco’s offensive line were First-Team All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams and two Pro Bowl interior linemen (center Alex Mack and guard Laken Tomlinson). Next Sunday one of those teams, the Rams, will play in the Super Bowl.

If the last installment of this two-part series was looking at the pass rush, this week’s Seahawks notebook kicks off with a look at the importance of improving the offensive line. That’s also where this gets a bit more interesting, because playing opposite the Rams next Sunday are the Cincinnati Bengals, a team with an offensive line that is definitely, absolutely, positively not among the league’s best.

Where do they rank? That same outlet (Pro Football Focus) had the Bengals offensive line finishing No. 20 overall this season, which is actually up from their 2020 ranking of 30th overall. But it’s certainly not one of the several Top-10 units that were represented in this year’s playoffs. Their highest-graded player, left tackle Jonah Williams, has played well but has still allowed eight sacks. It’s worth noting they’ve dealt with injuries keeping starters in and out of the lineup and they’ve seen solid work from the left side of the line, which pushed Cincinnati ahead of Seattle (25th) in those rankings. But the difference isn’t vast, and it might just cost the Bengals a championship when they face off against a Rams team that registered 50 sacks this year.

Or maybe it won’t. Perhaps the Bengals, who surrendered an NFL record nine sacks of quarterback Joe Burrow in the divisional round, win it all. And just as there will be conversations about being more aggressive in trades should the Rams win, there will be conversations about how much questionable play a team can get away with up front should the Bengals walk away the victors. A word of caution for those conversations, though: it’s hard to look at a unit as inconsistent as Cincinnati’s offensive line and not feel as though luck and timing has also factored into that same team finding success. It’s also hard to watch that team and not come away feeling confident that stellar seasons from Burrow and rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase – who now holds the franchise record for receiving yards in a season – were much bigger forces behind an improbable Super Bowl run.

To sum this up more quickly: the Bengals Super Bowl appearance alone doesn’t prove great offensive line play isn’t an important part of success – it still is! – and the Seahawks should still look to improve there this offseason.

Here’s what else you need to know this week:

Why Miami’s newest hire matters for Seahawks fans

Mario Cristobal continued to add to his coaching staff at Miami earlier this week, bringing on Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator.

If you’re a Hurricanes fan, that’s relevant news (and I look forward to discussing the arguments for orange as the very best college uniform color).

If you’re a Seahawks fan, this news is still important, though.

Miami was reportedly pursuing Seahawks defensive line coach/assistant head coach Clint Hurtt, a Miami alum, for defensive coordinator. With Steele being named to the role, it’s likely Hurtt remains in Seattle, where he’s still a rumored frontrunner for the Seahawks’ vacant defensive coordinator job.

Russell Wilson sets a Pro Bowl record

Wilson and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins were two late additions to NFC Pro Bowl this week, replacing Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, respectively. Wilson made some noise with his arrival, setting a new record in the Pro Bowl’s Precision Passing contest with 29 points. Worth noting: Wilson also led in this drill in 2020 (19 points) and 2019 (19 points).

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Seahawks Notebook: Importance of OL play, a college hire that impacts Seattle