Rost: One thing clearly separates Seahawks from NFC’s best teams

Dec 12, 2023, 11:04 AM

Seattle Seahawks San Francisco 49ers Drew Lock Nick Bosa...

Seattle Seahawks QB Drew Lock is pressured by the 49ers' Nick Bosa on Dec. 10, 2023. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

When it comes to the Seattle Seahawks closing the gap with the NFC’s best teams, one clear answer isn’t necessarily the sexiest.

Three words that underline the state of Seattle Seahawks’ season

For every hot take about cutting stars or making a big scheme change comes another truth: the Seahawks, for years now, have needed to be better in the trenches.

That hasn’t been the big reason for recent losses. Ask any fan why the Seahawks fell to the 49ers in Week 14, and they’ll tell you “explosive plays.” They won’t be wrong; the 49ers’ offense had five plays of 30 or more yards, including touchdowns of 44 and 54 yards, compared to just one for Seattle. And the Seahawks’ offense this year is allowing the 25th-most passing yards per game.

But it’s become clear that the league’s best teams are typically excellent along their offensive or defensive lines, and it’s an area where the Seahawks have trailed their peers. Watching Philadelphia next Monday after seeing San Francisco twice since Thanksgiving should be an eye-opening experience for Seattle viewers right now.

The Eagles might have lost the Super Bowl last year and the Cowboys have often disappointed their fans in the playoffs, but no matter, because both teams are faring better than Seattle right now and are in prime position to make another postseason run. Offensive line play is a huge part of that.

Philadelphia has boasted the No. 1-ranked O-line since 2022, per Pro Football Network and Pro Football Focus (and we wonder why the “Brotherly Shove” doesn’t work as consistently with other teams). Dallas also has a top-five unit.

If you’re one of the many fans who fairly laments Seattle’s inability to solidify a punishing, powerful identity in the run game, this is a huge part of that. Long-term, no running back can make up for poor or inconsistent play up front. Seattle has invested two second-round picks in rushers over the last two seasons but is 28th in rushing yards per game (Philly and San Francisco are both top 10, while Dallas is 11th).

There are a few considerations to keep in mind here. Seattle drafted two promising young tackles last year and has invested a third-round pick in guard Damien Lewis. The Seahawks’ primary issues have been a rotating cast at center and injuries along the line.

You could make up for deficiencies and injuries there with strong play elsewhere, but Seattle’s defensive line has also struggled to establish itself as a dominant unit, too. That’s in spite of a major face lift this past offseason and changes to its base defense, swapping from a 4-3 front to a 3-4. The 49ers aren’t a top-10 offensive line – though they do have one of the league’s best tackles – but they’ve consistently run out one of the best defensive fronts in the league (as have the Eagles).

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying for Seattle. True, the Seahawks invested their fifth overall pick last April in a cornerback rather than a D-lineman, but it’s a pick that’s worked out well for them.  They’ve drafted first-round defensive ends (L.J. Collier) and second-round edge rushers (Darrell Taylor, Frank Clark), and tapped into starting talent in free agency (Dre Jones). But for all that work, they’ve yet to draft a defensive lineman who became a Pro Bowler while with Seattle.

What about coaching?

If play along the trenches is one of the biggest separators between Seattle and the cream of the crop in the conference, my Bump and Stacy co-host, Michael Bumpus, offers coaching as another factor.

“You look at the teams that are nice right now. You’ve got Kyle Shanahan over there with the 49ers, you’ve got (49ers defensive coordinator Steve) Wilks as well on the defensive side of the ball,” Bumpus said. “You’ve got Mike McDaniel with the Miami Dolphins, you’ve got John Harbaugh who’s a staple with the Ravens, Dan Campbell has turned the Lions around, Nick Sirianni with the Eagles. (Buffalo head coach) Sean McDermott, even though he got into a bit of trouble this year. Mike McCarthy with Dallas, who’s been in the league a while and has coached an MVP before. There are guys with experience. I’m looking at this coaching staff and I’m wondering who’s in control of the sidelines.

“I always get people asking why (Seahawks defensive coordinator) Clint Hurtt isn’t down on the sidelines, because he’s a presence and he could demand more from his staff and players when he’s down on the field. But I also understand why he wants to be up there; that perspective is amazing, you can see everything. I think there needs to be development all the way around. I’m not saying these guys are bad coaches over there. No, they know football, they know what they’re doing. But it’s all about having the right combination of guys. Call me a homer or whatever, but I still think Pete Carroll is one of the best to ever do it and if there’s anyone who’s gonna figure it out, I think Pete can figure it out.”

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Salk: Truths are being hammered home by Seahawks’ losing streak
Seahawks’ Carroll has interesting answers to two tough questions
Seahawks Injury Updates: Latest on Geno Smith, Devon Witherspoon
What’s to make of Drew Lock playing solid in first Seahawks start?
Tempers flare between Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers on the field

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