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29 Sep 2011

Word of Muth: Seahawk Slide

by Ben Muth

Before I get into this week’s Seahawks-Cardinals game, I need to go on a mini-rant about FOX’s coverage of it. I have never watched a game that had so many close ups of the quarterbacks to start the play. There were at least 10 occasions where the camera would be squarely on Tarvaris Jackson’s or Kevin Kolb’s face masks right before the snap, making it very difficult to get the formation or any pre-snap shifts. Does anyone really need to see Jackson bark out his cadence? I think it’s safe to assume it’s going to be pretty similar on every snap. Someone needs to tell the producer that he’s not Martin Scorcese. Just use the wide shot as soon as the offense lines up -- all other cameras should be used exclusively for replays. Let’s not reinvent the wheel here.

As far as the actual game goes, it wasn’t pretty on either side. Both Arizona and Seattle struggled to move the ball, and neither defense is exactly the ‘85 Bears. Seattle has a lot of problems on offense, and the offensive line is certainly one of those problems.

Going into the season, everyone was skeptical that a line comprised of a bunch of rookies and strangers could gel quickly enough. The early returns are in, and things aren’t looking too sunny in the Pacific Northwest. The line has given up four or more sacks in each of its three games and hasn’t established a dominant running attack to take any pressure off of Jackson (who really does need all the help he can get). Let’s go down the line and evaluate each of the individual pieces of Seattle’s front.

Russell Okung was Seattle’s first-round pick a year ago, and spent a lot of 2010 dealing with injuries. He seems to be healthy now, and looks really good. The one thing every top 10 drafted offensive tackle has in common is outstanding athleticism. Okung certainly has that, and he uses it well. He has a great kick step, and is excellent blocking linebackers at the second level. Really, Okung was in control all game and it’s clear by the play calling that the offensive staff trusts him. I didn’t see much of Okung last year, but I don’t recall him getting rave reviews. I’m not sure if he’s improved greatly during the lockout, or just couldn’t stay on the field long enough to get any positive attention, but he certainly seems like a promising young tackle.

You’ve seen the best, now we move to the worst performance of the game. Robert Gallery was brought in during free agency to bring some kind of veteran presence to a line that would start four players with less than four years in the NFL. Unfortunately, Gallery has been hurt and has only been able to play in one game this year. Enter Paul McQuistan. McQuistan is a seven-year veteran who hasn’t started a game since 2007. He struggled, particularly in pass protection against Calais Campbell. He gave up two sacks, and both times it was a result of his hands getting knocked down. On the first one, he stepped forward with his outside foot when he punched. That’s much worse than it sounds.

By coming forward with your outside foot when you punch, you eliminate any distance between your edge and the defender. Now the rusher has two big advantages: He can grab your outside shoulder and pull himself through, or if he knocks your hands down, there won’t be enough time to replace them and get a second punch. On the first sack, Campbell knocked McQuistan hands down, and was long gone before the offensive lineman could replace them.

At center, Max Unger probably had the second-best game of anyone up front for Seattle. Unger, like Okung, is another guy with good athleticism for his position. He has a quick first step in the running game and that’s incredibly valuable for a team that runs as much zone as the Seahawks. If you have a center that can reach a shaded nose it frees up your guard to get up to the second level quickly. Really, only two negative things jumped out at me about his play, and the first one wasn’t so much an Unger issue as it was an offensive line issue.

Basically, I didn’t think Seattle’s front worked as much of a cohesive unit. They seemed to struggle to pass off twists, and failed to recognize where their help is coming from at times. Now a lot of that (probably 98 percent) has to do with the fact that it’s a bunch of young guys that have been playing together for two months. Still, a center is the captain of the ship, and if the crew isn’t working together, some blame should fall on his shoulders. The only other negative thing with Unger is the fact that he went to Oregon.

Now we get to the two rookies on the right side. At guard, John Moffitt struggled almost as much as McQuistan (maybe more so, but I’ll give the rookie the split decision). Moffitt, like McQuistan, also had problems replacing his hands (throwing a secondary punch to get your hands back on the defenders chest) when they were knocked down in pass protection, and it resulted in a sack for Darnell Dockett that was somehow ruled an incomplete pass. This is a problem a lot of young linemen have. In college they get used to punching defenders and just locking on throughout the play. In the NFL, defensive linemen are much better with their hands and usually will knock a blocker’s hands down at least once during the course of the play. Rookie offensive linemen have to get used to constantly replacing their hands to sustain their blocks.

One thing that surprised me about Moffitt during the game was how unprepared he was for blocking gap-filling linebackers. There were a couple of times during the first quarter where Moffitt would be engaged in a combo block with the center or guard (a combo block is when two offensive linemen double team a defensive lineman and then one comes off on an linebacker) and would get rocked by a gap shooting linebacker. I mean, I’m talking about some real head snappers. I guess what surprised me about it is that Moffitt comes from a run-first team in a (supposedly) very physical conference, yet he looked totally unprepared for the amount of violence that Arizona’s linebackers were bringing to take on blocks. It should be interesting to see if Moffitt adjusts to this as the season goes along.

Finally, we come to James Carpenter. Carpenter was the guy I was most looking forward to watching this year. Mainly, it was because I thought he looked great during the Senior Bowl and was a steal late in the first round. In the preseason though, I thought he looked pretty bad. Against the Cardinals he played pretty well, but there were some things that have me worried about him as a prospect. First, he doesn’t move with great fluidity. He seems a little stiff out there. Secondly, he’s not as punishing as a run blocker as I thought he would be. He isn’t a soft (or bad) run blocker by any means, but he isn’t the ass-kicker I thought he would be. I think he still has it in him, but he’ll have to improve that facet of his game to live up to his draft position.

The thing that concerned me more than any individual performance was the protection scheme choice of the offensive coordinator. First, it seemed like the Seahawks went full slide a lot for an NFL team throughout the game. Pete Carroll used a lot of full slide protection at USC, but I doubt he used it this much last year. The reason NFL teams don’t go full slide a lot is that it ends up leaving your running backs and tight ends one-on-one with outside linebackers and defensive ends. You can get away with that in college, but in the NFL those are the best pass rushers on the team. The thing that makes this disturbing for Carpenter is that Seattle seemed to always full slide to the left.

Figure 1: Slide, slide, that's a fact

It may seem like that means they’re sliding to help Okung, but that actually isn’t the case. You see, the easiest block for a tackle is a down pass block on a three technique (Figure 1). The three technique isn’t expecting to get pass blocked by an offensive tackle -- 90 percent of their pass rush reps in practice are against guards -- so they don’t really react well when a tackle steps down to block them. Also, the guard is right there and his body presence funnels the rusher right to the tackle.

Not only did Carpenter get to slide down a lot, it seemed that whenever Seattle went half slide they slid to Carpenter. When you go half slide, one tackle has inside help and the other is one-on-one. Most teams tend to slide to the left (usually 60 percent of the time) to protect the quarterbacks blind side. Seattle would leave Okung one-on-one and send the help Carpenter’s way. Now, it’s possible that Seattle is concerned about more than just Carpenter up front. After all, full slide protection makes it easier for all five linemen, and they may be sliding right in half slide protections to help Moffitt. I’m playing detective here more than I am analyzing, but if I was an opposing coach, I would definitely think they’re worried about the right tackle spot.

That wraps it up for this week. A little light on schematics this week, but I thought with the young guys it would be fun to do a little more personnel evaluation. This way we can look back later in the year and see how they have improved individually. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter. Now that the Angels season is over, only 18 percent of my tweets will be about the Vernon Wells-for-Mike Napoli trade.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 29 Sep 2011

21 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2011, 4:31pm by zenbitz

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 1:26pm

Love these columns.

2
by Danny Tuccitto :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 2:10pm

Must be an NFC west thing. Niner fans have been up in arms all week about how often they chose to follow players walking off the field between downs in the CIN-SF game instead of showing a replay of what actually happened during the play. Most egregious was Crabtree's illegally touched TD catch. How can they not show a replay on that?

3
by wr (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 2:40pm

I think it's an NFC West thing only in that those games are not considered
prime games due to the division's suckitude, and so they get the D-team
broadcasters/producers/camera crews.

4
by greybeard :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 3:22pm

I totally agree. There were 4 drops by SF receivers @CIN and only one of them got a replay.
Also the commentator, Jim Mora, is a moron. An example: SF run an option play where Alex Smith obviously checked where the DE was going and decided to run it himself. Crabtree did not sustain his block on Nate Clements who hit Smith pretty well. Even after replay Mora was saying it may have been a failed exchange.
So many stupid comments, I cannot believe this guy was an NFL coach.

5
by BJR :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 3:31pm

Nepotism.

11
by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 8:20pm

No, it's not just a west coast thing. I watched the Det-Min game, and the coverage was absolutely crappy. Too many shots of players on the sidelines, not enough of the play setups, sound quality so bad you couldn't hear what the calls were (I swear, Fox actually amplifies the crowd noise so you can't hear anything else), and the announcers repeatedly failed to say who made defensive plays. I think they've gone into full celebrity coverage mode, talking only about star QBs, WRs and RBs.

14
by Jeff Nusser (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 9:45am

You think football is bad, watch a Fox postseason baseball broadcast. I think their goal is to use every camera in the park in between every pitch.

6
by ChicagoRaider :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 4:18pm

My gosh. McQuistan probably backed Gallery up on the Raiders too at one point.

8
by 'sleeves (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 5:47pm

You are correct sir

7
by MarkV :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 4:56pm

Excellent, entertaining, and informative.

Thanks

9
by DC (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 5:49pm

As a fellow Cardinal, especially love the random Pac-10 slams. Keep them coming.

Also, he's not on the list of teams you're following, but I'm curious what you think of Evan Moore's blocking skills. I've been surprised that he's emerged as a TE.

20
by Arkaein :: Sat, 10/01/2011 - 9:55am

Glad you like them. They were cute at first, but after over a year they're wearing a bit thin for many of the rest of us.

10
by zenbitz :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 6:13pm

Us Niner fans would really like to see an analysis of our OL... it's bad... but WHY?
Of particular concern is:
1) The D is getting to Smith fast, but could be he getting rid of the ball a little faster?
2) Gore is getting stuffed a lot, and there are rumors that he's physically done... it's hard for us non-pros to get a feel for how big those holes Gore is missing are.

I know you only follow a few teams... but throw us a bone here.

13
by greybeard :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:13am

It would be awesome if we could get an expert's take on the SF OL.

Until then I will give you my non-professional opinion as I watched every snap of offense in Dallas and Cincy games in slow motion
1) Smith is actually getting rid of the ball fast and in both Dallas and Cincy games he beat blitzes many times. In Cincy game he made 3 bad throws. But of his 7 other incompletions 4 were drops, 3 of which would have gone for 1st downs (two to Crabtree one to Davis). However he has so little time to throw he usually throws to his first option, though he is doing a good job of looking off.
Interesting note, the coordinator is using the pass to set up run. They are opening games with throws, also in Cincy game they started using shutgun more.
2) Gore is stuffed a lot and it is due to offensive line allowing penetration. The beat writers are talking about the 8-men fronts but in neither game there were many of these. It is mostly 7 man fronts beating Goodwin and Rachal and getting penetration. I don't think Gore lost a step, nor has a problem with vision. He simply cannot get back to line of scrimmage without a defensive player in his face before he takes his first two steps with the ball.
3) However in Cincy game he was atrocious in pass blocking. In back to back plays, he dived at the foot of the defender without even touching the defender and in both cases Smith had to throw the ball very quickly (I think to Miller, one for 11 yards the other for 2).
4) The offense is abysmal at screen plays. I would have thought that they would be good at it as the defense has no way of telling if the OL are setting up a screen or just being themselves, yet almost on all screens before Gore peels off there is someone that is hitting or about to hit Smith, which makes him throw away the ball.

WRT Bad but Why? Well, they are bad players.
Staley had never been a good run blocker since the first day. Every run play he ends up on the ground. He was serviceable as a pass blocker in the past but this year he is easy to beat by bull rushes, speed rushes and quite often, I don't know how, he manages to not block anybody.

Rachal is bad at everything. No need to go into details. Not worth the time.

Goodwin is weak. And for whatever reason he usually ends up blocking the defensive tackle sideways. He is a major downgrade from Baas and Heitman.

Between Rachal and Goodwin, there is a lot of inside pressure that it is impossible for Smith to step up in the pocket.

Anthony Davis is slow. He is strong but usually misses the defensive player he is supposed to be run blocking and in pass plays, he is easily beaten with speed rush, and he knows that. That is why he has so many false starts.

Most of the sacks take less than 2.5 seconds.

I never thought Alex Smith was a good QB before this year. I thought he was an average QB that was held back by incompetence of Nolan and Singletary and also by a terrible supporting cast (Kwame Harris for example). However, this year, I am impressed with his play so far. Despite a terrible run game and atrocious OL play he manages to do some positive things. He seems to release the ball faster, is better at beating the blitz and avoiding pressure when he has room to step up. His throws are accurate and has shown great touch in some of the throws. Though he had one very stupid interception as well.

16
by bravehoptoad :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 12:39pm

That was a satisfying read. Thank you.

21
by zenbitz :: Thu, 10/06/2011 - 4:31pm

agree with most of these points, although I don't have the eye or time to evaluate OL men individually. I assumed they were bad at Screens because it requires precision timing and experience as a unit -- which they lack. I think Smith is partially responsible for many of his drops - he often throws high or low unnecessarily leading to difficult to catch balls and no YAC. Not always... sometimes he's bang on but he will go through series' where every ball is off line in some way.

I definitely noticed the lack of 8-man fronts and the pass-to-set-up-the-run. Less so (the latter) @Philly where both run/pass were working so they were setting up each other.

Gore was obviously back to his old self against the awful Philly LBs, although he did get caught from behind.

12
by DEW (not verified) :: Thu, 09/29/2011 - 8:56pm

Always good to see this column; line play is one of those things that as a casual fan watching the game I simply can't understand easily, and the commentators are of course no help at all.

17
by Tofino :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 1:41pm

The majority of fans are ignorant about the importance of line play as well. Much of my time talking about the Seahawks is spent arguing that Seattle is not bad because of Tarvaris Jackson; rather, they have Jackson, a bad QB, because their OL is currently atrocious and anyone would have trouble, so they throw TJ to the wolves while they let the OL (theoretically) improve. Some people who have been football fans for 30+ years cannot fathom that the offense stinks for any reason other than the quarterback.

15
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:31am

Yes, great stuff. Ben explains this very important part of football such that even I can understand line play.

18
by Dean :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 2:38pm

I doubt you have had a chance to see them in action (your eyes would be covered if you had0, but do you have any thoughts on the Rams OL? The general consensus was that the addition of Dahl should solidify the line. I expected them to be good. To say they're underperforming is being polite. Have they just not gelled? Is the talent-level just not there? What is the problem?

19
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Fri, 09/30/2011 - 11:38pm

There must be some way that FO can clone Ben Muth! Everyone wants input on THEIR teams line. Cant blame them. Good stuff!