Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
29 Sep 2011
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.
21 comments, Last at 06 Oct 2011, 4:31pm by zenbitz