RENTON, Wash. - Heading into their first season without Russell Wilson under center in a decade and no clear long-term successor on the roster, the Seahawks weren't expected to be a scoring juggernaut in 2022.
But through the first two games, despite finding a way to scratch out a 17-16 victory over Denver in the season opener, Seattle somehow has been more inept than anticipated on offense. After being blanked in a 20-point loss to San Francisco on Sunday, the unit finds itself in the midst of six straight scoreless quarters and ranks near the bottom in every notable category two weeks into a new campaign, including rock bottom out of 32 teams in total rushing yards.
From the outside, the Seahawks decision to move forward with Geno Smith as Wilson's replacement at quarterback creates an easy target for critics. The veteran signal caller isn't without fault steering a sinking ship, as he has struggled to throw the ball downfield with only three completions of more than 20 yards thus far, failing to take advantage of elite receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside.
Not surprisingly, after seven years as a backup with three teams, Smith hasn't shown himself to be a quarterback who can elevate the play of teammates or cover up deficiencies around him.
With that said, Smith has played relatively well considering circumstances and he's not even close to the biggest reason why Seattle has struggled putting points on the board. Through eight quarters of play, he's completed 81 percent of his pass attempts, and while that percentage has been bloated to an extent by an emphasis - even a reliance - on the short passing game, that conservative approach has been necessitated by questions along the offensive line.
As coach Pete Carroll alluded to on Monday, he feels the Seahawks have been holding Smith and the rest of the offense back looking out for rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas and after seeing them perform well against a stout 49ers pass rush, it's time to open things up a bit more.
“I don’t want to go into the real specifics of it, but one of the concerns was protection, so we wanted to go in and see if we could protect against this pass rush, which we think is as good as we will face," Carroll explained. "In that regard, we didn’t want to open it up and expose the tackles anymore than we had to, so that kind of fit together. They are holding up, they did a nice job in general, Geno is really in command of what is going on, and he is really accurate in his decision making. I think it is just more freely taking advantage of what is going on rather than being concerned about our ability to hold up.”
Even with a pair of rookies starting at the tackle spots, Smith has been accurate and generally done a quality job navigating the pocket when under frequent duress, which has contributed to him receiving the sixth-best grade for quarterbacks from Pro Football Focus (73.9) through the first two games.
While it's simple to point to Smith as the main culprit for Seattle's scoring woes, in reality, quarterback isn't even close to the biggest problem hindering the offense right now. Instead, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron's hands have been tied by the combination of injuries and poor play from the interior offensive line.
Before the season, the Seahawks viewed guard as one of their bright spots on offense with a pair of returning starters in Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis returning and fourth-year blocker Phil Haynes re-signing as a starter-caliber reserve behind them. The coaching staff also was fired up about the addition of center Austin Blythe, who previously played for Waldron in Los Angeles and knew the scheme inside and out.
Up to this point, however, that group hasn't even approached the same zip code comparing expectations to actual on-field performance.
One of Seattle's highest-paid players with a cap hit of $9 million in 2022, Jackson has been a huge disappointment to open his second season with the organization. Back healthy after undergoing offseason knee surgery, he has been a turnstile in pass protection, allowing seven quarterback pressures on 35 drop backs against San Francisco on Sunday alone. Yielding pressure on 20 percent of his team's drop backs, he hasn't even played at replacement level thus far and his run blocking hasn't been much more effective.
Meanwhile, with Lewis missing the season opener with an ankle sprain and exiting Sunday's game early with a new thigh bruise injury, Haynes hasn't replicated his stellar play from two starts to close out last season as a replacement. Receiving a dismal 44.8 pass blocking grade from PFF, he has allowed five pressures and a sack. Like Jackson, his run blocking hasn't been up to par either in limited action and he has not been able to generate consistent push up front.
As for Blythe, his season has been a tale of two narratives. On one hand, he has arguably been Seattle's best pass protector, allowing just two pressures and no sacks on 64 pass blocking snaps. In that regard, he's been an upgrade over former starter Ethan Pocic. But the 298-pound center has equally been a detriment in the run game, physically overwhelmed by opponents at the point of attack and often getting knocked into the backfield while earning an ugly 36.7 grade from PFF.
From a schematic standpoint, it's no wonder Waldron has been a bit gun shy letting Smith air it out and opted for a more conservative approach. With Jackson and Haynes struggling to keep rushers in front of them and out of the pocket, the time simply hasn't been there to take many shots downfield to Metcalf and Lockett.
Further complicating matters, the Seahawks have been even worse running the football despite having a bevy of talented ball carriers headlined by Rashaad Penny and rookie Ken Walker III. Per PFF, both players have averaged more than four yards per carry after contact, indicating they haven't been the problem behind a grounded rushing attack.
Just like in pass protection, insufficient play from the guards and center have prevented Carroll's bread and butter from becoming a factor as envisioned. If a team can't win at the line of scrimmage, good luck running the football with any consistent success.
What does this mean for the Seahawks offensive line moving forward? Although it's early in the season and the coaching staff may not be quite ready to shake things up, it may be time to make some substantial changes with hopes of providing a semblance of a spark for the run game and improvements keeping Smith clean.
Until Lewis returns healthy, Haynes likely will stay at the left guard spot and considering his youth, he still could play his way into a long-term starting job. But the Seahawks have a serious conundrum on their hands at the other guard spot with an aging Jackson in the midst of a steep decline. While it may not be a move they want to make given the money owed to him, they should strongly consider rolling with a younger alternative such as Jake Curhan to see where he may fit into future plans.
At this point, after failing to score even a field goal in the past 90 minutes of game action, all options have to be on the table for Carroll and Waldron as they try to revive a dormant offense that could sink their season in quick fashion.
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