By Mike Gastineau
When the Seahawks put Oday Aboushi in their starting lineup at right guard last week at Tennessee the number of offensive linemen they’ve started in a game since defeating Denver in Super Bowl XVIII three years ago reached legal drinking age.
The Fightin’ Seabirds of Renton have sent 21 different men out to start a game on the offensive line since that glorious night in New Jersey when they destroyed the Broncos and assumed their spot as Kings of the NFL Hill. Their starting line that night was Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini at the tackles, James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy at the guards, and Max Unger at center. All five are still starting offensive linemen in the NFL. None of them play for Seattle anymore.
Since that night in New York City the Hawks have used 21 different starters at the five offensive line positions in three seasons and three games. If that seems like a high number, it is. Consider that in the three previous seasons (2011, 12, and 13) the Seahawks had 11 different starters (and two of those started just one game).
More than any other unit on a football team, an offensive line is asked to work in complete concert with one another. So consistency becomes a huge key. NFL teams that stay good for a while are usually able to build it within the O Line. In that way, the Seahawks are somewhat of an anomaly. They’ve stayed good within the league while churning through linemen like the Kardashians churn through men. It’s a credit to the entire organization that during this period of complete instability in the line they’ve gone 37-20-1. But there’s staying good, and there’s playing at a championship level. With the abundance of talented skill level players on the Hawks roster the time to compete for championships is right now.
Keeping an offensive line together requires a little bit of a lot of things. Topping the list is keeping guys healthy and in the most rugged position in the most rugged game in sports that’s a running game of craps. You simply have to be lucky to avoid injuries.
On top of that, because the NFL rules are set up to encourage players to move to get more money, you’ve got to value the guys you have or you will lose them to free agency. That seems particularly true on the offensive line. But sometimes, valuing a guy isn’t enough. A guy may be a free agent, and he may be a guy you want to keep, but matching the parameters of a deal he’s received from another team looking to get better is impossible to do (see Hutchinson, Steve, 2006).
To be fair to the Seahawks, they aren’t sitting around each week hoping they’ve got new players to mix into the offensive line stew. They don’t bring in new guys hoping that they aren’t the one. But at times it feels as if they’ve taken the line a little bit for granted, and never more so than on March 10th, 2015.
That’s the day the Hawks elected to trade Max Unger (and a first-round draft choice) to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham. Unger had started 67 games for the Seahawks over six seasons. But he had been hurt in 2014, the team still won games, and they felt they needed Graham’s potential production at tight end more than they needed a veteran center.
The day of the trade, GM John Schneider had nothing but praise for Unger’s time in Seattle.
“We would like to thank Max for his leadership and the role he has played in helping establish our current championship culture,” he said in a release issued by the team. “He is a former captain and has been a respected and valued leader for our consecutive Super Bowl teams. We wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career.”
Unger has missed one game in New Orleans in two-plus seasons, and Graham has been a constant source of frustration for Seahawks fans due primarily to the team’s inability to get him involved in the offense on a regular basis.
This is not to suggest that trading Unger is what led to the ongoing uncertainty on the line. But given the fact that injuries and free agent poachers are difficult if not impossible to fight, maybe trading a Pro Bowl lineman is something that shouldn’t be considered at all, or it is considered it’s done so as a last resort to acquire the one piece you think will put your team over the top. Maybe the Seahawks thought that was the case at the time of the deal. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that it was most certainly not.
Again this week, for what seems like the 100th time, Pete Carroll is talking about o-line improvement. He’s right that the line looked better against Tennessee than it did against San Francisco or Green Bay. Now we’ll see if they continue that improvement this week. More importantly, we’ll again keep our fingers crossed that this is the right combination to finally add some stability to the Hawks offensive game.
GAME THREE: SEATTLE VS INDIANAPOLIS
PREGAME QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We’re playing at nighttime, so everybody’s drunk then. I’m guessing it will be very loud.”
Colts QB Jacoby Brissett
WHAT TO WATCH
Indianapolis QBs have been sacked 11 times this year. Only three teams have been worse, statistically, at protecting the quarterback. Look for lots of pressure from the Seattle D.
SOMETHINGS GOTTA GIVE
Indianapolis and Seattle are the two worst teams in the NFL at third down conversions. Safe to say at least one of them should do better Sunday. Or we are in for one gigantic bore fest.
GASMAN’S GAME PLAN
Attending the game with my friend Mark Collins of Save Our Seahawks fame. Prepared to good-naturedly endure Mark’s insane habit of whistling (he’s a world-class whistler) whenever the Colts have the ball. Hoping for a lot of lonnnnng Seahawks drives.
Combination of a young quarterback and the potential for an extra boisterous crowd for Sunday night makes this one a very tough spot for Indy. Seattle prevails 24 to 10.