The age of pocket passers has been slowly diminishing and changing to the hybrid that can run and throw. Household names such as Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson (and soon to be Deshaun Watson) all fit this system. The question that seems to remain is a simple, yet complex one: does the quality of the offensive line still matter, especially for the Seahawks? The short answer is yes, while the longer, more complex answer is, not technically.
The only way for the running game to open up is for the passing game to be secure. The line will continue to blitz while the linebackers fall into a zone leaving the corners and safeties to pick up the rest. This is why play action is such a successful scheme. If you see the run, you take it. If the pass is available, you have that opportunity as well. So as long as you have the ability to have a good fifteen to twenty plays that can be passing opportunities, you will be able to open up your running game.
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With the Seattle Seahawks, the worst part of the game for the last few years has been that line. Let’s be honest here; I’m probably not the only one that was drinking a soda while yelling at the screen about why five linemen couldn’t hold up against three rushers (see Arizona vs Seattle), while other games we’re cheering for the same five that are holding their own. The line depends on a combination of rushing and passing plays. The moment that the playbook becomes one dimensional, the moment that the line becomes more important.
Being able to hold the line for three seconds is pivotal. Anything after three seconds statistically winds up being an incompletion or a sack. That is why you see players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers trying to release the ball around two. Now, let’s go back to that answer of “not technically”. The NFC Championship game with Seattle vs. the 49ers helped reveal to us that a quarterback’s legs can help even a terrible line out because his mobility forces the defensive coordinator to change his blitzing schemes and throw another defender back into a quarterback spy. This is the foundation of the Seahawks offense and is one of the reasons why it struggled so much when Wilson was injured.
While I’m happy that Wilson and Baldwin had an unbelievable season where we thought Wilson would be a pocket passer, we also saw what happens when we are not mobile. Our line is porous but as long as Wilson was mobile, that didn’t matter. So when he was injured during the Miami game (I still think that was somewhat intentional given Suh’s reputation) and re-injured during the Los Angeles game, our weakness was exposed even more because Wilson could not protect himself and get out of the pocket. Wilson’s signature spin, duck and run move was gone. Therefore he had to take sack after sack, leading his body to take a pounding that would be unprecedented if he was behind the Cowboy’s line. No wonder offensive line coach Tom Cable looked so grumpy so often.
However, the moment Wilson was back to 100%, we saw what we were accustomed to all along: line breaks down, Wilson spins out and is able to make throws. Once the defense backs off, the run game is on and balance is restored. I see future beasts out on that line, but they will not do themselves any favors if they let Wilson get injured again.
So while many of us fans are scratching our heads about the philosophy of the offensive line and coaching styles, remember: in Wilson we trust. His legs give the line the release that it needs to do its job and protect him. As long as he can still outwit and outrun opponents, it is safe to say Cable can still get away with mediocre talent on that line as long as the quarterback has legs.