The much-maligned group had a dominating effort last week against the Lions. It will need another this week against the Falcons if they hope to advance in the playoffs.
So, here’s a crazy thought.
What if the Seahawks’ offensive line, the scourge of the 2016 season, the unit that can hardly be written about without the accompanying phrase “much-maligned,” turns out to be their playoff savior?
What if the Seahawks, who spoke ecstatically of “finding their identity” last week, don’t lose it again in Atlanta?
It’s hard to imagine a scenario for victory against the Falcons that doesn’t include the establishment of a bona fide running threat, as was the case last week when Thomas Rawls churned out 161 yards to bring back the comparisons to real Seahawks football.
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A sustained running attack has been the missing link for much of this season, and a primary cause of the Seahawks’ inconsistent performances. And the baseline cause of those wild fluctuations has been the struggles of the offensive line, which has had a ripple effect through every aspect of the offense.
But on Saturday, the Seattle line was outstanding, if not dominant. And if they did, indeed, finally figure out how to make it all click and can sustain those lessons throughout the playoffs, well, the notion of the O-line as Seattle’s playoff lifeline suddenly becomes plausible.
Of course, we’ve heard this before, particularly after the Seahawks rushed for 240 yards against Carolina, and based on the second half of the Arizona game, which offensive line coach Tom Cable said was “maybe as good as we’ve ever been here.”
But they’ve often regressed just when it seems like they’re on the verge of jelling. The week after crushing Carolina, the Seahawks went to Green Bay and lost 38-10, their most lopsided defeat in years. To take another step back on Saturday, and fail to build on the line’s progress, would be deadly.
“You can’t really win a championship without your offensive line being up there and handling their business,’’ tackle Garry Gilliam said. “I don’t care what they say about us or what people believe about us. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, we have 11 wins and we’re still in the playoffs.”
Gilliam reduces the mission of the Seahawks’ offensive line to five words: “Don’t think. Just go ball.”
Easier said than done, of course. Gilliam realizes that it won’t be easy to replicate last week’s performance, vital as that task will be. The increased workload of fullback Marcel Reece was another important factor.
“There’s a lot of stuff we can work on,’’ Gilliam said. “We left a lot of yards out there and a lot of touchdowns and a lot of points. Obviously, we want to capitalize on those things, fix the things we didn’t do so well, and improve on the things we did do well. That’s the goal. That’s the goal every week.”
The Seahawks gambled in the offseason that Cable could cobble together a cohesive offensive line with minimal resources, and for much of the year that decision seemed to have backfired. Their hope is that an inexperienced group, some of whom have scant experience at their position, just needed time to coalesce.
“We’re growing,’’ coach Pete Carroll said. “This is as young as you can be, and they just get better with the experiences. All the things they’ve gone through, Tom is doing a terrific job of helping them continue to grow. Their confidence is growing, and our execution is just going to get better.”
Carroll pointed out that left tackle George Fant, a converted basketball player, has had 22 games of football, total. Right guard Germain Ifedi is a rookie. Left guard Mark Glowinski had just one NFL start heading into this year. Center Justin Britt is a converted guard, after being a converted tackle. Gilliam was yanked from the lineup midway through the Tampa Bay game and benched for three weeks. The current starting five has had six games together. In that light, it’s not surprising they’ve had growing pains.
“All those guys are improving in really normal fashion, I think,’’ Carroll said. “We’re impatient. We’ve been impatient about it, but we had a really good game last week, and the last couple of weeks we’ve done some really positive things.”
Can they do it again? Gilliam realizes that the skeptics are still rampant.
“No one’s believed in us all year, so it wasn’t like something clicked differently in the game,’’ he said. “Same plays, same scheme, same people. It was just a matter of going out there and doing it right. It can change from day to day. We can also go out and lay an egg, for that matter, in this next game. It’s a matter of refocusing and recapturing what we did well.
“That’s really all it is. Yeah, we did it last game, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to happen next game, where we’ve arrived. It’s just going out and working. Handle our business.”
If the Seahawks’ offensive line — excuse me, their much-maligned offensive line — can handle its business Saturday, their season could be prolonged. And maybe the narrative of a crippling O-line can start to change.