As the Seahawks attempt to return to the top of the NFC West, their offensive linemen will set their sights a little lower for Saturday night's exhibition game in San Diego. At opponent's thighs to be more exact because one of the elements of the zone-blocking scheme is that Seattle's linemen will at times be...

The Seahawks are aiming for a return to the top of the NFC West.

Their offensive linemen, however, will set their sights a little lower for tonight’s exhibition game in San Diego.

At opponent’s thighs to be more exact, because one of the elements of the zone-blocking scheme is that Seattle’s linemen will at times be called to take out an opponent below the waist.

In football jargon, it’s called cut blocking on the backside. In practical terms, it’s called knocking a defender off his feet to keep him from chasing the play from the far side of the field. In a defense’s terms, it’s often described with adjectives that can’t be reprinted here.

Seattle’s plan to use cut blocking as part of the rushing attack isn’t going to make it many friends among the league’s defenders.

“That’s OK,” coach Jim Mora said. “That’s not the objective.”

Nope. The objective is to run the ball effectively by interrupting the flow of defenders pursuing the play across the field. Done properly, cut blocking opens a crease so when the running back turns upfield he’s got a one-lane highway in front of him.

“It opens bigger holes on the backside for the cutback,” Mora said.

So the offensive linemen try to make like a bowling ball and topple the defender like the last remaining pin in a spare. You knock the defender off his feet by taking out his legs, aiming for the upfield thigh. It is legal and kosher so long as the blocker comes across the front, not blocking the defender below the waist from behind and the defender is not already engaged high by another blocker.

There’s also the possibility of collateral damage. When a defender goes down, he becomes an obstacle capable of causing a pileup. The bigger the mess, the fewer guys who have a chance to run the play down.

“The defense is so athletic and they run so well, so it’s a way to cut the defense,” said Mike Solari, offensive-line coach. “All of a sudden, they don’t have their fits in their proper gaps.”

There is a technique involved, an art, guard Rob Sims said. Because the offensive lineman is going low, he’s going to the ground and to make it a fair exchange, he’s got to take his defender with him.

“The thing that’s scary about it is that you give yourself up,” Sims said. “You might let that guy go.”

The Seahawks don’t cut block in practice, which means tonight’s exhibition game against the Chargers will be the first time they’ve used the blocks in earnest.

“The linemen have to have confidence to keep trying to do it so they can develop that skill,” Solari said, “and have confidence to utilize that skill.”

But while the Seahawks aim their block at the thigh, defenders aren’t crazy about anyone blocking in the remote vicinity of their knees.

“Good thing we’re not in the business to be popular,” Sims said. “But we’re excited about the opportunity to go out there and do some really big things this year.”

The Seahawks’ ability to return to the top of the division will depend in part on their linemen’s ability to go low.

“You find at times defensive linemen starting to dance a little bit, concerned about their legs,” Mora said. “But once again, I stress that it’s legal and in no way do we encourage any cheap shots or are we trying to hurt anybody. We’re just trying to find a way to run the ball effectively.”

Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com