Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer assumed some of the blame for the offensive line allowing six sacks vs. the Cardinals. Now, his unit has to shake that off and regroup to face a very good Cowboys run defense.
Seeing Russell Wilson planted into the CenturyLink turf six times on sacks on Sunday and having to pick himself up after a multitude of other hits from the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t an enjoyable experience for Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
The absence of right guard D.J. Fluker and left guard J.R. Sweezy led to a patchwork offensive line that struggled with in-game communication, including protection and line calls. And while that was a viable reason for the Seahawks’ struggles, Schottenheimer assumed some of the blame as well.
“Obviously, we need to protect better,” Schottenheimer said. “We had a couple of moving parts and some guys playing in different spots, so some of it was communication. But there were things I could have done better. I probably should’ve slid the line left a little more. There were some things that they were doing to us on that side. We are all involved in protection. We also had a simple mental error on one (sack).”
The hopeful return of Fluker (hamstring) and Sweezy (foot) for Saturday’s game in Dallas should help return some normalcy to the pass protection. Per Wednesday’s practice report, Fluker practiced, but was limited. Sweezy did not practice, but was not wearing a walking boot and appeared to be walking normally, which is a good sign for Seattle.
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Regardless of personnel, Schottenheimer seemed confident that the game vs. the Cardinals was an aberration.
“I’m not really concerned about it moving forward,” Schottenheimer said. “That’s not us. We’ll be better this week against a very good defense that’s going to bring pressures similar to Arizona.”
That Cowboys defense is led by two young linebackers in Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, who have combined for 262 tackles. Vander Esch, a rookie out of Boise State, is third in the NFL with 144 tackles. The duo has basically forced former Pro Bowl linebacker Sean Lee into a part-time role.
“They are good players,” Schottenheimer said. “They are playing really well. They’re a good group and they’ve made a lot of plays the last few weeks in fitting the run and showing up on QB pressures.”
The Cowboys’ run defense, under the guidance of veteran defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, is allowing 94.6 yards per game, which ranks fifth lowest in the NFL. The 3.8 yards Dallas is allowing per rush attempt is fourth lowest in the NFL.
“It’s penetration by the defensive line,” Schottenheimer said. “They always move. They are always angling. They won’t just sit there. That’s kind of a staple of a Rod Marinelli-type defense. They are going to stunt. They are going to move. They are going try to create breaks in your combination blocks. And their linebackers are playing at a high level. They are fast downhill players. So if there is a crease, they are going to fit the crease and there is really no place for the back to go. And that’s when the back tends to want to hesitate or bounce (out) and that’s when their speed shows up.”
It will be a good test for the Seahawks’ running game, which ranks first in the NFL at 160 yards per game. In this season’s previous matchup — a 24-13 Seahawks win on Sept. 23 at CenturyLink — Seattle rushed for 113 yards on on 39 attempts. That’s just an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Chris Carson rushed for 102 of those yards on 32 carries. It was also the first game that Fluker started at right guard. Few people in the organization believe it to be a turning point game that sparked the offense’s physical, run-first identity.
“I don’t think of it that way,” Schottenheimer said. “We played well in that game against a really good team. Obviously we got the running game going that game and that’s the thing you think about it.”
The reminder should be that the Seahawks stubbornly stayed with the running game even though it wasn’t yielding heavy or immediate returns. They didn’t abandon the identity they were still trying to create.
“Russ (Wilson) still played well and we still did a nice job on third down and in the red zone,” Schottenheimer said. “It’s the first game of the year where I thought we played a good, solid football game.”
Having the ultra-optimistic and always-poised Wilson leading the offense will help. Now 16 games into their relationship, Schottenheimer is still amazed by Wilson’s temperament during games, even in the biggest of moments.
“Very calm,”Schottenheimer said. “He is different. Some guys are more anxious, but he’s not. I think it comes from his confidence from having done it so many times before. He’s obviously a very positive person. He’s very, very calm and very comfortable in those spots. He’s probably good for me in that regard. He’s just such a positive person, whether the first play is good or the first play, it doesn’t shake him.”
The struggles and sloppiness of the last two weeks haven’t shaken Schottenheimer or the offense. He channeled his quarterback’s optimism about the wild card game.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to see the way we respond as a group. I feel like we are playing with a lot of confidence right now. We have to take what we’ve been doing. We don’t change what we do, we just regroup and it will be a fun time on Saturday night.”