RENTON — Monday night’s Seahawks game began with Seattle turning in its third-longest pass play in history — Geno Smith’s 84-yard hookup to DK Metcalf on the fifth offensive snap of the game.
But for the final 55 minutes, the Seattle passing attack was as muted as it has been in years — just four completions of longer than 10 yards, two of which were exactly 10 yards and another of 12.
And while Smith playing his second game in place of an injured Russell Wilson was an unquestioned factor, so was an offensive line that struggled to protect Smith much of the night.
“Hopefully we can support him better and give him more chances to get the ball downfield a little bit more,” coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, looking ahead to what will be Smith’s third start Sunday against Jacksonville.
Indeed, Smith was sacked five times and hit eight times in just 27 dropbacks.
As Pro Football Focus put it, “The Seahawks offensive line appeared overwhelmed for much of Monday’s contest, struggling to maintain open running lanes while allowing consistent pressure in pass protection.”
As a result, Carroll said Wednesday that the team is considering at least one change on the offensive line, at center, where he said Ethan Pocic will play some against the Jaguars.
Kyle Fuller has started all seven games at center, winning the job in training camp in large part because Pocic missed much of camp dealing with injuries.
Pocic was the starter for 14 games last year, and Carroll anticipated that Fuller and Pocic would compete for the job in camp.
Instead, as Carroll said Wednesday: “He (Pocic) had to step aside because he was hurt. And so Kyle took over.”
Pocic subbed in for 14 snaps in the opener at Indianapolis before suffering a knee injury that caused him to miss four games.
He returned to health two games ago and has played on special teams each of the past two weeks. And with Fuller struggling against the Saints, beaten up the middle for a sack on a third-down play that forced the Seahawks back to their 35 on their second-to-last possession resulting in a missed 53-yard field goal, Carroll wants to open up the spot to competition.
“Ethan deserves a chance get out there, and so we’ll look forward to him playing some this week,” Carroll said.
Carroll wouldn’t say if Pocic will start.
But he said the in-game communication between the linemen, something that falls heavily on the center, needs to get better.
“We have to be more consistently on with the calls and our stuff there,” Carroll said. “We can get better there. And so in that sense the competition is still open. And it’s important that we get a chance to see how Ethan does and how Kyle does in response and all that. It’s a very important position for (new offensive coordinator) Shane (Waldron’s) background. It’s been a really important position for that guy to really command what’s going on and assist the quarterback in all ways. So we are still working at it.”
As one example of what has at times appeared to be lacking communication, left tackle Duane Brown was visibly frustrated after allowing a sack against the Steelers in which he appeared to be late to move after the snap and was seen talking with Fuller on the sidelines afterward.
That sack is one of five Brown is credited by PFF as allowing this year, already more than the combined four he gave up in 2019 and 2020.
Seattle’s team pass blocking grade from PFF ranks 20th in the NFL, and the Seahawks have allowed 15 sacks in the past five games after giving up 13 in the first four.
Fuller rates 32nd of 36 centers by PFF while Brown is 37th of 74 tackles (starting right Brandon Shell is 36th) and guards Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis are 32nd and 60th, respectively, out of 74 graded guards. And Seattle might be without Shell this week as he deals with an ankle issue, which could have Jamarco Jones starting in his spot.
And as Carroll noted, Pocic was off to a good start last year, with Wilson on pace to set an NFL record for passing touchdowns through the first half of the season, before he suffered a concussion midyear that kept him out of two games.
The team then re-signed Pocic to a one-year deal with a guaranteed $3 million, which while not an overly extravagant amount, indicated the team envisioned a role for Pocic this season. Fuller, who had started just three games before this season, is on a one-year deal paying $920,000.
After the loss to the Saints and an offense that managed just three points and 126 yards in the final 55 minutes following the Metcalf TD, much was made of the team’s seemingly conservative play-calling.
Carroll said Wednesday that wanting to avoid turnovers was a key part of the play, especially as long as the game was close and the Seahawks’ defense was keeping the Saints in relative check.
Had Seattle felt better about the ability of its line to protect Smith then the plan might have been a little different.
“We played this game, with all of the situation that was there, the conditions, and knowing their style of play as well, this was a game that was going to be a tight football game if we were doing well,” Carroll said. “If we were doing well, then we could get out ahead of them and hopefully put them behind us, but that didn’t happen. We played off of the defense, the defense was playing great, we wanted field possession and to take care of the ball. We thought that would give us the best chance to not give them an opportunity. These guys had … nine interceptions coming in. They had a lot of big plays and a really tough pass defense, one of the best pass defenses in the league. We wanted to make sure that we had a chance to win at the end of the game. And we were there, but obviously we couldn’t get it done.”