Once a weakness, offensive line now strength for Seahawks
He’d barely played in college at USC due to injuries. His NFL tape was limited. But Seattle offensive line coach Mike Solari saw tools he could work with. Solari saw strength and footwork that created a good foundation, and knew the rest could be taught and developed.
Solari has done a lot of teaching this year and it’s paying off. After several seasons of Seattle’s offensive line being a major problem, it’s become a solid position group that is clearly not the weakness it’s been in the past. And the line’s overall performance is part of the reason Seattle’s on the cusp of a postseason berth heading into Sunday’s game at San Francisco.
“It’s the whole unit working together as one,” Solari said. “They’re just getting better. It’s exciting how they are coming along and come together functioning as one.”
At times in previous seasons, Seattle couldn’t run the ball effectively. Other times, the Seahawks couldn’t adequately protect Russell Wilson. Too often it was a case of both happening in the same game.
That has changed. Seattle is the No. 1 running team in the NFL. The Seahawks have the most carries and are the only team to reach the 2,000-yard mark — exactly — after 13 games. They’ve also done an adequate job of protecting Wilson outside of the first two weeks, when he was sacked six times each by Denver and Chicago. Since the start of Week 3, Seattle has allowed just 27 sacks, tied for 13th best in the NFL. And while that’s not an astounding number, consider that during the same stretch Wilson has the second-highest passer rating of any quarterback in the league.
“They all can play and carry their own,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They’re smart, they know what’s going on and it’s a credit to the job that Mike (Solari) has done with these guys but it’s a very positive outlook for this group for the coming years, too.”
Simmons is a small part of Seattle’s success, but he speaks to the improvement of the entire unit. The two times Simmons has been thrust into starting this season — Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams and last week against Minnesota — there was no fall off in the performance of the offensive line. It may just be coincidence but those two games Simmons has played were the two best running games by the Seahawks all season.
The improvement in the run game has really highlighted how much better Seattle has been along the offensive line. The additions of D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy at the guard positions and a much better season by right tackle Germain Ifedi has led to the massive jump.
A year ago, Seattle ranked 23rd in the league, averaging 101.8 yards per game. A huge chunk of those yards came from Wilson’s legs. This season, Seattle is averaging 153.8 yards per game. And in the two games Fluker missed due to injury and Simmons started, Seattle ran for 273 yards against the Rams and 214 against the Vikings.
“I think it’s good I can come up and not miss a heartbeat from what we’ve been doing,” Simmons said. “But that goes to the four other guys on the line, not just me. I think with all of us being able to do the run game and get numbers like that is pretty big.”
Solari has gotten the bulk of the credit for improving a unit that had stagnated under previous offensive line coach Tom Cable.
But there’s been a stronger commitment to staying with the run by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, better options at running back with Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis, and some creative ideas about how to make a run-first offense function. A perfect example has been the use of tackle George Fant reporting eligible as a tight end for several games and getting another big body on the line — and last week catching his first pass.
“It’s a group that’s worked so hard on and off the field. They do a great job in the classroom. They do a great job in being accountable to each other and they take pride in their work,” Solari said. “It doesn’t matter who is in there. They’re working as one and it’s a credit to them.”