The line to Seahawks’ offensive success forms behind the line

Posted Jan 4, 2013

As the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Redskins, it provides another opportunity to look at the Tom Cable-coached line that is paving the way to their offensive success.

Marshawn Lynch ran for a career-high 1,590 yards and the Seahawks averaged 161.2 rushing yards to rank third in the NFL while compiling a franchise-record 2,579 yards as a team.

Russell Wilson was sacked 33 times, which ties for the fourth-lowest total in club history.

Lynch also ran for at least 100 yards in 10 games, while Wilson ran for 53 yards – and was not touched – in scoring three rushing touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills last month.

With the Seahawks preparing for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField, it’s time to acknowledge once again just how productive the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl running back and rookie quarterback were in leading the Seahawks to an 11-5 record.

But it’s also another occasion to give credit where it’s also due for everything Lynch and Wilson accomplished during the Seahawks’ run to the postseason.

So, take a bow Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and Pro Bowl center Max Unger. And follow-the-bouncing guard Paul McQuistan, who started seven games on the left side and nine on the right side. And tough-as-they-come right tackle Breno Giacomini. And rookie guard J.R. Sweezy, who will start on the right side against the Redskins after starting the final two regular-season games. And John Moffitt and James Carpenter, who started six games each. And backups Frank Omiyale and Lemuel Jeanpierre, who played well in the second halves of the blowout victories over the Arizona Cardinals, Bills and San Francisco 49ers last month. And also rookies Rishaw Johnson and Mike Person.

“The offensive line has been doing a great job, all season really,” Wilson has said almost every time a TV camera has been focused on him this season. “They’ve been doing a tremendous job.”

Ask any of the linemen the reasons for their individual and collective success and they point first to Tom Cable, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach who was hired last year to install the zone-blocking scheme and this season has incorporated the zone-read option because of Wilson’s ability to run it.

“How we’ve been playing since training camp, Week 1, is the same we’re playing now,” said Jeanpierre, who has earned the nickname Lem-opedia from his linemates because of his encyclopedia-like grasp of the system.

“It’s coach Cable pushing us, and us pushing each other. The unity we have – closer than brothers, is the only way to really describe it. Everybody makes sure that everybody else is held to high standards, and it all starts with coach Cable. Since he came in here, he let it be known that he wasn’t accepting anything less than greatness. And we all bought into that and have taken it from there.”

Cable, however, points the finger for success right back at his blockers.

“I have pretty strong beliefs,” he said. “But at the same time, I don’t block anybody. I just kind of show them how. So I think, really, it’s their ability to adapt to it and then want to take it to the next level.

“I think that’s been the most important thing.”

So which is it? The system Cable has installed? The way he teaches it? Or the players who are executing it?

“It’s all of that,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It starts with belief and commitment to the style and the expectations of what we want to see on the field on game day. The conviction is there.

“Tom is a really, really committed guy in what we’re doing. That’s why we fit so well together. He’s the kind of guy that I need to carry the message about the zone running game. He’s such a good teacher that his guys know that he’s helping them, so they listen really intently and they follow.”

Then it’s up to the leaders on the line – Unger and Okung. “Max has been awesome to take it over and be the leadership voice in the room,” Carroll said. “Russell Okung has done a fantastic job of growing and being open to change and fixing his game along the way.”

Then there’s the guy they’re blocking for. “They have a heckuva running back behind them, so they’re seeing great results,” Carroll said.

“Everybody is all in in that group. And Tom is certainly the one that is responsible for that.”

Cable and his linemen have set themselves apart because they’ve been willing to embrace a blocking scheme less traveled.

“It’s not been about a system or guys who like to play,” Cable said. “It’s been guys who wanted to go and be something different than normal. And that’s a credit to them.

“I dig that, though. I really challenge them that way, to try to be something that’s abnormal, different. Don’t be like everybody else.”

Cable agrees with Carroll when it comes to the genesis of what’s happening, and why it’s happening.

“It’s just a combination,” he said. “It’s a cool system and you’ve got some guys real motivated to try and see how far they can take it. That’s been really the key to it.”

Cable refers to his system as “lineman friendly,” and he’ll get no argument from his current group of linemen.

“Our (meeting) room has really come together this year,” Unger said. “What we’re doing in there seems to be working pretty well. There’s obviously a lot of room for improvement, but kind of getting the same guys to start the majority of the games together is really a step in the right direction.”

Ah, another reason for the line’s success in this season of success.

This season, the Seahawks have used eight starters in five different combinations – with Giacomini, Unger and McQuistan making all the starts and Okung making 15. Last year, it was eight starters in six combinations – with none of the linemen making all 16 starts, and three players starting at left guard and also right guard. In 2010, Carroll’s first season, it was nine starters in 10 combinations – with four starters at left guard and three each at left tackle and right guard. In 2009, Jim Mora’s only season as coach, it was 10 starters in seven combinations – with four starters at left tackle and three each at left guard and center. In 2008, Mike Holmgren’s final season as coach, it was 10 starters in eight combinations – with four starters at right guard and three at left tackle.

“That’s been huge,” Unger said of the continuity this season.

So has the versatility of McQuistan, who started the first three games at left guard, the next nine at left guard, the next one at left guard, the next one at right guard and the last two at left guard. Because of his versatility, and tenacity, McQuistan is becoming the Chris Gray of this unit. Gray started 145 games from 1998-2008 – including a franchise record 121 consecutive starts from 1999-2006.

“That’s a fair assessment,” Unger said. “I never played with Chris, but I know him very well. Like Chris, Paul is an awesome guy and he’s been able to do a ton of stuff for us. They’ve asked him to switch guard spots a couple of times this year and he did that without a hitch.”

Former line coach Tom Lovat always said that while Gray might not always get his man the way it’s drawn up, he almost always got his man.

“That’s Paul, too,” Unger said. “He’ll do it. He’s a really, really good player.”   

And then any lineman will tell you he’d rather run block than pass block any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. And if you’re going to run block, you might as well embrace the abnormal.

“There are two kinds of thoughts in this league,” Cable said. “You can standup and get run at, kind of be pin-cushioned all day. Or you can come off and tattoo people and give it back.

“I chose the latter. So I think, yeah, as a lineman you would have to buy into not being a pincushion all the time.”

Instead, the Seahawks’ linemen, under Prof. Tom Cable, have become graduate students at Tattoo U.