A season opener in St. Louis hardly qualified as a soft landing for a new-look Seahawks offensive line, and sure enough, a line featuring two new starters and a guard who recently moved from right tackle did indeed struggle at times against a Rams defensive line that is one of the best in the NFL.
The Rams have five former first-round picks in their defensive line rotations, a group that includes Aaron Donald, last year's defensive rookie of the year, and Robert Quinn, who has 40 sacks over the past three seasons. Those two each collected two sacks in St. Louis' 34-31 overtime victory on Sunday, and the Rams had a total of six, upping their total to 31 over the past seven games against Seattle since Russell Wilson took over, the most of any Seahawks opponent.
The ground game wasn't very effective either in the first half, gaining 46 yards on 14 carries, and the offense managed just a single field goal at the end of the half.
"This is an excellent front," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "This is as athletic of a group as we face, and they had an edge on us early. Once our guys settled down, we played a lot better. We felt much more confidence as we were working in the second half… It was a great challenge for our guys, and they kind of righted it, and with the tempo change, we played better.
"Whenever we give up five sacks or something like that, it's not good enough, but I've got to evaluate the film."
What Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable expect to see when they watch the film is a young group that got better as the game went on. It wasn't perfect in the second half—there were three more sacks and a pretty significant short-yardage stop by the Rams in overtime—but the offense as a whole functioned a lot better, gaining 211 of Seattle's 343 total yards in the second half and overtime.
"In the first half, we had our struggles," Cable said. "I didn't think we were on time. But I thought the second half was really cool, a lot of growth there. It's kind of the way I expected, but if we just take that jump again this week like we did in the second half, then we'll be pretty good."
Cable said the line of Russell Okung, Justin Britt, Drew Nowak, J.R. Sweezy and Garry Gilliam communicated well, but that their timing was just off at times.
"We missed combinations," he said. "We were behind. Some adjustments we made kind of helped, and for the young kids, just understanding what it was going to be like. That was the biggest thing, I thought they grew a ton in the first 30 minutes…. We were on it today being on the same page, which is really good, but when the ball fires, everybody's got to be at the right spot on the first and second step. We weren't early, but later we were and that was really cool."
One adjustment that helped, Cable said, was going up-tempo, which Seattle did on its final drive of the half to get a field goal, then did more of in the second half. And while those adjustments didn't lead to a perfect performance, Cable came away encouraged by what he saw, especially considering the opponent.
"That's a really good group," he said. "It's kind of a blessing in a lot of ways. They'll grow leaps and bounds for that."
Okung, the veteran leader on the line now that Max Unger is in New Orleans, had a similar assessment to that of his coaches—too many mistakes, but some encouraging signs that should bode well for the future.
"Obviously one of the best fronts in the NFL, whether you're talking about defensive end or defensive tackle or even the rotation," Okung said. "Their guys are very active, very talented. We just came up short today. I definitely didn't play as well as I wanted to; I definitely have to pick it up going into Week 2.
"I'm very proud of the young guys. The young guys played extremely hard and communicated the best they could. We definitely have some work to do up front, we've got to protect better. We missed a couple of key plays too, so we've got to bounce back and get those."
And while Okung put some blame on himself, it's not fair to put every sack on him or any lineman. As Wilson brought up on two different occasions in his postgame press conference, there were times in the game where he could have gotten the ball out quicker, particularly when the Rams brought extra pressure.
"They're one of the best defensive lines in the National Football League, and they made some plays," Wilson said. "A little bit is on me, just see if I can find a way to get the ball out a little quicker. I think the offensive line did a tremendous job, especially in the second half, they did a great job. There's a lot of positive things to it—I'm excited for Drew Nowak, first game, I thought he did a phenomenal job and battled with some of the best guys you're going to face. You look forward to the next challenge and you look forward to getting back to practice."
As for the final play, a fourth-and-1 Marshawn Lynch run in overtime that the Rams stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, nobody could offer too specific of an explanation having not yet studied the play on film, but Okung said it's a play the Seahawks have to win.
"They just flooded the gaps, a guy ran through," he said. "We just got beat up front, that's what it comes down to. We've got to win in those situations. We pride ourselves in winning in those situations. We didn't get it done today, but we look forward to getting it done in the future."
The Seahawks opened up the 2015 regular season on the road at the St. Louis Rams, falling in overtime 34-31.