Following an 0-2 start to the season, the Seahawks have won two straight games to get back on track, and while a lot of different factors went into those two victories, perhaps the most important common denominator has been the improved play of the offensive line.
Russell Wilson was sacked 12 times in Seattle's first two games, and while he and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll were quick to point out that not all of those sacks were the fault of the line, it's still a very positive sign for Seattle's pass protection that Wilson has been sacked just four times in the past two games. The turnaround in the running game has also been obvious, with Chris Carson and Mike Davis posting back-to-back 100-yard rushing games after the Seahawks went the entire 2017 season without producing a 100-yard rusher. Last week was particularly impressive, with the Seahawks rushing for 171 yards on 34 carries, good for a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.
"I think it's really worth noting that the offensive line continues to improve," Carroll said earlier this week. "When you look at the first couple of weeks when we had all the sacks, the last couple of weeks we just haven't. Way better pass protection-wise, and also the running game has really come to life. Running the ball over thirty times the last couple of games is really a message that we are trying to project that this is how we want to play these football games. That was good stuff. Justin Britt played really good coming back. He played well with D.J. (Fluker) and with (J.R. Sweezy) on the other side of him, so that just looked good, looked strong."
And it isn't that the Seahawks' line feels like it suddenly found something new so much as that that unit got back to playing at the level they envisioned back in training camp and offseason workouts after getting started under new offensive line coach Mike Solari and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"This has been the line we thought we could be since the spring, since we came back and got out there with Solari and Schotty," center Justin Britt said. "The past two weeks, we've just kind of taken a turn for the better offensively. We've put more emphasis on being balanced with our attack, and just being real physical and committed to the running game. When that happens, the guys up front get in a rhythm, and it starts to wear on guys on defense, and our tempo starts to wear on people. We're physical, we're experienced across the board, we have a lot of depth, guys who can fill in. There's a lot of trust, a lot of cohesion, and we're just working really well together."
The Seahawks have 73 rush attempts in their past two games, and while they very well may not keep up that pace every game, committing to the run was an important part not just of winning games, but of helping draw the best out of the line. In other words, even if some of the runs weren't always effective, particularly in the Week 3 victory over Dallas when Seattle averaged 2.9 yards per carry, the offense and the line in particular will be better for it in the long run.
"I think we've drawn them out by the way we've gone about it," Carroll said. "We just didn't hit it right the first two weeks. I don't think they've changed much. I think that we've been able to call them differently and more uniquely in terms of just pounding the line of scrimmage. This was the most physical play that we've had in some time (against Arizona) and it was an advance from last week. It's a really fun sign to see these guys get going, and they're just starting to feel their sense and their awareness of counting on them and all that, which brings out the best in any offensive line and these guys really showed that. You can see Schotty syncing up with them. I think it's just going to continue to get better, and I love the fact that we've got a variety of big guys that can help us run the football… All of that really, it starts with Duane (Brown), who is a real leader up there and Justin is a real leader, and we've got Justin back this week and I think all of those elements are just coming together. There's a lot of room for improvement and they can feel that and I think they feel us counting on them quite a bit. It really helps."
Brown called the progress he has seen from the line, and in the running game in particular, "Very encouraging. It means everything to our offense and to our team as a whole. I think we've really been having some great chemistry. We've been rolling off the ball. The running backs are running hard. Chris Carson or Mike Davis, both of those guys, (Rashaad) Penny as well. All those guys really complement us well. In order for us to win, we have to play well up front, that's just the bottom line. We've been able to do that and we have to continue to."
And for the Seahawks, the offensive line hitting its stride couldn't come at a better time, because this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, features one of the most talented defensive lines in football, a group led by Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Ndamukong Suh, a five-time Pro-Bowler who signed with the Rams this offseason.
As Britt explained, the primary focus in a lot of games is stopping one or two players when it comes to pass protection, but with the Rams' talented defensive front, there are a lot more problems to account for during the week of preparation.
"You add someone like Suh to the mix, it just adds another element you have to prepare for," Britt said. "You see people in different spots, you see (Michael) Brockers out at end, and he'll come inside too. Sometimes you're preparing for maybe one or two guys for pass plays—with the Rams, you've got to prepare for three, four, five guys. It's just extra preparation. That's just part of being a pro in the NFL. That's why you play the game to see what happens."
Added Carroll, "These three inside guys that they have are as good as you get. You hear us talk about from the middle out, Suh is right there on the center and he's a big-time player, Aaron Donald is a fantastic player and (Michael) Brockers is really big-time. They've moved him to play 5-technique for them and it's worked out really well. With the running game, if we're going to be successful, we're going to have to work those guys and block them and get some space on the line of scrimmage."
The Seahawks know they'll have their hands full with Donald, Suh and company, but they also head into the game knowing their line is as prepared for that test as it has been in a long time.
"The line has been exciting just to watch how physical they've been playing," Wilson said. "… Those guys have really just continued to just get better and better and better, and Coach Solari has done a tremendous job with them, honestly. Coach Solari is a tremendous football coach. It's always great to sit in the meetings and just listen to Coach Solari talk ball and the detail that he presents it with and it's transferring and it's working, especially in our run game and everything else. I'm excited about what we're going to do just moving forward through this year."
The Seahawks and Rams will meet for the 42nd time in the regular season this Sunday in Seattle. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.