At some point over the past four weeks, Seahawks players apparently grew tired of hearing negative assessments of their offensive line. Because after the Seahawks beat the Jets 27-17 Sunday to improve to 3-1 heading into their bye, several players on both sides of the ball went out of their way, unsolicited, to stick up for their teammates in the trenches.
"They did a fantastic job against one of the best defensive lines in football today," cornerback Richard Sherman said, responding to a question about quarterback Russell Wilson. "They deserve a ton of credit; hopefully they get it. The first couple of weeks, people could say what they want, up and down, but against this D-line, this stout, All-Pro D-line, they did a fantastic job and they deserve credit."
"The offensive line did an excellent job for (Wilson)," added receiver Doug Baldwin, who would later, on two different occasions, point out that the line deserved more love than it is getting.
And nobody is trying to convince you that Seattle's line has been perfect, or that it can't and shouldn't get better as the season goes on, but the theme Sunday seemed to be that too many people have been too busy disparaging the Seahawks line to actually look at what they're doing. Four games into the season, the Seahawks have played three of the most talented defensive lines in the NFL, yet they've cut the number of sacks allowed through four games in half from last season from 18 to 9, and that's with Wilson being limited in his mobility for three-plus games because of ankle and knee injuries. Yes, Wilson played a spectacular game against the Jets, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns despite knee and ankle injuries, and yes, Jimmy Graham and Baldwin were dynamic playmakers once again, but none of that happens if Seattle's much-maligned line hadn't been up to the challenge against a nasty Jets defensive line.
"We've held these guys we've played in high regard," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Seattle's early-season opponents. "All the way through the schedule here, they've been highlighted players and athletes and draft picks and all that kind of stuff against a group that's trying to find their way and get together."
The Seahawks line has been trying to find its way and get together because, heading into the season, Garry Gilliam was the only returning starter playing the same position he played in 2015. Justin Britt was also a returning starter, but moved from guard to center, while the other three starters were Mark Glowinski, a second-year player with one start on his résumé, Bradley Sowell, a free-agent signing, and Germain Ifedi, a rookie. Things were further complicated when Ifedi injured his ankle days before the season opener, causing him to miss three games with J'Marcus Webb, another newcomer, filling in. Yet for all the reasons the Seahawks had to come out of the gate poorly—and again, there were some struggles—that group has held up admirably against very good competition, and is only showing signs of improvement as it builds more experience together.
"At this time last year, which isn't a great marker, this time last year we gave up 18 sacks, we're at nine right now," Carroll said. "… That's a good move this early in the year. There's a number of things when you compare that way that come out. That's something that's been a concern and we're off to a better start maybe than you guys or anybody thought, and we're going to get better, I hope, moving forward."
In particular, the Seahawks have liked what they're seeing from Britt in his move to center, his third position in as many seasons. Offensive line coach Tom Cable and the rest of the coaching staff thought Britt was a good fit at center, hence the decision to make the move, but they weren't sure how smoothly that transition would go. So far it has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first quarter of the season.
"One of the things that's obvious is Justin Britt has done a really good job in the middle," Carroll said. "He has been on it, he's done well in the run game and the pass game. He has done very well captaining the front and making his calls and working with Russell to direct and redirect protections, and that's not something we knew would happen. That's a great positive for us and he's really embraced the position. He loves playing in there and it's worked out really well. I think it starts right there."
In addition to Britt's strong play, Carroll added, "We're fortunate that Mark has done a really good job; he's really solid at the left guard spot. Acquiring Germain Ifedi, we've been thrilled to get him out since the day we saw him on the practice field. We realized that this is something really special. He's been here one game so far, but if you watch him in the game, he moves people. He makes the line of scrimmage move and he takes up a ton of space in pass protection. We're going to be better with him in there. Bradley Sowell has come through, we didn't know at the time, we didn't know that was going to work out. He's been coming through and is doing all right. Garry is back, he had a little bit of a delay in his return with his knee rehab when he came out of the summer time. We just have a chance to grow and get better. I like the leadership from Britt and the toughness from Ifedi, and just our background. I think we've kind of picked up where we left off so we'll see."
The Seahawks still have room for improvement on the line and elsewhere on offense. Most notably, they want to run the ball better than they have so far, averaging 93 rushing yards per game, but considering the newness of the group and how slowly the Seahawks offense came out of the gate last season, the play of the line through four games has been an encouraging development.
"We're growing on offense with the guys up front, they're doing a good job and pass protection is a big deal to us right now, and we'll grow in the running game," Carroll said.
Added Wilson: "The offensive line is exciting to see. They're really talented. They move well, they're strong. Germain Ifedi got in his first game and it was exciting to see him out there… Those guys are really solid. They are making great calls. Their protection calls are great. I'm changing the calls and they're getting it just right."
The Seahawks enter the bye week with a 3-1 record after a 27-17 victory over the New York Jets. Team photographer Rod Mar shares exclusive moments from Seattle's east coast road trip and Week 4 win at MetLife Stadium.