What to Watch – 2016 Week 1 SEA vs MIA

With Max Unger shipped off in the Jimmy Graham trade and injuries hitting the position group hard, Seattle’s Offensive Line was constantly in flux in 2015. The unit played very up and down all year, looking somewhat passable in the run game but looking like the worst pass blocking unit in the NFL for the first half of the season on their way to a total of 46 sacks allowed. Some of those could be blamed on young Runningbacks missing the blitz pickup, or Russell Wilson holding the ball too long, but when that many sacks are allowed a lot of it hangs on the Offensive Line.

After gathering some new pieces the 2016 edition of the Offensive Line will be getting tested in a significant way this week as they attempt to stop the Miami Dolphins’ Defensive Line. This Miami unit has some big names and big production with players like Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, and Mario Williams. These are crafty, veteran players who put a lot of stress on an Offensive Line. If Miami has any chance at all of pulling the upset in Week 1 this is the unit that will have to propel them to it.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins made a big splash before the 2015 season when they signed Ndamukong Suh as what they believed would be the piece that put their defense over the top. Things haven’t quite worked out how the franchise imagined since that time, but he is still a very effective player. Suh had 6 sacks and 5 passes defensed last year while holding down the middle of a Defensive Line that was often injured and staffed by mediocrity. He still holds his place as one of the most disruptive interior linemen in football, and is a handful for any Center or Guard in the NFL. One of those injured players what Cameron Wake, who still managed 7 sacks in just 7 games. That comes on the heels of 11.5 sacks in 2014 while playing a full season without Suh on his hip.

Joining that unit is former Bill and former Texans #1 overall pick Mario Williams. Williams isn’t getting any younger at age 31 and coming off just 5 sacks in a terrible season in Buffalo, but his double digit sacks in each of the previous 3 seasons (including 14.5 in 2014) say that it was probably a lot more about fit and scheme than talent and ability. Make no mistake, a motivated Williams unleashed on a Quarterback is still a dangerous man on the football field.

The problem for Miami is everything happening behind this Defensive Line. The rest of the team is filled with average to slightly below average talent like Jelani Jenkins and Isa Abdul-Quddus, or restoration projects that may or may not pan out like Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell. It is possible that things will gel just right, but the talent at the back end of this unit is arguably less than teams with plus Defensive Lines like the Los Angeles Rams. Pile on top of that the fact that the Defense is paper thin. Beyond the starters, the depth is at best questionable and at worst functionally non-existent. If the pass rush is stellar that can cover a lot of issues on the back end of the Defense, so Miami is relying a lot on Williams, Wake, and Suh.

Seattle Seahawks

In a division with elite line talent in Arizona and Los Angeles, and with Super Bowl aspirations that would include dealing with teams like the Vikings, Panthers, and Broncos, this Offensive Line must hold for the team to reach their potential. If 2013 proved that Seattle didn’t need an elite Offensive Line in order to win big, 2015 proved a terrible one can put a cap on how far the team can go. In order to address this the team lost their best Offensive Lineman in 2015 in the form of LT Russell Okung, but spent a 1st Round pick on Germain Ifedi, a 3rd on Rees Odhiambo, a 6th on Joey Hunt, and signed Bradley Sowell and J’Marcus Webb.

While none of the pieces the Seahawks picked up overhauled the Offensive Line, the culmination of these pickups and some other changes that have been in the works have resulted in a visible upgrade. Ifedi was plugged in at RG and has looked like a total mauler. He is huge and very physical, playing with some nasty in the run game. The rest of the interior has been boosted by Mark Glowinski stepping up at LG and Justin Britt’s shockingly effective move to Center. Let me tackle each of those in turn. Glowkinski was a college Tackle at West Virginia who always projected better on the inside, but the scheme he ran in college and the fact he was a JUCO made him a bit of a project. We’ve seen hints of what he could be, but this preseason he showed up as a very strong and physical road grating run blocker who anchors well against the pass rush and looks like a very solid player. Britt is the bigger surprise though, as his slow feet and difficulty shifting played extremely poorly as a rookie at Tackle and even showed as big limitations at Guard. As a Center though, Britt is like a brick wall in the middle of the line. He is so powerful and uses his leverage so well having to just set up and slide slightly to help that he is delivering a punch to Defensive Linemen that he couldn’t at other positions and really getting to play to his strengths.

Now for the bad: Offensive Tackle. Gilliam was very up and down all last year, and even the coaches admitted the same holds true in the preseason. J’Marcus Webb is a castoff from other teams for a reason, and that reason is he isn’t very good. In the 4th Preseason game against Oakland Webb looked like a dumpster fire. Sowell is a fine swing tackle and the kind of guy you’d love to have as depth on your bench, but he just may be the best of the 3 tackles on this team. Speed rushes off the edge have proven a nightmare for this squad, and it will be up to schemes like the zone read, TE and RB blocking help, and Russell Wilson being made of pure magic are the only things that can save what will for sure be a mediocre at best and putrid wasteland at worst at Offensive Tackle for the Seattle Seahawks.

The Wrap

Miami needs the Defensive Line to be perfect if they want to win. Seattle needs the interior Offensive Line to be what they looked to be in the preseason: solid pass blockers and good to great run blockers. Seattle also needs to open up the playbook a little bit and help out these Tackles. This has a chance to be a great preview for how the Seahawks can handle a good pass rush and what sorts of play-calling we will be seeing in key matchups this season against the Rams, Cardinals, Jets, Panthers, and Vikings. I think even if Miami’s Defensive Line looks great in this game it is still unlikely to be a win for the Dolphins, but it would be an ominous sign of possibilities to come for Seattle.

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