Hits pile up for 2012 QB class

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MARK MASKE

Seat­tle Seahawks quar­ter­back Rus­sell Wil­son darted this wayMon­day night against the Detroit Lions. He darted that way. He eluded. He im­pro­vised. It cer­tainly wasn’t by choice. The pass rush­ers of the Lions were on his heels or in his face prac­ti­cally the en­tire night.

So it has gone this sea­son for Wil­son. And so it has gone quite regularly for the quar­ter­backs of the 2012 NFL draft class. Wil­son has joined the other mem­bers of that cel­e­brated group— the In­di­anapo­lis Colts’ An­drew Luck, the Washington Red­skins’ Robert Grif­fin III and the Mi­ami Dol­phins’ Ryan Tan­nehill — in deal­ing with of­fen­sive line is­sues.

They have been, at least un­til this sea­son, a mostly ac­com­plished class. Grif­fin was the NFL’s of­fen­sive rookie of the year in 2012. Luck quickly es­tab­lished him­self as one of the league’s most pro­duc­tive passers and took the Colts to an AFC ti­tle game last sea­son. Wil­son has been to two Su­per Bowls and won one of them. Tan­nehill ap­peared to be an ascending quar­ter­back.

But there have been strug­gles, par­tic­u­larly this sea­son. And pass-pro­tec­tion woes have played a role in that.

Grif­fin’s mag­nif­i­cent rookie sea­son has been fol­lowed by in­juries and dis­ap­point­ing play. He has lost the start­ing job to Kirk Cousins, and his fu­ture with the Red­skins is un­cer­tain. The num­ber of hits ab­sorbed by Grif­fin, both as a run­ner and as a passer, has been raised as an is­sue by many observers through­out his NFL ten­ure.

He was un­der heavy pass-rush pres­sure from the Lions and ex­ited a pre­sea­son game this year with a con­cus­sion. Cousins took over as the starter at that point and has not re­lin­quished the job. The praise be­ing given to the Red­skins’ of­fen­sive line for its im­prove­ment this sea­son has come with Grif­fin on the bench.

Luck has been hit with such reg­u­lar­ity dur­ing his Colts ca­reer that Coach Chuck Pagano said ear­lier this sea­son that the young quar­ter­back should be ac­cus­tomed to deal­ing with it. Has that caught up to Luck and the Colts? He missed last Sun­day’s overtime win over the Jack­sonville Jaguars with an ail­ing right shoul­der, giv­ing way to vet­eran backup Matt Has­sel­beck, and sat out again Thurs­day night when the Colts held off the Hous­ton Tex­ans.

Tan­nehill was sacked a to­tal of 139 times in his first three NFL sea­sons with the Dol­phins even while im­prov­ing his passer rat­ing each sea­son from 76.1 as a rookie in 2012 to 81.7 in 2013 to 92.8 last sea­son. But things have un­rav­eled this sea­son. Tan­nehill has a passer rat­ing of 77.1, Mi­ami is 1-3andafter the fir­ing of Joe Philbin, Tan­nehill must now adapt to a new head coach.

Wil­son is the third-round pick who landed in a great sit­u­a­tion in Seat­tle, one with a pro­duc­tive run­ning game and dom­i­nant de­fense, and made things even bet­ter with his play.

De­spite his elu­sive­ness, he was sacked 119 times over his first three sea­sons. But that has gone way up this sea­son as Wil­son has been sacked 18 times in four games. That tieshimwith Kansas City’s Alex Smith as the league’s most fre­quently­sackedquar­ter­backs this sea­son. They are on pace to be sacked 72 times each, which would be four shy of the NFL record suf­fered by David Carr with theTex­ans in 2002.

“We’re tak­ing . . . sacks at an alarm­ing rate right now,” Seahawks of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dar­rell Bev­ell said at a news con­fer­ence this past week. “We can im­prove it. It’s re­ally in a lot of ar­eas. You can’t re­ally pin it on one group, one per­son. I know there’s a lot of con­cern with the of­fen­sive line and talk about that. But we can all­do­bet­ter— the quar­ter­backs in terms of get­ting the ball out at times, re­ceivers shak­ing open on time, of­fen­sive line pro­tect­ing him, my­self help­ing in any way that I can to give us bet­ter chances to do all three of those things. We’ll just con­tinue to work at it, though.”

Wil­son was sacked six times Mon­day night by the Lions and lost two fum­bles. But he also man­aged to throw for 287 yards and a touch­down as the Seahawks, aided by a late of­fi­ci­at­ing gaffe ac­knowl­edged by the NFL, held on to win, 13-10.

“I think he’s do­ing a fan­tas­tic job,” Bev­ell said. “Ob­vi­ously the one thing that he has is his abil­ity to im­pro­vise. And he makes a lot of plays for us when pro­tec­tions break down or other things that hap­pen. So I think he’s do­ing a great job for us. Ob­vi­ously in the lastgamewe had some is­sues with turn­ing it over. That’s some­thing that he’s been very se­cure with in terms of when he’s run with it, ob­vi­ously when he’s thrown it as well. We ex­pect that he’ll con­tinue to do that.”

It gets no eas­ier for Wil­son and the Seahawks this week­end as they play Sun­day at Cincinnati. The Ben­gals are 4-0 and their de­fense is tied for sixth in the NFL with its 11 sacks.

For­mer NFL of­fen­sive line­man Ross Tucker said re­cently that he sees league-wide of­fen­sive line is­sues.

“It’s not great,” Tucker said. “Ev­ery­one says there aren’t enough good play­ers to go around. That’s part of it. But there’s more to it than that. Teams are throw­ing the ball more than ever. They’re throw­ing the ball more and more from spread for­ma­tions. That’s harder on an of­fen­sive line. De­fenses are do­ing a bet­ter job of mak­ing sure they have four re­ally good pass rush­ers out there. You didn’t used to see that when I played. Teams have rec­og­nized that these part-time guys, these pass-rush spe­cial­ists, are ba­si­cally starters, and they are val­ued. You’re see­ing more and more ex­otic blitzes.”

Many of­fen­sive line­men come into the NFL un­pre­pared for what they will face, Tucker said, and fe­wof­fen­sive lines around the league re­main in­tact long enough to be­come truly ef­fi­cient.

“It used to be that teams had the same of­fen­sive line for three or four years in a row,” Tucker said. “How of­ten do you see that now? There are com­mu­ni­ca­tion is­sues. There are con­ti­nu­ity is­sues. It’s not know­ing what the guy next to you is go­ing to do. AndI don’tknow if these guys come into the leaguenowready to play. You see all these spread of­fenses in col­lege football. You watch col­lege football tape and teams are get­ting 12 and 15 yards, and they’re not block­ing any­one. The ball comes out so quick, I don’t think these guys ever have to block any­one for more than two or three sec­onds.”

But Tucker said he’s not ready yet to pass fi­nal judg­ment.

“Let’s see it in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber,” he said. “Right now, it’s just the of­fen­sive lines that have been to­gether [ that are per­form­ing well].”





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