Hits pile up for 2012 QB class
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].”