Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Hawks’ maligned O-line finally earns big kudos

Seahawks offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb smiles on the sidelines late in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field.
Seahawks offensive lineman J’Marcus Webb smiles on the sidelines late in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field. toverman@theolympian.com

For the Seattle Seahawks, this 37-18 win over San Francisco was a return to the kind of dominating play that was the norm since 2012.

After a pair of unproductive performances in the first two weeks of the season, this was the first convincing example that the 2016 Seahawks had the potential to reach a level of some of its predecessors.

But for one group in particular, it was even more than that. For the offensive line, it was a day of sweet redemption.

As the offense languished near the bottom of the NFL rankings in the first two weeks of the season, the offensive line drew the most biting critiques.

I know that I pointed at least five fingers at these guys — not because they were lousy players, but because it seemed as if they could be better than what they had shown themselves to be.

On Sunday, they were much better than what might be expected of the lowest-paid line in the league.

They cleared the way for back Christine Michael to gain 106 yards on 20 carries. Michael is a stirring tale of redemption of his own, rushing for career-high yardage and his first two NFL touchdowns after being traded away from the Seahawks last season and then cut by a couple other clubs.

The Seahawks gave him a final chance late last season, and have been rewarded by Michael’s vastly improved professionalism and dedication.

What was different about this game for Michael was all the open space the line created for him.

Against quality defensive fronts from Miami and Los Angeles, the Hawks’ front got shoved back on their heels — in addition to occasionally muffing an assignment, or miscommunicating the calls.

The offense ranked 26th in yardage and their rushing average of 89 yards was more than 50 yards per game lower than last season’s average.

Here’s what the Seahawks linemen did: They looked at the films, and then they looked inside themselves.

“Down to the man, we focused on what we can control,” said right tackle Garry Gilliam. “Our technique, our execution, our assignments … and at that point, it was just man vs. man, digging down deep and doing your job.”

Gilliam is the only Seahawks lineman playing at the position he started last season. He was a part of one of the best offenses in the league last season. That carries expectations.

“We know we have a great offense, it was a matter of us winning our one-on-one battles,” Gilliam said.

And when all five guys up front win their one-on-one battles, the points pile up. The 37 was the most they’ve scored in nine games, since the 38 they tattooed on the Vikings in early December.

Left tackle Bradley Sowell, in his first season with the Seahawks, said they’d heard the criticism, and it was up to them to each find ways to improve.

“Every time we’d go to films we’d see that it wasn’t like we were getting bashed, but we just weren’t scoring, little things were going wrong,” Sowell said. “There was a little bit of everything, a little assignment, a little physical thing. I kept waiting for us to explode.”

Oh, they’d been detonated plenty of times in the first two games. Sunday, though, it was the Niners getting blasted off the line.

Right guard J’Marcus Webb, the one Seahawks lineman who is actually getting paid pretty well ($2.45 million guaranteed), had been hurt in the offseason and has been slow to come back to form.

He’d been relegated to backup until rookie guard Germain Ifedi sprained his ankle the week before the first game and opened the way for Webb to start. Ifedi is expected to start easing back next week, but Webb showed on Sunday that he could get the job done if he has to.

“It felt comfortable,” Webb said. “All five of us working together, being aggressive, doing what we’re supposed to do. We had to really focus in on what we had to do — we knew we were better.”

On Sunday, they proved it, and that very public act of redemption changes the whole way the Seahawks offense can be expected to play moving forward.

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