Keep Hasselbeck off his back

Today we discuss what I believe is the No. 1 issue for the Seattle Seahawks to fix before the regular- season opener on September 12th at home against San Francisco – improved pass protection and overall offensive line play up front, and keep Matt Hasselbeck of his back.

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We can look back in hindsight and say former team president Tim Ruskell and head coach Jim Mora made a grave error in judgment in relying on cornerstone offensive tackle Walter Jones to return from microfracture knee surgery. Because of that decision, along with the retirement of left guard Mike Wahle due to his inability to pass a physical before training camp started because of a bad shoulder, Seattle never saw the projected starting five for the 2009 season play a down together.

Instead, the Seahawks went through a hodgepodge of offensive line combinations throughout training camp and the regular season, and the offensive line never gained the much-needed cohesion the group needed to be an effective unit.

Having talented players up front is paramount for an effective offensive line, but staying healthy is just important. Just ask the Arizona Cardinals. During Arizona’s Super Bowl run two years ago, the Cardinals starting five did not miss a game. No player from that unit made the Pro Bowl that year, but they did a masterful job of protecting an aging Kurt Warner along with creating enough running lanes for experienced running back Edgerrin James at the end of the season.

Seattle played four different left tackles, three different left guards and centers, and six different offensive line combinations in 2009, so it’s no wonder the offensive line struggled with consistency and protecting the quarterback.

So when head coach Pete Carroll enlisting the services of offensive line guru Alex Gibbs, it showed how important he believed improving the offensive line and protecting the quarterback was to his team’s success.

Seattle allowed 41 sacks in 2009, 23rd overall in the league. Giving Hasselbeck better protection and an improved running game should help Seattle increase its point production from the 17.5 points they averaged last season. That in turn should take some pressure off of the defense to force three-and-outs every time they are on the field.

The NFL is a scoring league now, and teams have to go toe-to-toe with high-powered offenses like New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minnesota and Philadelphia to get wins in this league, so an offense that can put points on the board is important.

I believe Hasselbeck’s struggles last season mainly were due to his lack of time to throw in the pocket. Seattle scaled back the playbook in the second half of the season because of the offensive line’s struggles, keeping in one of the team’s best pass catchers in tight end John Carlson to help protect the quarterback.

The addition of first-round selection Russell Okung at left tackle and free agent addition Ben Hamilton at left guard should help. But Okung is a rookie, so he’s going to struggle at times against elite pass rushers.

Also, Bates will include more quick throws and move the pocket around to help ease the pressure on Hasselbeck. But improved play from this group is necessary for this team’s overall success.