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Originally published November 15, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified November 15, 2011 at 10:05 PM

Steve Kelley

Led by redesigned line, Seahawks could be on upswing

Seattle's line appears to be jelling just as team enters the softer, kinder part of the season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sunday

Seahawks @ St. Louis, 1:05 p.m., Ch. 13

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The cynicism is understandable. The impatience is expected. Losing breeds skeptics and even the successes are questioned.

After the longest, most exhilarating run in Seahawks history, the past four seasons have thudded this franchise back to reality.

Losing stinks, and fans in Seattle know that about as well as any fans anywhere. Well, Kansas City and Miami and Cleveland and a few others feel our pain, but losing hurts and there have been times, like the Hawks' losses in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, when this season has looked like all of the other recent disasters.

And please don't bring up last season's NFC West championship. The Hawks finished 7-9. That's a losing season.

These past four seasons have been filled with false starts and false hopes.

That's why it's hard to look at the past two weeks — the loss at Dallas, the home win against Baltimore — and confidently declare that, at last, the Seahawks' line has come together and the team has found its ground game.

After all, for most of this season, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and his backup, Charlie Whitehurst, have been hit like tackling dummies. And running back Marshawn Lynch practically has needed a GPS taped to his wrist just to find a way past the line of scrimmage.

But I'm here to tell you that the offensive line is growing. It is beginning to understand coach Tom Cable's zone schemes. The linemen are learning. Lynch is finding holes.

Losing rookie right guard John Moffitt for the season, who injured his right knee in the first quarter of Sunday's win, is a blow to the line's continuity, but with Lemuel Jeanpierre replacing Moffitt, the Hawks controlled the ball for the final 5:52 and beat the Ravens, 22-17.

"That last drive showed what kind of a team we can be," tight end Zach Miller said after the game.

This is a new scheme, new guys and a new era. This redesigned line didn't have the usual spring and summer tutorials.

Put a new line together, after a lockout, with a new scheme, no minicamps, and a truncated training camp, and the disaster that follows is as predictable as another Indianapolis Colts' loss.

"It definitely takes some time, especially when you have younger guys or a new system," said Miller, who left Oakland after the lockout and signed with Seattle. "Even if we'd had the whole offseason, it's tough to learn everything in an offseason and a training camp.

"The great offenses in the NFL have been run for years and have had the same guys, or at least most of the same guys, running it. Having that continuity from year to year is what really helps an offense."

Look at the numbers. In their past two games, against two of the best run defenses in football, the Hawks have rushed for an average of 140.5 yards. They've played smart, smash-mouth football.

"The whole blocking unit, you just need to get a lot of reps with it," fullback Michael Robinson said. "Especially the type of running game we roll. With the zone scheme, you can't say that you're going to make a cut right here. The zone scheme is going to be different every time you run it.

"You can run the same play nine times and get nine different cuts. It's not like a San Francisco-type offense where this is where the hole is and this is where you run. But what you're seeing is the linemen are firing off now. Those guys are getting some movement, and it's very encouraging."

Still, losing breeds skepticism. Maybe these past two games will be remembered as the offensive line's "Eureka" moment. Or maybe this was just a pleasant blip in another inconsistent season. It remains to be seen how Moffitt's season-ending injury will affect the line.

But the Hawks are entering the softer, kinder segment of their season. They play at St. Louis this Sunday, then have home games against foundering Washington, disappointing Philadelphia and the Rams.

"We knew that at some point it was going to come together," said left guard Robert Gallery, another Oakland Raiders' refugee. "Obviously, it hasn't been as fast as we want. But it showed up the last couple of weeks."

The Hawks, of course, aren't going to win the West again, but they could finish this season looking like a team that could contend next season.

Wait 'til next year gets old in Seattle. But it's the best the Seahawks can offer in 2011.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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