Let me start by saying Tom Cable is one of my favorite coaches on the Seahawks. He stopped the never-ending turnstile of offensive line coaches and instilled a toughness the Seahawks had not seen on the line since Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Robbie Tobeck paved the path to a record-breaking ground game. Cable should be a head coach again, and might be a great option to succeed Pete Carroll down the road. He also may have a coaching blind spot. A blind spot that could derail the Seahawks season if left untended.
Everyone knows Cable loves to run the football. He has been an offensive line coach for three NFL teams, and led each to at least one top three NFL ranking in rushing yards. Listen to to him talk about lineman, and the focus points will be on leverage and toughness and moving the pile. When Cable pictures offensive lineman working, he pictures them run blocking. He has learned the zone run-blocking scheme from the legendary Alex Gibbs.
Both men are proud to point out the moderately talented runners that their system turned into NFL feature backs. Whether it was Olandis Gary for Gibbs or Justin Fargas for Cable, these men repeatedly have seen evidence that their run system works almost regardless of who is carrying the football. The problem for Cable comes with pass protection. Take a look at how his NFL teams have fared in sacks allowed compared to rushing yards gained:
Cable has led a top ten rushing team in six of his eight years as a coach in the NFL. His teams have average over 2,200 yards rushing each year. They have also allowed a painful 43 sacks per season, good for a ranking in the bottom third in the NFL. Cable’s teams have finished 24th or worse in sacks allowed in six of his eight years.
As much respect as I have for Cable, I think he puts so much weight on players who can run block that he almost ignores their pass blocking deficits. This puts his quarterback in harms way. It leads to reaching for lineman in the draft. It leads to players being left on the bench who can pass block because he would rather play a guy who marginally better as a run blocker.
People want to know why Cable saw James Carpenter as a first-round pick and John Moffitt as a third and Justin Britt as a second when so many in the league had them pegged for far later. I believe it is because he looks almost solely at their run blocking potential. Carpenter may have been a first-round talent as a run blocker at right tackle, but was not even draftable as a pass-blocking tackle. Nick Saban knew it. Cable either did not, or chose not to care.
I was taken aback last year when Michael Bowie was above Alvin Bailey on the depth chart after seeing Bailey ace every pass blocking drill and Bowie struggling at times. I grew up with the notion that the premium is on pass blocking, and that you celebrate if you find someone who is great at it. Seeing Cable go to Bowie, and then stick with him, over Bailey even after Bowie was having trouble in pass protection was educational. Seeing him stick with Paul McQuistan was painful.
Assume for a second that Britt continues to struggle with pass blocking. Assume that it is bad enough to get your star quarterback sacked a lot. The logical thing to do would be for a player who can help with that deficiency step in, even if the running game took a small step back. Players like Gary Gilliam, Bailey, and even Caylin Hauptmann are worth a look if Bowie does not come back or cannot stay healthy (there’s no reason to believe Bowie is seriously injured, by the way). Cable’s history suggest he would defy logic, and stick with Britt.
Cable has forgotten more about offensive line play than I will ever know. I would take a tough running team over a finesse passing team every single time. Still, with just a little change to the weight Cable would give pass blocking, it feels like we could have our cake and eat it too. And we all know how much lineman like cake.