Apparently even Tom Cable's magic has limits.
The line guru's spells of protection seem to have expired as the Seahawks' depleted offensive line has regressed to the levels of futility it displayed for most of 2008-10.
The Hawks always knew they were walking a thin line up front this season, counting on left guard Paul McQuistan as the backup left tackle and rookie Michael Bowie as the backup right tackle.
They probably never foresaw losing both starting tackles at the same time, but that is what has happened. It has put pressure on Cable's chemistry project as McQuistan, Bowie and neophyte guards James Carpenter and J.R Sweezy have all struggled. And it has highlighted the need for better talent among that squad next year.
The largely inexperienced and undermanned crew reached a new season low Monday night when the Hawks gave up seven sacks and gained just 135 yards in an incredulous 14-9 win over St. Louis. Take away the 80-yard touchdown pass to resident punk receiver Golden Tate, and the Hawks gained just 55 yards in the entire game.
The Hawks have given up 27 sacks already, putting them on pace to top the franchise record of 52 set in 1985.
With tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini injured, McQuistan and Bowie have been pretty terrible on the ends. Both have been embarrassed game after game by a steady stream of solid pass rushers. McQuistan has given up 8.5 sacks in eight games, and Bowie has surrendered 4.5 in six games (five starts).
Coach Pete Carroll has no better options at this point and simply has to hope it doesn't get worse before the starting tackles return.
"We’re still trying to grow and do as well as we can with these guys," he said. "We’ve committed here for the right reasons and to the right guys, and our guys are ready to jump in when we need them. We need every snap we can get to stay together and develop the continuity that it takes to really function really well."
On the bright side, he might get his tackles back in the next two or three weeks.
Okung began practicing Saturday and is eligible to come off injured reserve Nov. 15, in time for the Week 11 game against Minnesota. It remains to be seen whether his sprained toe will allow him to come back that soon.
Giacomini, coming off knee surgery, seems likely to return in the next two weeks as well.
"Breno is chomping at the bit," Carroll said. "He’s getting really close. Breno is really day-to-day right now. I would think by next week he would be pretty active in what’s going on. So we’ll see what that means. I can’t project it, but I think that’s what we’re looking forward to."
The return of the tackles surely will help the offense as the Hawks try to earn home field for the playoffs and an expected march to the Super Bowl, but it's pretty clear the team is going to need to find better reinforcements next year.
The Seahawks knew depth was an issue way back in April. They wanted to use their second-round draft pick on an offensive lineman, but teams jumped on all of the candidates too early and the Hawks chose to trade down and take a running back they have hardly used while waiting until the seventh round to address the line.
Bet they won’t do that again if they can help it.
Okung now has had major injuries in two of his four seasons, and the Hawks have to develop a good backup swing tackle.
They also have to decide what to do at right tackle and the guard spots. Giacomini is clearly better than Bowie on the right side right now, and Carpenter and Sweezy have been very inconsistent without the starting tackles next to them.
The decision will be based at least partly on money. Giacomini and McQuistan both will be free agents, and the Hawks have to determine whether either is worth the $3 million or so they are making this season.
With about 15 other free agents -- Michael Bennett, Brandon Browner, Golden Tate, et al. -- and potential extensions for Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to take care of, the Hawks probably don't have the money for two medium-priced veteran linemen.
(The Hawks can free up a lot of salary cap space by offering Okung a contract extension next offseason. His rookie deal does not expire until after the 2015 season, but he has an $11.24 million cap hit next year and could free up around $5 million with a new deal.)
At this point, the money is on Giacomini being re-signed to another two-year, $6 million deal and McQuistan being allowed to leave unless he will play for less than $2 million.
The decisions on Giacomini and McQuistan -- and restricted free agent Lemuel Jeanpierre -- also will depend on (1) Cable's development of Bowie, Carpenter, Sweezy and rookies Alvin Bailey, Ryan Seymour and Jared Smith and (2) what the Seahawks think they can get in the draft.
It appears there are six or seven prospects who might be worth a look in the late first round or in the second round. One early mock draft has the Seahawks taking Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson late in the first round, although other analysts think he will be gone well before that.
Another mock has the Hawks taking Notre Dame left tackle Zach Martin first; he is projected to play guard in the NFL and could be a cheap replacement for McQuistan or an upgrade over Carpenter.
The draft is considered deep along the line and, with no third-round pick (sent to Minnesota for Percy Harvin), the Hawks probably would be smart to try to drop out of the first round to add one.
Whatever they do, the Hawks need to give Cable a little more to work with and stop relying on him to perform miracles.