When the Seahawks signed pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency last week, no one was happier to add their versatility and productivity to an already good defense than coordinator Dan Quinn.
In three seasons under coach Pete Carroll, the Seahawks have averaged 35.3 sacks. And that, as the team’s recent and continuing actions have shown, just won’t cut it.
While the Seahawks’ defense led the NFL in average points allowed last season and also checked in at a franchise-best No. 4 in average yards allowed, they also tied for 21st in sacks with 36 – three more than they produced in 2011 and one less than in 2010. And that’s not what Carroll is talking about when he stresses consistency.
Now, the Seahawks have four players on their roster who combined for 38 sacks last season. There’s on-the-mend Leo end Chris Clemons, who had a career-high 11.5 sacks last season before tearing a ligament in his left knee during the wild-card playoff victory over the Washington Redskins. There’s also rush-end Bruce Irvin, last year’s first-round draft choice who led all NFL rookies in 2012 with eight sacks. Last week, the club signed end Cliff Avril, who had 9.5 sacks last season and 29 the past three seasons for the Detroit Lions; and versatile rusher Michael Bennett, who had nine sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season but entered the league as a rookie free agent with the Seahawks in 2009.
These four didn’t just sack the quarterback, they also combined for nine forced fumbles (three each by Clemons and Bennett); 69 QB hits (22 by Clemons, 19 by Irvin and 14 each by Avril and Bennett); and seven passes defensed (four by Clemons).
Talk about addressing your top offseason priority. And no one was more pleased with the back-to-back signings that general manager John Schneider pulled off than defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
“The importance of having rushers on your team, and having enough of them, I don’t think you can ever feel like, ‘Well, we’re good in that department,’ ” Quinn said this week. “It’s always something you’re looking to add. It’s like guys who can cover; guys who can rush are just such an important thing.”
Quinn is in Gainesville, Fla., where he’s using the coaches’ week off to complete his move after rejoining the Seahawks in January. He was with the Seahawks in 2009 and 2010, as the defensive line coach on the staffs of Jim Mora (’09) and Carroll (’10). Quinn then left to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida for two seasons, returning to the Seahawks in that capacity after Gus Bradley was named head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So Quinn knows just a little bit about using pressure generated by the line to set the tempo for even more aggressiveness on defense. And as much as he likes the ability of Avril and Bennett to pressure the passer, he’s also enamored with their versatility.
With Clemons’ return date unknown at this early stage of his rehab, Avril can play either right or left end. With Jason Jones signing with the Lions in free agency after one season with the Seahawks, Bennett has the size (6 feet 4, 274 pounds) to replace him as the three-technique tackle in the nickel line as well as playing end in the base defense.
“Through my experience with Pete, I learned that you need to have some versatility too – guys that can play more than one spot and do more than one thing to help,” Quinn said. “That’s what these two guys can do, too, to add to an already good group of guys. So they really give us some flexibility.”
But when Quinn and new line coach Travis Jones have all four rushers available, that’s when the real fun will begin. The last time the Seahawks produced more sacks in a season than Clemons, Avril, Bennett and Irvin combined for last season was 2007 (45). Since then, it’s been 35 (2008), 28 (2009), 37 (2010), 33 (2011) and 36 (last season).
That’s simply not enough, which is why the Seahawks have done so much this offseason to bolster their pass rush.