Now that Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin are back on the edges, and Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald are providing inside pressure, coach Pete Carroll has the pass rush he’s waiting for.
For a while, the concern was when the Seahawks would have Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin available. Once they all returned, the concern shifted to just what to do with all of these pass-rushers.
Now, as the Seahawks head into their bye week with the best record in the NFL (10-1) and the fourth-most sacks (33) in the league, the concern has shifted to the team’s opponents. As in, how do we deal with these guys?
And that has been the plan all along – since the day coach Pete Carroll walked through the door at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in January 2010. That’s why the team traded to get Clemons that first offseason. And selected Irvin in the first round of the NFL Draft last year. And signed Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency this offseason.
“We’re pretty clear about Cliff’s role rushing outside and Clem outside,” Carroll said. “We think that they give us our best shot right now, and using Michael Bennett as one of the inside guys. Then we’ve rotated guys around. We’ve used Bruce as an accent outside rusher and an inside rusher in kind of a linebacker position, to mix his talent in there. And Clinton McDonald has done a really good job, too. He’s been a real surprise for us as one of the four rushers.”
Not surprisingly, 22 of the Seahawks’ 33 sacks have come from those five players – 6.5 each by Avril and Bennett; 3.5 each by Clemons and McDonald; two by Irvin.
In passing situations, Clemons and Avril are the edge rushers from the end spots. Bennett fills the three-technique tackle spot, with McDonald as the nose tackle and Irvin as the situational where’s-he-coming-from rusher.
“That’s where we’ve kind of settled,” Carroll said. “Cliff continues to be a real factor on the left and Clem has been really effective on the right. And we’re mixing the other guys around, with a steady diet of Mike Bennett.
“We know what we’re doing and how we want to go about it.”
And that is with the same relentless pursuit that Clemons displayed in registering 33.5 sacks the past three seasons – a get-after-the-passer attitude that has only been augmented by the additions of Avril and Bennett, and the returns of Irvin and McDonald.
In Sunday’s 41-20 victory over Minnesota, Avril abruptly ended the Vikings’ first possession by slapping the ball from the right hand of quarterback Christian Ponder on third down, and McDonald recovered the fumble at the Minnesota 33-yard line to setup a field goal.
“Being able to put a couple hits on the quarterback,” Avril said, “I think it does a number of things for us and it kind of puts the fear into the quarterback, as well.”
It’s been a slow process to get to this point. Clemons missed the first two games while completing his rehab after having knee surgery in January. Avril missed the opener because of the hamstring injury that sidelined him for much of training camp and the preseason. Irvin was suspended for the first four games. McDonald was released on the roster cut to 53 players, but re-signed the week of the home opener.
But with 33 sacks, the defense already has as many as Carroll’s second edition of the Seahawks produced in 2011 and it’s a good rush or three from matching the totals by the 2010 (37) and 2012 (36) teams.
“We’re in a good place right now,” Carroll said.