By Danny O’Neil
“Y’all don’t even need me.”
Bruce Irvin said that to teammate Bobby Wagner this week, and while Irvin wasn’t serious, he wasn’t completely joking, either. Not after Seattle’s defense scrambled Matt Schaub’s eggs in the second half of that comeback in Houston, a game Irvin missed as he finished out his four-game suspension.
“Every time I looked up, Schaub was on the ground,” Irvin said.
That was the first time that we had seen the Seahawks rev up that pass rush the team spent so much time – not to mention significant money – addressing this offseason. And that pass rush will determine the outcome of Seattle’s game in Indianapolis on Sunday.
Bruce Irvin and Jordan Hill may make their season debuts Sunday against Indianapolis, joining a pass rush that came to life in the second half and overtime against Houston. (AP)
If the Colts’ Andrew Luck feels as comfortable as Schaub was in the first half last week, the Seahawks may find themselves swimming uphill without a paddle or whatever mixed muddle of metaphors you could invoke to describe an overwhelmingly difficult task.
But if Seattle can sustain that fervor it showed in the second half and overtime at Houston – sacking Schaub four times and never letting the Texans within 40 yards of the end zone – well, Seattle is going to have a pretty good crack at remaining unbeaten even after playing a second consecutive road game against an AFC playoff contender.
Luck was sacked 41 times last season, fourth-most of any quarterback in the league, and while the Colts have done a better job of protecting him this year, Seattle’s defense is going to present a whole different challenge.
Seattle has not allowed a single second-half point in its two road games this season, and for the first time this season, Seattle’s pass rush is at full strength. Chris Clemons is recovered from knee surgery, Cliff Avril hasn’t missed a practice since returning from a hamstring injury in Week 2 and rookie Jordan Hill should be good to go after recovering from a biceps injury.
And then there’s Irvin, who only led all NFL rookies in sacks last season and is returning from a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on Seattle’s Week 5 matchup against Indianapolis, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win if … ”
|• Brock Huard: They have twice as many sacks as the Colts.||• Bob Stelton: They get decent O-line play, protect Russell Wilson, get Marshawn Lynch going, limit drive-killing and drive-sustaining penalties and win the turnover battle.||• Dave Grosby: They allow fewer than 17 points.||• Dave Wyman: They have a return touchdown of some sort (punt, kickoff, interception or fumble).||• Jim Moore: They don’t allow Coby Fleener to catch passes over the middle like Houston’s tight ends, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, did last week.||• Michael Grey: They allow fewer than 10 first-half points.||• Danny O’Neil: They sack Andrew Luck four times or more.|
“And he’s the fastest out of all of us,” Avril said of Irvin.
That’s really saying something because Avril and Clemons have been two of the league’s most productive edge rushers over the past three seasons. Throw in the interior pass rush provided by Michael Bennett and – for the past two games – Clinton McDonald and Seattle has choices when it comes to deciding what type of armaments to deploy in the pass rush.
“We have a chance to be pretty volatile as a rush group,” Carroll said.
Volatile. That’s a word football coaches don’t use often. At least not as a compliment as it implies a certain level of danger, and one that certainly applies because if Seattle’s pass rush is as effective as it was in the second half in Houston, it’s not just the Colts and Luck who are in for it, but the rest of the league as well.
A fearsome pass rush was the missing element in the defense a year ago, and the reason that this team that allowed the fewest points in the NFL was so jarringly mediocre on third down. Last year, Seattle was so hard-up for pass-rushing options that it resorted to playing Patrick Chukwurah in a playoff game five days after signing him off the street.
Now, Seattle has so many options that Irvin moved to strongside linebacker and even the coach isn’t sure what the rotation and pass-rush packages will look like.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to know that for a couple more weeks anyway,” Carroll said, “but it’s fun to work with it.”
Fun for him, maybe. Not so much for Schaub last week, and the key to this week’s game is whether Seattle can make Luck feel just as uncomfortable.