Clayton: Sacks will be important for Seahawks, but how will they get them?
One of the main topics on 710 ESPN Seattle this week has been the Seahawks’ pass rush.
Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are gone. In their first four years after coming to the Seahawks in the 2013 free agent class, they combined for 64 sacks. Avril hurt his neck last year, playing in only four games and recording one sack. Bennett, meanwhile, had 8 1/2 in his final year with the team.
Going back to the four-year total, the Seahawks need to find a way to regain 16 sacks they used to count on Avril and Bennett for, and that won’t be easy.
Former Seahawks linebacker Dave Wyman, a fellow 710 ESPN Seattle host, made a strong statement this week when he said the Seahawks need to have a 39-sack season and that Frank Clark needs to have a third of them.
Where do the Seahawks make up those sacks?
Wyman is right. The Seahawks need a big year from Clark, and they should expect one. Clark was the team’s No. 3 pass-rushing end, and he’s had 19 sacks in the past two years. His playing time has increased from 36 percent of the plays as a rookie to 67.4 and 67.3 percent over the past two seasons.
As the No. 1 pass rusher, Clark should draw more double-team blocking, and that’s why he needs help from the three other defensive linemen in pass-rushing situations.
The Seahawks might also need to throw in a few more blitzes. Bobby Wagner said during OTAs that he would love for defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to call a few more blitzes, and he may be right.
The Seahawks had 39 sacks last year and Wagner could become one of the keys to once again reaching that number. He only had 1 1/2 sacks last year, but he had 4 1/2 in 2016, a season in which 10 of the Seahawks’ 42 sacks came by way of the blitz.
This is where the offense can help the pass rush. If the Seahawks can fix their two-year problem of not being able to run the football, they would be able to work with a lead more often, and that could give the defense more blitzing opportunities. Last year, the Seahawks were outscored by 44 points in the first three quarters, and Russell Wilson had to come up with a 78-point positive point differential in the fourth quarter to salvage a nine-win season.
In the Peyton Manning days, Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian built a dome-stadium team that figured to have the lead going into the fourth quarter. He made sure he built a defense that could close wins with a big pass rush and a lot of sacks in the fourth quarter.
Last year’s Seahawks had the NFL’s fewest number of sacks in the fourth quarter – three.
Since taking over the Seahawks in 2010, Pete Carroll’s defense has finished between 33 and 44 sacks, peaking in 2013 with 44 and in 2016 with 42. The average has been 38.12 sacks per year.
Dion Jordan is going to be a key to make up the difference. He had four sacks in just 135 snaps and became the team’s No. 4 pass-rushing end last season. If his knee is right and his playing time increases, it’s not out of the question for him to get eight to 10 sacks. The Seahawks could also use about a half-dozen or more sacks from Barkevious Mingo, Marcus Smith and Rasheem Green.
The sleeper in the group will be Tom Johnson, a defensive tackle brought over from the Minnesota Vikings. He had 6 1/2 sacks for the Vikings in 2014 and 5 1/2 in 2015. Johnson may not have the eight to 10 sack potential of Michael Bennett, but if he could get five or six, the Seahawks might be able to get to 39 with a few extra blitzes.
Under Carroll, the Seahawks usually get between 28 and 34 sacks in non-blitz situations. Getting 20 or so from Clark and Jordan, five or six from Johnson, a handful from the backup defensive ends and the rest from blitzes could make up the difference.
But it won’t be easy.