Cliff Avril: How Seahawks’ D-line changed, leading to more success

Nov 5, 2022, 10:12 AM

Seahawks Giants...

Poona Ford celebrates a sack during the Seahawks' win over the New York Giants on Oct. 30, 2022. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s been quite the dramatic shift for the Seahawks on defense over the last month.

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The Seahawks opened the year as one of the worst defenses in the NFL, ranking at or near the bottom of the league in most major categories. But the defense has finally clicked over the last three weeks, starting with a 19-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6 that has carried over into two more wins in Seattle’s last two game.

So what’s changed for the defense? According to legendary Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, it starts on the defensive line, particularly on the interior. He explained why Thursday when he joined Wyman and Bob on Seattle Sports 710 AM.

“I would chalk it up to just technique. They changed up the technique, in particular up front there,” Avril said.

The Seahawks shifted to a 3-4 defense this past offseason, and Avril said that meant that the interior defensive linemen were “two-gapping.”

“Meaning they’re holding up blocks and they’re allowing the linebackers to kind of scrape over top and different things like that,” Avril said. “But they’re not getting penetration. They decided to change that back up the last three or four weeks.”

Now, those defensive linemen are “hitting their gaps and getting off the rock,” which has created a big difference in the defense as a whole.

“We see them getting pressures, hurries, quarterback hits, sacks and different things like that,” Avril said. “They’ve definitely changed up the look of that defense and how the team has been playing.”

Traditionally, Avril said, defensive linemen in a 3-4 scheme all look like Al Woods, who weighs roughly 330 pounds. Their role is to be big and stout, and not be moved by the offensive line.

“But Al Woods is the only one (on the Seahawks) that looks like that,” Avril said. “Poona Ford is a guy that gets off the ball and he penetrates. You look at (Shelby) Harris, you look at (Quinton) Jefferson, all those guys are guys that get off the rock and go. They wouldn’t be able to last the whole season, honestly, if you had them just standing up guards and finishing up tackles all game long. And that’s been a difference maker in the last few weeks is they’re allowing their playmakers to do what makes them the best type of player they can be, which is attack.”

When asked about disruptors, Avril said he could go the “easy route” and talk about the edge guys, but wanted to give even more love to the bigger linemen in the interior, especially for how they’re impacting opposing quarterbacks.

“All these guys are moving the pocket now. All of them have one, two or maybe even three sacks, and they’re moving the pocket and it’s allowing the edge guys to do what they do best, which is get up the field. It’s making their job a little bit easier,” Avril said. “… They don’t get enough credit for what they’ve been able to do last few weeks in how they’re moving the pocket, how they’re moving guys back and not allowing the quarterback to be able to step up.”

Everyone points to sacks as the key when discussing pressuring opposing quarterbacks, but Avril stressed the importance of getting the quarterback “off the spot.”

“Meaning making them move their feet, making them uncomfortable. And the guys in the middle have been able to do that with how they’ve been pushing the pocket, and then the guys on the edge have been able to capitalize because the quarterbacks aren’t able to step up and different things like that,” he said.

You can listen to Avril’s full conversation with Wyman and Bob at this link or in the player below.

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Cliff Avril: How Seahawks’ D-line changed, leading to more success