Clayton: If Seahawks are going to win NFC West, pass rush must get going
As the Seahawks reflect on their 32-28 victory over the Browns and next Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens – their final contest against an AFC North opponent this year – things have changed enormously in the NFC West.
When the Seahawks played the Los Angeles Rams a couple weeks ago, it was a test to see if the Seahawks had closed the gap on a Rams team that won the division two years in a row and had a three-game edge over Seattle at the end of the 2018 season. The Seahawks came out a victory, so the answer was yes.
On Sunday, however, the undefeated San Francisco 49ers had the same test and came out big in a 20-7 victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum. What a difference a couple of weeks makes. While the Seahawks were at first chasing the Rams, now they are chasing the 5-0 49ers and the Rams are in big time trouble. Los Angeles might even struggle to make the playoffs a year after reaching the Super Bowl.
With the NFC West in mind, let’s look at where things stand with the Seahawks and the division.
• Though the Seahawks are 5-1, they have four weeks to improve a pass rush that hasn’t excelled before a Nov. 11 game against the 49ers.
One major concern for the Seahawks is that the 49ers’ defensive line is for real. The additions of defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have not only turned the 49ers’ line into the most improved in football, but it might be considered one of the best. DeForest Buckner is also one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league, and former first-rounders Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead have played better thanks to the presence of the other three.
Over the next four games, the Seahawks must catch up with their pass rush, but there is a long way to go and not a lot of time to get there. Over the past two weeks, the Seahawks haven’t recorded a sack. They have been light in quarterback pressure. Many analytical evaluations have them among the bottom five in pass rush in the NFL.
This week, however, defensive tackle Jarran Reed returns after serving his six-game suspension. He had 10.5 sacks last year, and his return gives the Seahawks three pass rushers with double-digit sack potential. And even though Jadeaveon Clowney has only one sack, he is tied for 14th in the NFL this season with 26.5 pressures and knockdowns. That’s close to Pro Bowl-level.
Ziggy Ansah is getting better but so far Quinton Jefferson has been second-best on the team in terms of pressures and knockdowns. If the Seahawks can create pressure in passing situations and get the most out of Ansah, Jefferson, Clowney and Reed, not only will the sack numbers go up, but it will allow the back seven in the defense to concentrate more on pass coverage.
• Cornerback Shaquill Griffin may not be playing at a Pro Bowl level but he’s not that far away. Last year he said he played too much for himself and not enough for the defensive scheme. His jump from his rookie year to his second wasn’t there.
Griffin has made a huge jump this year, however. According to Statspass, Griffin has had 29 passes thrown at him. Only 17 have been completed in six games for 196 yards and two touchdowns. He’s had six passes defensed.
Richard Sherman doesn’t get many passes thrown on him in San Francisco, just like when he was with the Seahawks. Quarterbacks are 13 of 23 against Sherman for 132 yards and one touchdown. He’s also had six passes defensed. Griffin is not the equal of Sherman, but he’s showing he can fill Sherman’s old spot in Seattle’s defense.
• Tight end Will Dissly’s Achilles injury is a big loss for the Seahawks. He was the team’s second leading receiver, but now the Seahawks have to get by with Luke Willson and Jacob Hollister at tight end until they can get Ed Dickson back from injured reserve after Week 8.
Dickson was signed ahead of the 2018 season to be the starter. Willson has looked good since rejoining the team. Hollister is an excellent pass catcher and has 4.55 speed in the 40.
In the meantime, the Seahawks have to get their taller receivers, DK Metcalf and Jaron Brown, more involved.