Brock and Salk: How important is fixing the pass rush for the Seahawks?

Jun 17, 2020, 10:45 AM
Seahawks second-round pick Darrell Taylor...
The Seahawks traded up to get defensive end Darrell Taylor in the second round. (Getty)

The Seahawks’ rival, the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines this week for giving head coach Kyle Shanahan a new long-term contract extension. Shanahan’s teams hadn’t been that successful up until last season, when they were the surprise team of 2019 and ended up earning the NFC’s No. 1 seed and making it all the way to the Super Bowl.

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One of the key reasons why the 49ers were so successful last season was their ferocious pass rush, which was arguably the best in the league. That front made life tough for opposing quarterbacks, offensive linemen and running backs, and they were able to disrupt opposing game plans due to their great talent.

And while San Francisco’s pass rush was maybe the team’s biggest strength, with the Seahawks, pass rush was, and might still be, the team’s biggest weakness.

In the latest Brock and Salk Podcast, the duo discussed why pass rush is so important and where Seattle’s stands currently. Brock Huard said having a front four like San Francisco’s makes everything better on defense, and that the Seahawks have been there before.

“We saw in Seattle the advantage you have when four beats five,” Huard said. “Guess what? The Legion of Boom grew and blew up and became the best secondary in the game and one of the best the NFL has ever seen. They would not have done it if they did not have the help of the very simple math equation right at the line of scrimmage where their four down linemen could beat five.”

Simply put, the Seahawks couldn’t solve Huard’s simple math equation in 2019, when they accumulated just 28 sacks, which was tied for second fewest in the NFL.

The Seahawks did aim to improve their pass rush for 2020 by re-signing defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who had 10.5 sacks in 2018, as well as signing former Seahawks Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, who combined for 15.5 sacks in 2019, and also drafted Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson in the second and fifth rounds, respectively.

But the elephant in the room is, of course, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney played for Seattle last year after a late offseason trade sent him to the Seahawks from Houston. While he was disruptive and was arguably Seattle’s best defensive lineman, he had just 3 sacks and missed time due to injury. He remains unsigned, and it’s unclear if the Seahawks will bring him back even with pass rush being a huge question mark for the team heading into 2020.

“It’s why the Clowney deal is mind boggling but it’s not because he’s just not a long-term piece,” Huard said. “And that’s not just in Seattle, it’s what the whole market has said to Clowney is ‘you’re just kind of a year-by-year guy at this stage of your career already.'”

When asked by co-host Mike Salk what Seattle’s pass rush would look like on early downs and on third down, Huard said Reed would be a fixture in both, as would Mayowa. Irvin and Rasheem Green, who led Seattle with just 4 sacks in 2019, should also see extended playing time.

Seattle’s defenses have typically been very good under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, but Huard said getting the pass rush right will be a big task for that duo.

“Their livelihoods, Pete and John and the sustainability of their future, is largely dictated by the growth and development of those young D-linemen,” he said. “They took Darrell Taylor and they thought the world of him, right? You said earlier about (2019 second-round picks) DK Metcalf and Marquise Blair, well they came up and got DK with the last pick of the second round and they took Blair the highest of any secondary player not named Earl Thomas in their tenure.”

“They think the world of Darrell Taylor,” Huard continued. “They are really excited. And when we heard after the draft they they thought of taking him in the first round, that is legitimate.”

And if the Seahawks are going to go head to head with the 49ers, that pass rush needs to step up in a big way, Huard said.

“If you are going to tangle Arik Armstead and (Nick) Bosa and (Javon) Kinlaw and the pieces that they have in San Francisco … then the future of this regime is going to be staked on the growth and development of Rasheem Green from going from a 4- or 5-sack guy to an 8- or 9-sack guy,” Huard said. “They believe that L.J. Collier was a first-round pick and he is going to have to develop into a disruptive guy like Michael Bennett was, but he’s got to grow in that way. Darrell Taylor has got to be their next Frank Clark. They took (Clark) in the second round and they took (Taylor) even higher. They came up and gave up some serious capital in the draft.”

Salk isn’t sold on Taylor being a force in 2020, and isn’t sold on the pass rush at all as it currently stands.

“I don’t care about (Taylor) for this year. I don’t believe in him for this year,” he said. “Next year? Sure. I’m out on counting on rookies.”

Clark ended up becoming Seattle top edge rusher in his third season, but he didn’t do much as a rookie, partly because guys ahead of him were elite like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and partly because he wasn’t ready to be a major force. Salk thinks Taylor could take a similar path.

“Maybe he is the next Frank Clark. That would be awesome. But what was Frank Clark as a rookie? Nothing,” he said. “…  I appreciate that view (of the Seahawks being high on Taylor) and I appreciate the idea that Taylor may end up being the next Frank Clark. That’d be awesome and I believe that’s possible. There’s no reason not to think that and John’s got a track record of that. He’s done it with Frank Clark and he could have done it again. But what are you going to do right now this year?”

While Irvin and Mayowa, Huard pointed out, may be the team’s best duo coming off 2019 when they each had at least 7 sacks, Salk doesn’t see either as a team’s No. 1 pass rusher.

“I’m glad they got those guys. That’s a really good second and third option,” he said. ” … It’s just not good enough is what I’m saying. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m saying it’s not enough.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk Podcast, which also included ESPN’s MLB Insider Jeff Passan talking about the league trying to work things out to resume play, at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard and Mike Salk on Twitter.

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