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Chris Clemons' impact can’t be measured in stats alone
Three tackles. Two solo stops. One quarterback hit. No sacks.
This simple stat line doesn’t begin to indicate just how big an impact Chris Clemons had in the Seahawks’ regular-season finale on Sunday. In a hard-fought 20-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field, no one fought any harder than the Seahawks’ Leo end.
But what else is new? Clemons is one of the metronomes who provide the beat for a fast, aggressive, big-play defense that finished No. 4 in the NFL – the highest a Seahawks unit has ever ranked – and, more importantly, allowed the fewest points (245) in the league and team history.
On the Rams’ game-opening possession, Clemons stopped Steven Jackson for a 2-yard gain on a first-and-10 play, and then snuffed the series by hitting quarterback Sam Bradford as he was throwing to force an incompletion on third-and-6. On the Rams’ next series, a three-and-out, Clemons stopped Jackson for no gain on second down.
Later, Clemons had what appeared to be a fumble-forcing hit on Bradford in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Malcolm Smith scooped the loose ball and returned it for a would-be touchdown. The play was reviewed, and reversed, but it appeared the reason Bradford’s arm was coming forward was a result of Clemons hitting him. The play was erased, but not the effort that went into it on a day when the Rams either used an extra blocker to chip Clemons, or the tight end to help the tackle try to control him.
“They blocked pretty well today,” Clemons said after the game. “They had a few chip blocks to try to slow us down on the outside. We have to figure out ways to defeat a chip block. That was their plan coming into this game. I knew they would bring a chip block to my side and I needed to slide away from it.”
As defensive line coach Todd Wash put it, “They had a plan that they were going to try to take him out of the game.”
Of all the moves coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have made since arriving in January of 2010, the trade to acquire Clemons from the Philadelphia Eagles that March to fill the hybrid Leo spot in Carroll’s defense was an under-the-radar acquisition that just keeps producing positive results.
Clemons had 11 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks, and added a career-high 11.5 this season. The only other players in franchise history to post double-digits sacks in three-consecutive seasons were Jacob Green, who had 16, 13, 13.5 and 12 from 1983-86; and Michael Sinclair, who had 13, 12 and 16.5 from 1996-98. Not surprisingly, Green (116) and Sinclair (73.5) rank 1-2 in club history in sacks and were voted to the franchise’s 35th Anniversary team.
What is it that has allowed Clemons to rush his way into such productive company?
“A lot of it is that Clem just has a way to get on the edge of offensive linemen,” Wash said. “He sets them up really nice and he’s just got a real good knack to rush.
“But a lot of it is just his study. He goes into a game with a plan and he does a great job of executing the plan. With the effort that he gives on each and every play, he’s always going to affect the quarterback at some point.”
With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked against the Rams and three things that need work this week as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField:
The rookie QB – Again. Still. It seems like every week we ask, “What else can Russell Wilson do for this team?” And every week, Wilson seems to come up with a different answer.
Against the Rams, he ran for the game-winning touchdown and also threw his 26th touchdown pass to tie the NFL rookie record set by Peyton Manning in 1998. Wilson also finished with a passer rating of 100.0, which ranks second all-time among rookie QBs to the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (102.4).
“Did Peyton go to the playoffs his first year? No,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “OK, then you know who I think is better.”
Steady as he throws, and runs, and scrambles. That’s Wilson.
“It’s just his demeanor, it’s always the same,” Robinson said when asked about Wilson directing a 10-play, 90-yard drive to his game-winning TD. “By his demeanor, you wouldn’t know that we just won our 11th game. You wouldn’t know whether we won or lost. He’s the same guy every day. And that’s a pro. That’s what this game is all about; you can’t be too high when you’re winning or too low when you’re losing.
“He does a great job of being even. And that’s the type of guy you want leading the offense.”
The “oldest” Seahawk – Marcus Trufant returned after missing four games with a hamstring injury, and the longest tenured member of the team made a couple of huge plays from his nickel back spot.
On the Rams’ second-to-last play, just before cornerback Richard Sherman made a goal-line interception, Trufant broke up Bradford’s third-down pass to Danny Amendola. Earlier in the fourth quarter, with the Rams at the Seahawks’ 4-yard line, Trufant tipped away Bradford’s pass to Amendola in the end zone and the Rams settled for a field goal.
“It was good to be on the field with the guys,” Trufant said. “It was looking like so much fun from the sideline, so just to get back on the field was a great feeling.”
Trufant, of course, has looked at life as a Seahawk from both sides. He arrived in 2003 as a first-round draft choice out of Washington State University, just in time to be a big piece of the most successful five-season run in franchise history. He also was around for the four-win season in 2008 and the five-win season in 2009. Now, he’s going back to the playoffs for second time in three seasons.
“That’s just the life of a pro, you’ve got to take the bad with the good,” Trufant said. “You’ve just got to try to stay level and be a pro about it and just come to work every day and just keep working.
“I’ve been blessed to be in the league for 10 years and now to be around a group of guys like this in my 10th year it’s a big plus for me. I’m really enjoying it.”
The lead-blocking fullback – That would be Robinson, of course. It was Robinson – No. 26 – who caught Wilson’s record-tying 26th TD pass. It was Robinson who had a 19-yard gain with a short reception earlier in the final quarter. It is Robinson who appreciates those “cookies,” as former coach Mike Holmgren used to call the plays that went to fullback Mack Strong as a reward for all the blocking he did.
“He was smart enough to throw it to his hometown guy,” cracked Robinson, who also is from Richmond, Va., just like Wilson. “I was his hero growing up.”
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The pass protection – Wilson was sacked a season-high six time by the Rams, who blitzed on every passing down and from every conceivable location and angle. But the Seahawks improved in the second half after allowing Wilson to be taken down five times in the first half.
“They really weren’t doing anything different,” right tackle Breno Giacomini said. “It was us on the O-line. Basically, we need to communicate a little better. It’s a tough defense. Their record doesn’t show that, but they are a tough defense and their blitz is high percentage. So it’s on us.
“But the communication will get better. We’ll get there (Monday), go back to work and we’ll figure this out and just grow from it heading into the playoffs.”
The run defense – Not that it wasn’t good enough against the Rams, as the Seahawks held Jackson to 52 yards on 11 carries – with 15 of that coming on one carry, so the battering-Ram back averaged 3.7 yards on his other 10 carries. But Redskins rookie Alfred Morris is having a special season, with 1,613 rushing yards to finish second in the league and also scoring 13 touchdowns.
Not bad for a sixth-round draft choice. Heck, that would be good for the first pick overall in the draft.
Taking this show on the road – Yes, this is a repeat from last week. But it’s worth repeating because the last time the Seahawks won a playoff game on the road was the only time they’ve done it. That was after the 1983 season, when the new-to-the-playoff Seahawks, in their first season under coach Chuck Knox, went to Miami and knocked off the Don Shula-led, Dan Marino-quarterbacked Dolphins to earn a trip to the AFC Championship game.
Since then, however, the Seahawks have gone oh-for-L.A. (1983), oh-for-Miami (1984), oh-for-Houston (1987), oh-for-Cincinnati (1988), oh-for-Green Bay (2003 and 2007), oh-for-Detroit (2005) and oh-for-Chicago (2006 and 2010).