A pass-rushing parade

Posted Oct 25, 2013

After a seven-sack outburst against the Cardinals, the Seahawks are on pace to produce more sacks than they’ve had since 1998. And it’s not just the number of sacks; it’s the number of players producing them from a variety of alignments.

Cliff Avril already had played with a couple of pretty good pass-rushers.

During his first five NFL seasons, when Avril was collecting 39.5 sacks for the Detroit Lions, he was line mates with Ndamukong Suh, who had 10 sacks in 2010 and eight in 2012; and Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had eight sacks in 2011.

But that’s a pittance compared to the parade of QB-pressuring players Avril finds himself surrounded by since signing with the Seahawks during the offseason. Entering Monday night’s game against the Rams in St. Louis, and coming off a season-high seven-sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks are tied for fourth in the league with 23 sacks. It’s a pace that will produce a 53-sack season. The last time the Seahawks generated that many was in 1998. The club record of 61 was set in 1985 and the ’84 team had 55.

“We had a good D-line in Detroit, but I’ve never played on a line with this versatility,” Avril said while sitting in his cubicle in the locker room at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different positions here.”

And get after the quarterback regardless of what position they might be lined up at.

Avril is one of six Seahawks with multiple sacks during the team’s 6-1 start. They’ve come off speed rushes, as Leo end Chris Clemons has 3.5 sacks and Avril three. They’ve come off power rushes, as tackles Clinton McDonald and Tony McDonald have 3.5 sacks and two sacks. They’ve come off blitzes, as linebacker K.J. Wright has 1.5 sacks. They’ve come off relentlessness and want-to, as the versatile Michael Bennett leads the team with 4.5 sacks – including one while on the ground with a 300-plus pound would-be blocker on top of him.

“Just giving the offensive line a different look every passing down is a good thing,” Avril said. “And we definitely have a good group of guys. We just have to keep chopping away.”

On any given third down, you might see Clemons and Irvin on the edges and Avril as that “window-shopping” linebacker who moves along the line just before the snap looking for the most advantageous rush lane. On the next third-and-long, it might be Clemons and Avril on the edges, with Irvin in the “window-shopping” role. Inside, it can be Bennett and McDonald. Or Bennett and McDaniel. Or rookie Jordan Hill. Or nose tackle Brandon Mebane. Or run-stuffing end Red Bryant. Bennett and McDaniel also will rush off the edge on occasion.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Avril said. “I think it’s cool to move us around. I was so stuck in my ways in Detroit, where I was always in the same position. But it’s cool to move around and give the offense a different look.”

All of this also is creating a quandary for coach Pete Carroll, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and line coach Travis Jones: Figuring how to use all these pass-rushers. Who rushes from where? Who rushes with whom?

“We just need more input to get everybody in the right spots more accurately and at a higher percentage to get the effectiveness out of the guys,” said Carroll, who has been adding pieces to this suddenly puzzling pass rush since he was hired in 2010 – starting with the trade to acquire Clemons that offseason; the selection of Irvin in the first round of the NFL Draft last year; and this year’s additions of Avril, Bennett and McDaniel in free agency. “Hopefully we’ll figure it out pretty soon. We’re trying.

“It’s getting guys in spots where they can best utilize their talents and also take advantage of the scheme. … There are a lot of variables in there. It’s not quite as easy as, ‘Let’s go get ’em.’ ” 

But then it’s one of those nice problems to have after waiting for all these rushers to be ready and available. Clemons, who had 33.5 sacks the past three seasons, missed the first games while completing his recovery from knee surgery in January. Bruce Irvin, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last season, missed the first four games while serving a league-imposed suspension. Avril sat out the opener with the hamstring injury that also sidelined him during the preseason. McDonald also wasn’t around for the opener after being released on the roster cut to 53 players.

“We’re really still, I think, just kind of getting going,” Carroll said. “I think we’re scratching the surface on where this can go.”

Now that the Seahawks have everyone back, and all the speed this group can generate, it has only turned up the heat on their competitive juices. If you’re half-a-blink late, let alone half-a-step, the chances are pretty good that someone else already has arrived at the passer.

“Yes, and no,” Avril said with a smile when asked if it’s more difficult to get sacks with the Seahawks than it was with the Lions. “It’s good to have a lot of guys. It’s better than just being the only pass-rusher, because then everything weighs on you.

“There have been numerous times where I was just a split-second too late and somebody was hitting the quarterback or got the sack. But it’s cool, though. It’s competition. Everybody wants to get there. And it’s who can get there the fastest.

“We help each other out. We’re having a blast doing it.”