Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett put the pressure on 49ers

Posted Sep 16, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: In his Seahawks’ debut, Cliff Avril had a fumble-forcing sack. Not to be outdone, Michael Bennett added one while on the ground. And that’s exactly why they were signed in free agency.

So that’s why they signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency.

Coach Pete Carroll was determined for the second consecutive offseason to improve the Seahawks’ pass rush. So Avril and Bennett were signed on back-to-back days in mid-March.

Sunday night, during the Seahawks’ nationally televised home opener against the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field, each of the Leo ends put Colin Kaepernick on his back. That’s the 49ers’ elusive – no, slithery – quarterback who was sacked 16 times while attempting 218 passes last season and twice while putting the ball up 39 times in a season-opening victory over a Green Bay Packers team that features Clay Matthews coming off the edge.

The pressure generated by the D-line and linebackers helped the Seahawks’ secondary intercept three of his passes after Kaepernick was intercepted three times all of last season, when he started the final seven games and played in 13.

Avril not only had a fumble-forcing sack, it came in his Seahawks’ debut after he missed the season opener and all of the preseason because of hamstring injury.

“I was fortunate enough that this is my sixth season, so I think I know how to play a little bit,” Avril said with a smile in the locker room after the 29-3 victory. “But they got me out there and I was able to do a few things.”

Against the Seahawks, Kaepernick was sacked three times while attempting 28 passes.

Like separating Kaepernick and the ball for a second-quarter fumble that was recovered by linebacker K.J. Wright to set up a field goal that gave the Seahawks a 5-0 halftime lead.

“I also left a lot of plays out there,” Avril said. “So my whole goal is to continue to just keep getting better and hopefully I can make more plays.”

Bennett’s style points came because he collected his sack while on the turf with 323-pound tackle Anthony Davis on top of him. Bennett came close to getting Kaepernick twice on a play in the fourth quarter when the QB scrambled for a 16-yard gain.

“He’s so elusive. I was just like, ‘Dang,’ ” Bennett said of his close call. “Cliff missed him once. Red (Bryant) missed him twice. We should’ve had a nine-sack night.”

That could be on the horizon. Leo end Chris Clemons, who has 33.5 sacks the past three seasons, is close to returning after having knee surgery in January to repair ligament and meniscus damage in his left knee. Backup Bruce Irvin, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last season, is two games into his four-game suspension.

“It’s crazy because everybody’s impressed with our defense, and we don’t even have all our guys back yet,” Bennett said. “Once Bruce is playing and Clem’s back then everything changes. There’s going to be even more pressure from all over the place.”

Just as Carroll envisioned when the Seahawks signed Avril, who had 29 sacks the past three seasons with the Detroit Lions; and Bennett, who had nine sacks last season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“You talk about competition, those guys will be battling to get those rush opportunities,” Carroll said. “We’re going to keep getting better.”    

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that definitely worked in Sunday night’s victory and a couple of things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for this week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at CenturyLink Field:

What worked

The defense’s ’Tude – If you love the way these guys play, you’ll really love the way they think and the way they carry that attitude onto the field.

In the locker room, All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas said he thought the game was won when the Seahawks had a 5-0 lead at halftime. Monday morning, All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said he not only agreed with that assessment but that he thought the Seahawks were in control from the moment they re-entered the field after the 60-minute weather delay in the first quarter.

As usual, these guys had backed up their words with their actions. After catching 13 passes for 208 yards in the 49ers’ season opener, Anquan Boldin had one catch for 7 yards against the Seahawks. After passing for 412 yards and fashioning a 129.4 rating in the opener, Kaepernick was 13 of 28 for 127 yards against the Seahawks for a 20.1 rating.

“That’s the crazy thing about it, we thought we could win like this,” Thomas said. “There’s something scary about this secondary. We have a chance to be the best to ever do it. And we take pride in it.”

Marshawn Lynch Heavy emphasis on worked, because the Seahawks’ Beast Mode back had to just about every time he touched the ball. Which was a lot. He carried the ball 28 times, the second-highest total of his career and most since he had 32 against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011. The 2011 Ravens? The 2013 49ers? That’s two tough, physical, aggressive defenses, and Lynch never flinched.

He also had a team-high three receptions and totaled 135 of the Seahawks’ 290 yards while scoring all three of their touchdowns.

“You can’t really put it words,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said when asked to comment on Lynch’s effort. “They tried every which way to box him in tonight. They made it tough on him. They made it real hard on him. But he took advantage of the opportunities he was given.”    

Sherman on Boldin – Sherman usually lines up almost exclusively on the left side. Not Sunday night. He had Boldin almost 75 percent of the time, regardless of where Boldin began the play.

That one pass Boldin caught didn’t come against Sherman. In fact, no 49er receiver caught a ball on Sherman, who caught one himself for the second of the Seahawks’ three interceptions.

“I asked coach for the challenge. I wanted to follow him,” Sherman said. “There were a lot of things said this week. He had a great game last week. He went for 200-plus yards and had a resurgence. There’s a lot of talk about elite corners and who follows who. I wanted to negate that.”

And he negated Boldin’s impact on the game in the process.

What needs work

Penalties – The most-penalized team in the league during the preseason, the Seahawks have 19 for 183 yards in two regular-season games. But three teams actually have more – the Buccaneers (23 for 220), 49ers (23 for 206) and Denver Broncos (21 for 193); while the Detroit Lions have as many (19) for more yards (189).

“We put ourselves in a hole just by setting ourselves back,” Baldwin said. “It’s frustrating because we know how good we can be. We know how good we are. We’ve got to eliminate those penalties. Those self-detrimental things that keep coming up, we can’t have those.”

Russell Wilson’s starts – The second-year quarterback was 1 of 5 in the season opener before finishing 24 of 28 in the season opener. Sunday night, Wilson started 1 of 9 before finishing 7 of 10 – including 4 of 5 in the third quarter, when the Seahawks scored their first touchdown; and 2 of 4 in the fourth quarter when they scored three times.

“Obviously you want to be 9 for 9,” Wilson said. “I missed on a couple of throws I don’t normally miss on early for whatever reason. Obviously next time the goal is to hit every one of them.”

And Wilson has made a habit of achieving his goals, regardless of how lofty.

“It had nothing to do with nothing,” Carroll said when asked about the 1-of-9 start. “It was just plays and situations and stuff like that. I don’t care. He’s going to play a heck of a football game every time he goes out, and he did it again tonight.

“He made the big throws. He had another really good night.”