Focus on: The four-man rush

Posted Dec 6, 2013

Pressuring the opposing passer with just four rushers is a key element for any defense, and that has become the case for the Seahawks’ No. 1-ranked defense entering Sunday’s game against the 49ers.

Entering Sunday’s dual must-win game between the Seahawks and 49ers, Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 30 times, after being dropped just 16 times in 12 starts last season.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, have 34 sacks, two shy of their total from last season.

These contrasting statistics will be on a collision course at Candlestick Park, where the Seahawks (11-1) can clinch the NFC West title and a first-round bye in the playoffs and the two-time defending division champion 49ers (8-4) need a win to prevent that from happening – as well as improving their own playoff positioning.

The more pressure the Seahawks can generate with a four-man rush, the more defenders they can drop into coverage now that wide receiver Michael Crabtree, last year’s leading receiver, is back to complement the 49ers’ productive duo of wide receiver Anquan Boldin (61 receptions for 822 yards and five touchdowns) and tight end Vernon Davis (42 for 705 and 10).

That’s where the contributions of ends Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons and tackles Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald come into play. They comprise the nickel line and have combined for 21 of the Seahawks’ 34 sacks – 7.5 by Avril, 6.5 by Bennett and 3.5 each by Clemons and McDonald.

And even those numbers aren’t a true indication of their effectiveness since the coaches settled on this foursome in obvious passing situations.

“Although the numbers haven’t been as high in terms of sacks, I think we have done a good job of affecting the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “What we try to do is keep track of how many times we can get the quarterback off his spot and get him to move where he has to get going and then he’s not as accurate.

“So that’s one thing we look for, and then quarterback hits and then we get into sacks. Although the sack numbers in the last few weeks aren’t quite as high as we like, we do like the ability to affect the quarterback.”

In Monday night’s 34-7 win over the New Orleans Saints, the Seahawks sacked Drew Brees once (a fumbling-forcing play by Avril that Bennett return for a TD) and hit him six times (including three by Bennett). But Brees, who entered the game completing 68 percent of passes, hit 61 percent against the Seahawks.

In their pre-bye week matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, they sacked Christian Ponder twice (Avril and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner) and hit him three times. But Ponder, a 64-percent passer entering the game, hit 59 percent in the Vikings’ 41-20 loss.

The week before, in Atlanta, the Seahawks sacked Matt Ryan twice (Avril and Bennett) and hit him four times. But Ryan, a 68-percent passer entering the game, completed 63 percent in the Falcons’ 33-10 loss.

You get the picture, and so does Quinn.

“Now that we’ve played a number of times with Michael and Cliff and Clem and then the addition Clint inside, they’re kind of the mainstays,” he said.