What is the rush?

Posted Feb 28, 2010

Improving the Seahawks’ pass rush remains a priority at the NFL scouting combine for coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

INDIANAPOLIS – Pete Carroll has been preaching improving the Seahawks’ pass rush since his first day as the team’s head coach, and he isn’t altering the message at the NFL scouting combine.

“It’s always a factor,” Carroll said during a break at the league’s annual evaluation of draft-eligible players. “The value of having a great pass rush is such a huge aspect of playing in the league. We always have to be in touch with that.”

Carroll was singing to a like-minded choir of one on this occasion. When he was asked how high a priority upgrading the pass rush is, first-year general manager John Schneider laughed.
“You mean like we already have enough pass rushers, and we basically need more,” cracked Schneider, who was sitting next to Carroll.

Well, it was former coach Chuck Knox who often said that statistics could be manipulated to support any argument. But there’s no disrupting that the Seahawks need to improve the ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks in their first season under Carroll.
Just check these sack numbers from 2009:

  • 28, the team’s sack total. Only five teams had fewer. A closer look only indicates just how vital a lack of sacks, or even pressure, was to the Seahawks’ 5-11 season. They had only one in their last four games, all losses. They had eight in the second half of the season, when they went 2-6. They had five games in which they failed to generate a sack. They had 15 sacks in their five victories and 13 in their 11 losses.
  • .658, opposing quarterbacks’ completion percentage against the Seahawks. Only three teams allowed a higher percentage.

So it’s not surprising that improving the pass rush is a priority for Carroll and Schneider in the draft, as well as free agency and any other pass-rushing stone they’re able to turn.

Carroll and his defensive staff, headed by holdover coordinator Gus Bradley, are exploring ways to better utilize the pass-rushers on the current roster – starting with linebacker Aaron Curry, last year’s first-round draft choice who had two sacks as a rookie; but also including ends Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson, who combined for seven sacks last season.

There’s also Patrick Kerney, who is 34 and coming off two injury-interrupted seasons where his combined sack total (10) didn’t match what he was able to generate in his first season with the team (14½). And they recently signed Ricky Foley, who collected 12 sacks for the B.C. Lions in the CFL last season.

“It’s always a priority. We’ll always look to improve our pass rush. Always,” Carroll said. “You never get to the point where you say, ‘We’re good enough.’ There’s too much built around it in this league.”

The scavenger hunt for help has moved into high gear at the combine. It’s fitting that the event is being held at the Lucas Oil Stadium, because it was in Week 4 last season that the Colts’ Peyton Manning victimized the Seahawks in this very building. Unable to generate enough pressure with a four-man rush, the Seahawks were forced to blitz. Almost every time they did, Manning beat it by throwing to the vacated area.

It was a trend that continued as the Seahawks ran into other veteran QBs – the Cardinals’ Kurt Warner (twice), the Cowboys’ Tony Romo, the Vikings’ Brett Favre and the Texans’ Matt Schaub.

In those six games, that QB quintet completed 75 percent of its throws (164 of 220), with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions.

It obviously can’t continue in 2010, and the look of determination on Carroll’s face says it won’t.
This year’s draft class features a passel of pass-rushers who are too similar to what the Seahawks already have – smaller players who compensate with speed and quickness.

The notable exceptions are Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan, who is generally considered the top-rated end because of his combination of size (6-4, 272), speed, production (12½ sacks last year) and relentless style; Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been described as having “freakish” athleticism but was only a half-season starter in one year at South Florida; and Florida’s Carlos Dunlap, who definitely has size (6-6, 290), but was only productive at times (9½ sacks in 2008 and nine in ’09) and suspended days before the SEC title game last season.

One of those players likely would cost the Seahawks one of their first-round draft choices – either No. 6 or No. 14 – and they have so many other needs.

But then Carroll also points out that it’s impossible to be too fast on defense. 

“We want to be as fast as we can and as productive as we can,” he said. “Speed is always at a premium.” 

So is playing at Qwest Field, an advantage that “costs” the Seahawks nothing other than justifying – and stoking – the din generated by the crowd that plays directly into the team’s ability to generate sacks and pressure.

“It’s a great asset,” Carroll said of playing in front of the fans that he has heard so much about – and hopes to hear so much from. “We have to make sure that we keep the crowd into the game.

“I can hardly wait to get them excited. But we’ve got to do our part, too.”