The Seahawks pass rush has been anything but consistent this year, in no small part due to changing personnel.
But when the Seahawks have been at full strength and their pass rush has gotten going, their defense, not surprisingly, has had some of its best games. That was true in Weeks 10 and 12 when the Seahawks pressured the 49ers and Eagles into miscues and turnovers in consecutive road victories, and it was true again in last week's wild-card win over the Eagles.
The Seahawks weren't able to force a turnover against Philadelphia, but their pressure, which included seven sacks, did help keep the Eagles from scoring a touchdown, and it also helped all but eliminate the down-field passing game.
With a divisional round game coming up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks know they'll need to again find ways to affect the quarterback again like they did in Philadelphia.
"We've got to do that every week, especially this week," defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. "We've got to try to apply pressure on Aaron Rodgers. They've got a great front. We'll try to get some pressure on him, and hopefully he can throw us some."
Added defensive tackle Jarran Reed, "We want to build off that, continue to do that through the playoffs. It was huge, the defensive definitely needs it, and it's a good game to go into Green Bay and see if we can do it again."
Clowney pointed to Green Bay's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a game in which Rodgers was sacked five times and the Packers were held to a season-low 8 points, as an example of how valuable pressure can be.
"The losses they did take it was all because of the fronts applying pressure and getting off the field on third down," Clowney said. "It's the same thing for us, we've got to get pressure and get off on third downs."
Clowney has been playing through a painful core injury since Week 10, one that has caused him to miss three games late in the regular season, and both he and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he's feeling about the same as he did last week. That's pretty good news considering what a big factor Clowney was in last week's game, an impact that went far beyond the one sack he recorded—though that was a big one, coming on fourth down to end Philadelphia's final possession.
"I thought Clowney had a big factor," Carroll said. "Just his presences, his activity, it was very much reminiscent of games we've seen like the San Francisco game earlier. There's been a couple of those games when he's just a problem. Everybody's still working and all the other guys were clawing and scratching to get there. I think that was the factor that was the difference maker. He's a big factor for us and we're hoping he's going to be there again."
Clowney isn't at 100 percent, but if he's playing, he has no intentions of the injury limiting him, "I just like to play the game. When I'm out there, I tell them, don't try to limit me. If I'm up, I'm up. I'm not halfway up, I'm all the way up. I put it on myself when I dress out."
The Packers are well aware of the challenges Clowney will present.
"When he's in there, he's a game changer," Packers coach Matt LaFleur told reporters in Green Bay. "You've always got to account for him, because he can wreck a football game."
Of course, it's a lot easier to talk about affecting Rodgers than it is to actually do it. He is one of the best quarterbacksof his generation for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the way he can extend plays and turn a broken play into a huge gain (yes, that probably sounds familiar to Seahawks fans, but it's much less fun to watch when the quarterback not named Russell Wilson is the one doing it). Add to that the way Rodgers controls things at the line of scrimmage—doing everything from changing plays to drawing offside penalties and getting free plays with hard counts, to quick-snapping opponents when they're trying to change defensive personnel—and Rodgers is a handful in just about every way imaginable.
"I jumped offsides last game, and I know he's seen it on tape the last few games with a couple of us guys," Clowney said. "We've got to be smart. We're in their house, we know they're going to hard count, we know that's a way he likes to control the game. We've just got to be smart and watch the ball. If we watch the ball out there, we'll be OK."
Added Carroll, "Oh, he's ridiculous. He's ridiculous. He's so good. He controls the game so much and he does so much at the line of scrimmage. Every aspect of the quarterbacking position from seeing and reading the defense to get his offense in the right place, to tempo, to cadence. Everything about it. The scramble aspect of his game is as good as you can get. His extraordinary accuracy making throws when he's in unusual positions and things has been heralded. I'm not telling you anything you don't know. He's a great player and he's a great player at the end of the game, too. He's a Hall of Famer."
There's no easy way to stop a future Hall of Famer, but the Seahawks know that a good pass rush is a pretty good place to start.