On a lot of nights, a turnover that gives an opponent a short field, as well as several big special teams miscues, would be enough to cost a football team a game.
But on the final Sunday of the regular season, the Seahawks were able to beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-24 despite those potentially game-changing mistakes in large part because of a dominant performance by their defense, and by their pass rush in particular.
“What was really obvious today was that the defense played all day long and they did great, and they held them—didn't give them 100 yards rushing, six sacks, big third-down numbers again,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Really good pressure all day long, and good coverage all day long, too, for the most part, and it was just really a good day for them, and we needed them badly.”
Leading the way for the defense were Bobby Wagner, who upped his season tackle total to 138 with 12 more on Sunday, as well as a pair of young defensive linemen who have come up big for the Seahawks time and time again this year, Frank Clark and Jarran Reed. With Cliff Avril unable to play due to injury, with Michael Bennett being traded, and with Sheldon Richardson leaving in free agency, there were plenty of questions heading into this season about where Seattle’s pass rush would come from. Clark, a 2015 second-round pick, and Reed, a 2016 second-rounder, answered those questions in a huge way all season long, including on Sunday night when they each recorded two sacks, part of a six-sack effort for the defense that produced two turnovers, one on a Clark sack and one on a sack by rookie Jacob Martin.
Reed, who arrive in Seattle known as a top run-stopping prospect out of Alabama, lived up to that billing in his first two seasons, but had just three sacks combined in 2016 and 2017. This year he had 10.5, making him just the third defensive tackle in franchise history to record a double-digit sack total along with Pro Football Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and John Randle. Clark, meanwhile, stepped up following the departure of both starting defensive ends from 2017, recording a career-high 14.0 sacks.
“They’ve been killing it all year,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “When Mike B and Cliff left, we needed someone to step up in that room from a leadership standpoint, and they’ve been doing outstanding all year. So I’m really happy for both of them, and I’m glad they’re having good seasons so far.”
Clark and Reed’s 24.5 combined sacks are the most by a Seahawks duo since 1996 when Michael McCrary and Michael Sinclair combined for 26.5. Reed and Clark’s total is third most by a duo in franchise history since sacks became an official stat in 1982, trailing Jeff Bryant and Jacob Green’s 27.5 sacks in 1984, and McCrary and Sinclair in 1996.
“What a great performance for the whole season for (Reed), and it was great to be able to tell the guys in the locker room he had 10.5 for the year,” Carroll said. “I don't think we've had a defensive tackle that had 10 sacks. Maybe we have but I can't remember it. And Frankie to have 14 for a season—Frank has just played great the whole year. He had a fantastic season. He is a factor every time we rush the passer. You can tell by the way they're trying to take care of him. He had a great season too.”
With the pass rush making things difficult on rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, and with the run defense holding Arizona to a 3.5 yards-per-carry average, the Seahawks were able to limit the damage despite the Cardinals repeatedly getting short fields because of an interception, a deflected punt and a long punt return. While the Cardinals offense did produce a touchdown and three field goals—their other score came on a blocked field goal—the touchdown and two field goals came on drives that started inside Seattle’s 30-yard line. Arizona’s longest drive of the day went only 38 yards, ending in a fourth-quarter field goal.The Cardinals finished the game going just 4 for 17 on third down, and Seattle’s two takeaways allowed the Seahawks to finish the season at an NFL-best plus 15 in turnover differential, the first time the Seahawks have led the league in that all-important stat since 2013 when they were plus 20.
“We were out there balling,” Reed said. “Defense was on fire tonight.”
Fan photos from the Seattle Seahawks' regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field.