SEATTLE, Wash. — What went down on the third play from scrimmage in this past Thursday night's 24-3 NFC West-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Rams helped the Seahawks set the tone for the entire game.
Facing 3rd-and-12 from their own 23-yard-line, Rams quarterback Jared Goff dropped back to survey the field. Before he could get his pass away, Frank Clark was in his face, and the Seattle defensive end brought down the 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick, a play that served as a sign of things to come for a Seahawks defense that had managed to record just one sack through the three games prior.
Against the Rams, the Seahawks received sack production from three different players, totaling 4.0 sacks, including 1.5 from Clark, 1.5 from defensive end Cliff Avril, and 1.0 from defensive end Cassius Marsh. Linebacker Bobby Wagner, meanwhile, registered two of Seattle's seven quarterback hits, and a fifth team sack from defensive end Michael Bennett was taken away because of an after-the-whistle penalty. Despite that flag that Pete Carroll humorously acknowledged during his day-after-game radio segment with 710 ESPN Seattle, the Seahawks head coach came away impressed with his group's effort up front in the win over Los Angeles.
"It was great," Carroll said. "It was a big night. [Four] sacks and a bunch of different guys contributing. The blitzes were really good. [Defensive coordinator] Kris [Richard] did a great job calling it tonight and mixing it up. The fellas were really coming off the football. That's the pass rush that we love and we expect from our guys. It went kind of quiet for us for a while, but we're going to ride these guys down the stretch here and see if we can really get them hot heading toward the playoffs. So it was a really good night for the whole group."
Added Avril of Goff, who finished 13-of-25 for 135 yards: "I think any quarterback, not just young quarterbacks, no quarterback likes getting hit. So I think we put the pressure on, made him move his feet a little bit in the pocket, that's always going to worry him a little bit and make him think about the rush more so than the guys down field. It works hand in hand, the guys on the back end were doing a good job as well."
Avril continues to lead the team with what is now a career-high 11.5 sacks, and Bennett continues to prove he's one of the NFL's most disruptive players following his return from a knee injury that kept him out five games. But increased pass rush contributions from players like Clark and Marsh have started to push the unit toward the top of the League. Playing on Thursday night means the Seahawks have played one more game than their competition at this point, but the team has tallied 36.0 sacks on the season, good for third-most in the NFL.
"They're putting me in there on third down, that's when you go rush the passer and so I'm able to go out there and do what I've been doing since college," said Marsh, who's now up to 3.0 sacks on the season after not recording one through his first two years in the NFL. "Obviously for a D-lineman to have no sacks, that devastated me my first year being hurt and second year not being able to rush very much. Not getting any sacks, that kills me. That's the worst thing you could tell a D-lineman in the world. So this year I'm looking to keep improving and keep getting after the passer."
Said Clark, who's up to 8.5 sacks this year: "We're getting much more opportunities to do what we can do best. I'm getting much more opportunities to rush that passer, be able to do what I do best. It's just a blessing."
After last week's zero-sack performance in a 38-10 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Avril said he felt like the Seahawks pass rush "took a step forward, for sure" against the Rams.
"You go a few weeks without getting them it can get frustrating, but you have to keep chopping away. Those guys on the other end get paid too, let's not get that confused, they're professionals too, so you face some good guys and sometimes it just doesn't happen," Avril said, later adding, "We have two more games. I want to finish strong, get a few more."
The play Seattle got from its pass rush was part of a larger collective effort from the defense that held the Rams to three total points on nine possessions, 183 total yards, a 3-of-12 mark on third down, and an average of 3.3 yards per play. Yet even on the heels of such an impressive outing, the Seahawks think they have plenty more room for improvement.
"I think there's a lot of things we can still improve on in this game alone," said Marsh. "We're never satisfied and we're just looking to achieve more."
Seahawks players and coaches react in the locker room following a 24-3 NFC West-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Rams.