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Seattle Seahawks Defensive End Cliff Avril Having Fun and Making Plays, and According to Teammates, Playing at a Pro-Bowl Level

Defensive end Cliff Avril's 7.5 sacks are tied with Michael Bennett for the team lead through 12 games.

Cliff Avril has had a very unique professional career when it comes to success and failure. As a rookie in Detroit, Avril and the rest of the Lions suffered through an 0-16 season. Then, five years later, Avril reached his sport's pinnacle, winning Super Bowl XLVIII in his first season with the Seahawks.

So what else does Avril want to do with his career, aside from continue to win games? He's not afraid to admit that a little individual recognition wouldn't be a bad thing. Just a few minutes after teammate Earl Thomas ended his press conference by saying Avril and fellow defensive end Michael Bennett were playing at a Pro Bowl level, Avril was asked if he agreed.

"I'll let you guys decide that," Avril said. "I'm having fun, I am having fun. I'm making plays, I'm trying to get after the quarterback as much as possible, hopefully I do get recognized as that though, that would be cool.

"I think it would be cool for me personally, just for the simple fact that I've done it all. I've lost every game, I've won a Super Bowl, and making it to the Pro Bowl would be pretty cool too."

Of course, Avril clarified, he'd rather be selected for the Pro Bowl and not play in the game, because a trip to the Super Bowl means missing the Pro Bowl, which will take place one week before Super Bowl 50.

At 29, Avril is indeed having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, playing perhaps as well as he ever has in his eight-year career. With 7.5 sacks, Avril is tied for the team lead with Michael Bennett and tied for fourth in the NFC. Avril and Bennett are also tied for fourth in the NFC and tied for ninth in in the league in quarterback hits with 19, and Avril's five passes defensed trails only Richard Sherman, Thomas and Bobby Wagner among Seahawks defenders. The football analytics website ProFootballFocus.com ranks Avril as the fifth best edge defender in the NFL.

"They've been big," Thomas said of Avril and Bennett. "Even in teaching the younger guys how to come along. They're great leaders, they're very outspoken, and we need those guys on our team. Pro Bowl years from them. They're having Pro Bowl years this year."

The leadership of Avril and Bennett that Thomas mentions has been nearly as valuable as their on-field production. Those two have played a big role in helping Bruce Irvin develop into the pass rusher he is today—Irvin is two sacks behind those two at 5.5, a total made all the more impressive by the fact that he splits time between linebacker and end—and now they're helping mentor rookie defensive end Frank Clark, who has three sacks this season, all of which have come in the past two games.

With Jordan Hill and Demarcus Dobbs out last week with injuries, the Seahawks were forced into trying out a new look pass-rush unit that regularly saw Avril, Bennett, Irvin and Clark all on the field together. While injury forced the coaching staff's hand, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said that's a look they'll go to more often having seen the results. And if Clark continues to thrive down the stretch, that will have a lot to do with the help of Avril and Bennett in addition to Clark's obvious physical talents, because as much as physical ability matters for pass-rushing, it's a position that requires a lot of nuance, as well as communication from player to player on the line. That's why the Seahawks have in past season seen their pass rush improve late in the year as different line combinations have found their way together, and it's why they're hopeful that players like Clark and Hill will thrive down the stretch to complement the play of two ends who have been playing at a Pro-Bowl level all season.

"I think in terms of the pass rush, it's likened to what you're trying to do in continuity on the offensive line in a sense," Carroll said. "You want guys to communicate really well. There's so much that goes on there. It's not just line up and run. They have a lot of stuff that they have to do together, and identify together, and adjust together so they can take advantage of stuff. It does take time. We've seen, it's very similar to as it was even a year ago. We'll just continue to try and figure it out. Sometimes things happen, and Jordan being out gave us a chance to take a look at him again at this spot. We saw kind of a new look from him and we're excited about it. There is a lot that goes into that."

The fact that there's a lot that goes into pass rushing is part of the reason why Avril is arguably better than ever as he approaches 30, and it's why he and Bennett are playing so well together in their third year with Seattle.

"The guy across from you is 320 pounds and he's pretty athletic," Avril said. "It's all about doing different things to set him up to be able to get a sack. You might not be able to get a sack that play, but now he's thinking about that move you just did, so it can be a mental game as well as a physical game… There's a lot that goes into it, so it definitely takes some years to understand and to get to that point."

The Seahawks have faced the Ravens only four times, twice at home and twice in Baltimore with the last meeting there being 12 years ago. This gallery throws you back to each game through photos and scores, right in time for their rubber match this Sunday. 

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