So, here’s the thing: if the Seahawks lose to the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, it won’t be because they don’t have Chris Clemons. He’s just one guy, and really, this isn’t the greatest pass-rushing defense WITH him, but nevertheless, I would REALLY like to see how this game plays out with Clemons as his usual healthy self.
If you’re a good team, odds are you’re not giving up a whole lot in the sacks department. Atlanta, obviously, is no exception. They gave up 28 regular season sacks, which puts them 7th in the NFL for fewest sacks given up. Considering they throw the ball about 2/3 of the time, they’re definitely among the very best on a per-drop-back average. Pile on top of that the fact that Matt Ryan isn’t a running quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, and you’re looking at an offense that mostly does what it wants.
What does that mean for Seattle? Probably means that we wouldn’t have gotten all that much pressure on them anyway.
But, losing Clemons also hurts us in run defense. Should we be concerned?
I say no. Atlanta ran for a league 4th-worst 1,397 yards. Part of that obviously belongs to their scheme: they’ve got a stud quarterback and two stud receivers (Roddy White – 92 catches, 1,351 yards, 7 TDs; Julio Jones – 79 catches, 1,198 yards, 10 TDs) and a Hall of Fame tight end still putting up big numbers (Tony Gonzalez – 93 catches, 930 yards, 8 TDs). Another big part of their low rushing output has to do with the “talent” they have running the ball. Michael Turner is done. He’s slow, he’s lost all explosiveness, he’s done. Jacquizz Rodgers is a nice change-of-pace guy, but he’s nobody’s full-load starter. And as long as the veteran Turner is in uniform, they’re not just going to throw the guy away. He’s done too much for that organization for them to cut ties in the playoffs. This could bode well for the Seahawks.
Bruce Irvin is the guy who’s replacing Clemons. You’ll also see a lot more Greg Scruggs, rookie 7th round draft pick, who’s got a similar build to Clemons, but 30 extra pounds. Also (and I’m just spit-balling here), why not go a little 3-4 and play Leroy Hill and Malcolm Smith at the same time? Is that so crazy?
Let’s face it, you only played Irvin on obvious (or semi-obvious) passing downs. If you flip Irvin to the other side of the field, you could easily rush with Hill or Smith in Irvin’s old spot (which is the natural side of the field for both Hill and Smith). There’s no shortage of POTENTIAL pass rushers, is what I’m getting at.
Of course, the obvious flaw in that logic is assuming the Seahawks’ defense will have enough time to substitute when they want to. Atlanta likes to go no-huddle. That’s a problem for a team like Seattle, who subs along the D-line about as regularly as they sub lines in hockey. With Chris Clemons, you’ve got a guy who you never really NEEDED to sub in or out, unless he was especially tired. He’s so versatile, you can play him in every type of defense, against run and pass. I know Irvin’s had the full year, but what I don’t know is his comfort level in all the different defenses. He’s a pin-your-ears-back type of rusher; can he be a more disciplined all-around defensive end this team will need at times throughout the game?
Losing Clemons is not ideal. For a third consecutive season, he has shown no signs of slowing down. Now, he’s injured. I was prepared to write him off going into 2012 because of all the promise we saw in Bruce Irvin. Now’s the time for him to step his game up. Be that First Round Draft Pick. Be the star we know you can be.