Pre-Pre-Season Preview: Seahawks Pass Rush

Aside from digging into the various news stories, I’ve largely neglected talking about the Seahawks by design:  2017 was a bitter pill to swallow.  After such a sustained stretch of brilliance, this team was a slog to cover last year; but, they’ve jettisoned a lot of aging veterans, brought in fresh blood throughout the organization, and I would argue there’s some reasons to be optimistic (even though my default prediction is that this team will win anywhere from 7-9 games; everything would have to go perfectly in our favor to get to 10 wins or more, and when does THAT ever happen?).

So, with precious few weeks remaining until the pre-season games kick things off, I’ve got a quickie series of posts where I’ll look at the 7 areas of this team as they’re set up right now:

Without further ado, let’s talk about the Seahawks’ Pass Rush.

Defensive Ends

This is where things start looking a little dicey.  I can’t say that I’m totally in love with the crop of DE’s we’ve got heading into camp.  Obviously, for starters, we’re down our two best defensive ends from a year ago in Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.  Instead, our top guy appears to be Frank Clark, who has been a fine complementary player, but has never really blown up into a Pro Bowl-type dude and I honestly don’t know if he ever will.  I mean, he’s got talent, but if he can’t break out when other teams are focused on the more-accomplished pass rushers we had, why should I expect him to break out now that he’s the number one guy?

I think getting around 10 sacks is pretty much his deal, and that’s fine, but it’s a long way away from those high-impact, 20-sack-type guys you always hear about.  And, unfortunately for the Seahawks, the drop-off is pretty steep from there.

Dion Jordan was a wonderful story from a year ago, as a guy coming back from injury and a lot of boneheadedness that saw him out of football entirely for a spell.  As a fourth or fifth pass rusher last year – in VERY limited duty – Jordan had 4 sacks and a good number of pressures.  The thought was, in a contract year, maybe we could give him a bigger role and hope the former #3 overall pick would grow into it.  But, he was out injured for all of OTAs and apparently had some sort of clean-up surgery on his knee.  Frankly, I don’t know if he can be counted upon for more than half a season (and even that might be pushing it).  Regardless, with his injury concerns, he’s not a long term solution.

After those guys, I mean … who do you got?  Rookie 3rd rounder Rasheem Green is a prospect, but I would be SHOCKED if he made any sort of an impact in his first year.  The lack of depth on this roster makes Marcus Smith a virtual lock to make the team.  This will be Smith’s 4th year in an NFL career whose season high in sacks is 2.5.  Also, Branden Jackson is a person who exists.

I’m telling you, that’s it for DE’s on this roster.  There are many more DT’s from which to choose – and I imagine we’re going to have to play a number of them on the end of our line (maybe as a 5-Tech, a la Red Bryant back in the day) – but none of these guys appear to be worth a damn from a pass rush perspective.  We could see nominal improvement out of Jarran Reed, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Naz Jones is among the leaders on this roster in sacks, but it’s all pretty unpleasant to think about.

For what it’s worth, I think there’s a lot to like about our run defense, but I’ll get into that more tomorrow.  For our pass-rushing DE’s, I give this team a D.

Linebackers

There’s good talent here from a pass rush perspective, but I don’t believe the Seahawks utilize their linebackers nearly enough, which downgrades this group accordingly.  I’d actually like to see them blitz more, but we’re talking about a conservative coaching staff who wants to eliminate the run game and the big plays through the air.

Bobby Wagner is a guy who can do it all.  He’s either #1 or #2 among middle linebackers in the entire NFL, and when he does rush the passer he generally wreaks a lot of havoc.  That said, he averages less than 3 sacks a year, which leads me to believe we’re not sending him after the QB enough.  I’d like to see that number increase, but obviously the organization feels differently, so what can you do?  For what it’s worth, I’d like to see K.J. Wright blitz more as well, but he’s even more important to our pass defense, so I’m more understanding of him not being as involved.  But, when you’ve got a guy like Wright out there in pass coverage, I feel like that should allow Wagner more opportunities than he gets to head into the backfield.

Barkevious Mingo is a former top 10 draft pick who’s been a huge bust in his first five years, so I don’t see why that should change now.  He’s slated to be this team’s SAM linebacker and will probably get the lion’s share of the opportunities from this group to rush the passer (particularly in obvious passing situations, with our famed NASCAR package).  His season high in sacks is 5 (he had 2 seasons with a whopping 0 sacks), so really, how much can you expect?

I’d hope we’ll see an unknown phenom spring from out of nowhere to supplant Mingo at that spot, and maybe Shaquem Griffin will be the man.  But, he’s another rookie, and I think the team probably sees him more as a WILL linebacker in the K.J. Wright mold.  Nevertheless, I’d think he’ll get a few opportunities to rush the passer in pre-season, so let’s hope he makes the most of them.

My grade for his group is a D+; it would be higher if the team actually blitzed more, but I just don’t see that happening.

In fact, with all the changes to our secondary (combined with the likely holding out of Earl Thomas), it wouldn’t shock me to see even less blitzing out of our linebackers than we saw before, with the defense sending even more guys out into coverage to help compensate for the losses of the original L.O.B. members.  If that’s the case, and we’re left with a 4-man rush trying to get the job done, I see this as being a flat out F.

That doesn’t totally derail our season – as I do see a lot of potential out of our run and pass defense – but if there’s one reason above all else as to why the Seahawks are destined to be an 8-8 team, the lack of pass rush will be at the top of the list.  Look at all the offenses we’ll have to face:  Denver, Dallas, both L.A. teams, Oakland, Detroit, Green Bay, Carolina, San Fran, Minnesota, Kansas City; hell, even Chicago and Arizona could be formidable if given all day to throw!

We can see all the improvement we want out of our run defense and pass defense, but without a pass rush, we’re destined to see A LOT of drives extended on third down.  At which point, it won’t matter, because we’ll be crushed in time of possession and the defense as a whole will be exhausted by the fourth quarters of these games.

I tend to be wrong on this blog more than I’m right, and I’ve never hoped to be as wrong as I am about this part of the Seahawks.  But, if I am right, it’s going to be a LONG season.

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