BY Adam Lewis 05:02PM 10/23/2014

Seahawks’ once-vaunted pass rush is M.I.A.

Departures and injuries have depleted Seahawks’ pass rush, which as was the source of last season’s disruptive defense. Earl Thomas claims its a collective lack of discipline.

DE/DT Michael Bennett says opposing quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball quicker, cutting into the Seahawks’ sack total. He did not practice Thursday because of a toe injury. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

After finishing the 2013 regular season tied for eighth in the NFL with 44 sacks, the Seahawks are struggling to generate a pass rush through the first six games of 2014. Seattle has seven entering Sunday’s matchup with the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium (10 a.m., CBS).

The nadir may have come last week against St. Louis Rams former third-string quarterback Austin Davis, an undrafted 25-year-old making the fifth start of his NFL career. A player so unknown before this season that security guards at the team facility, on occasion, failed to recognize him.

Using a short passing game, Davis completed 17 of 20 throws for 155 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, posting a career-high 97.1 QBR (out of 100). Related: The Seahawks failed to record a sack. They also didn’t force any turnovers, another ongoing issue, and lost 28-26 to fall to 3-3 after a weekend filled with rumors about a locker room divided over the trade of WR Percy Harvin.

“We don’t feel like we were as disruptive as we were,” coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s pretty easy to see that.”

During Wednesday’s weekly meet with local and national media outlets, players were left to answer questions about why a defensive line so stout during their run to Super Bowl XLVIII has limped out of the gate.

“If you watch film, we’ve hit the quarterback a few times,” said DE Cliff Avril, who has six tackles and a sack. “We feel like we can get there. It’s just not going that way right now.”

What’s different from last year? FS Earl Thomas, who hasn’t had the same impact as a year ago, said the defense isn’t as disciplined.

“We just not being disciplined — we’re not seeing it all the way through,” he said. “We’re not finishing plays. We used to have so much confidence that if (the Seahawks were up)  10-0, we feel like we were going to win. We just have to get that mojo back and understand that we’re going to get everybody’s shot.”

The Seahawks also shed players whose absence is being felt. Needing to trim salary, the Seahawks parted ways with DT Clinton McDonald, DE Red Bryant and DE Chris Clemons. That’s meant more responsibility, plus more snaps, for Avril and DE/DT Michael Bennett. Carroll pledged earlier this week to change the scheme to get more pressure, but decreasing Avril and Bennett’s time on the field might also be a priority.

“We’re going to make sure we do a good job of keeping our guys fresh and paying a little more attention to that so we keep our rotation a little bit more like we like it,” Carroll said. “It got a little bit heavy” for Bennett and Avril.

Both maintained Wednesday they aren’t affected by the increased workload.

“I don’t feel like a different pass rusher,” said Bennett, who leads the team with three sacks.

Judging by the Rams game, teams are attacking differently than last year — using short, quick routes to combat the rush. Sunday, Davis was hit three times.

“I would do the same thing, too. Getting the ball out quick,” Bennett said. “We need to get our hands up or something and stop them from doing that or get them in longer situations where they have to throw the ball.”

A look at the injury report also accounts for part of why Seattle’s rush has sagged. MLB Bobby Wagner (turf toe) and CB Byron Maxwell (calf) are out. On Thursday Bennett did not practice because of a toe injury, a new development of unknown severity (Carroll won’t be available until Friday to explain).

Second-year DT Jordan Hill, expected to boost the interior rush, has made minimal impact since being selected out of Penn State in the third round in 2013. Hill missed the Rams’ game with an ankle sprain, and is likely out for the Panthers.

Rookie DE Cassius Marsh, a fourth-round pick in 2014, broke his his foot last week in practice. He will miss the rest of the year.

“We’re a guy short there from what we were (in 2013) and we were developing Cassius’s role and we do miss him,” Carroll said Wednesday.

Stay tuned.

“In my mind, it’s going to happen,” Carroll said. “We’re just going to keep working until it does because we know it’s there.”

Thomas said it’s up to players to call out one another on the field when something is amiss.

“If you see something you have to tell a guy,” he said. “You can’t just let him go out there on Sunday, and he’s not seeing the details like he’s supposed to. You want to be tough on guys — we understand that we’re going to take criticism from each other. At the end of the day, it’s about us.”

As teams play carefully against Seattle, avoiding sacks and turnovers (their five turnovers are 29th in the NFL), chances increase for a win. Not only does the defense have to overcome injuries and departures, it has to overcome its reputation and figure a fresh way to become disruptive.




  • jafabian

    Red Bryant and Chris Clemons combined have five sacks this season with Jacksonville, the same amount as Bennett, Avril and Mebane combined. Despite advice saying so, from media, peers and former players, this team wasn’t prepared to defend it’s title. They haven’t been prepared for how teams would approach them differently from last season. I’m not even sure Carroll has been considering he’s never been in this position before professionally, as well as the rest of the coaching staff.

    IMO, it boils down to focus. Are they as hungry to win as last season? It doesn’t seem so. They should be reading how they weren’t expected to repeat, how opposing players viewed the Legion as overrated, the WR’s are average, that Wilson is only a game manager, that Pete Carroll is purely a college coach. Repeating would silence at least some of the doubters but right now they’re only giving them more fuel for their fire against all things Seahawks.

    • John M

      I’m not going to disagree with the fault you find in the coach(es) being unprepared to defend their title, but a great deal goes into that and they haven’t failed at everything. As for the “repeat,” winning 2 SB’s in row is an abstraction going in. So many things and circumstances have to mesh perfectly for that to happen – and yeah, throw in Luck. Besides having a new team at key positions, there have been injuries that leave the backfield too hesitant or out of position – the way the Hawks made other teams look last year.
      Our receivers are fine. Together they have the speed, focus and determination necessary. There is talent all over the place. Unfortunately, the O-line is struggling and the backfield can’t cover long enough for the D-line to get there.

      • WS

        “There is talent all over the place. Unfortunately, the O-line is
        struggling and the backfield can’t cover long enough for the D-line to
        get there.”
        You are absolutely correct. I’ve seen the same thing, but I guess it is more glamorous for the TV and radio commentators to talk about other things. The O-line has been negating touchdowns and causing 1st and 20 scenarios. Percy Harvin had 3 touchdowns negated on penalties. Lynch has touchdowns negated on penalties. The O-line hardly started the same lineup week to week last year, and it isn’t any better now. I can’t believe all the fingerpointing at people like Harvin, but nothing at Russell Okung just playing awful. Our DB backfield would be fine if both Maxwell and Lane were healthy, but they aren’t. When they gave up a key conversion on 3rd and 20 to the Cowboys, the two DBs nearest were Burley and Terrell – 2 free agents picked up last second, hardly used to playing on this team and in their scheme. I don’t think T. Simon will ever play a complete season – they need another DB. I think moving to Shead was a good move, but I’d consider putting E. Thomas in the CB role and let Shead or Jeron come in as the backup safeties that they are. But Shead can be a CB also and seems to be in the right place at the right time. Everything else is going pretty well – just need better coverage on TE by either a LB or safety and we’re good.

        • John M

          Earl can’t move to CB, he’s so totally focused on being the best free safety ever such a change would cause his head to explode . . .

  • Matt712

    Much of the blame lies with the coaching staff. That’s right… If you want to talk about Super Bowl syndrome, let’s take an honest look at how a coaching staff is so high on their previous success of doing things that they thought they could plug just about anyone into their scheme and it would work as before. Clearly that’s not the case. And the biggest mistake is the arrogance of not admitting it and thus not changing scheme to fit newer personnel.

    And the personnel is only half the story… The unwillingness to acknowledge the drastically new tactics other teams are throwing at them is mind boggling. Bennett is 100% correct with his observation that other teams are simply getting rid of the ball quicker – dinkin’ & dunking’ their way down the field, throwing away from Sherman and underneath the secondary.

    This is not even really about personnel; it’s about scheme. The Seahawks still have the best team speed in the league, but for some reason have refused to try a different scheme to combat the obvious new game plan teams are throwing at them. It’s arrogance on the sideline and now they’re out of time.