BY Art Thiel 08:41PM 09/07/2020

Thiel: Seahawks D-line didn’t get needed love

Even with Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks didn’t have a good D-line a year ago, lit up by Matt Schaub and Josh McCown. The off-season repair looks dubious.

Here’s one of 10 receptions for 152 yards by WR Julio Jones in Atlanta in week eight of the 2019 season, a game won by the Seahawks 27-20 after holding a 24-0 halftime lead. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The verdict on the 11-5 Seahawks of 2019 was that it was an otherwise ordinary team that had the extraordinary Russell Wilson and much good fortune, including drawing a foe in the playoffs that was more broken than was Seattle.

Or have you forgotten the Eagles played most of the game in Philadelphia with 40-year-old Josh McCown at quarterback, in the first playoff game of his 17-year NFL career?

He literally was limping toward a potential game-tying score before being stopped inside the Seattle 25-yard line late in the fourth quarter. The reason he was in the game was because starter Carson Wentz wasn’t, having been dispatched early after a hit to his helmet from (all together now):

Jadeveon Clowney.

Although Clowney’s hit drew loud condemnations from the sellout crowd, he drew from officials neither penalty nor fine, because it was ruled that Wentz had not given himself up as a runner on the play.

 

The no-call was dubious, but the hit was real enough to have changed the game.

We revisit the affair now, at the beginning of the 2020 season, to illustrate a couple of things: The Seahawks no longer have a game-changer on the defensive line, and even with Clowney, the defense allowed McCown to complete 18 of 24 passes for 174 yards and a QB rating of 94.8.

It’s relevant because in week eight at Atlanta, where the Seahawks open the regular season Sunday, another senior backup, 38-year-old Matt Schaub, was allowed to complete 39 of 52 passes for 460 yards and a rating of 99.8.

Replacing injured star Matt Ryan, Schaub hadn’t started a game since 2015, and threw 16 passes in the previous three years before scaring the bejeezus out of Seattle. He went to All-Pro WR Julio Jones 10 times for 152 yards, helping the Falcons out-gain Seattle in the second half 348-82.

The Seahawks still won, 27-20, because they were up 24-0 at halftime.

The good news for Seattle this week is that Schaub won’t play because Ryan is healthy. The bad news is that the Seahawks defense, especially the pass rush, isn’t better, at least for the opener.

Free agent Clowney ended his seven-month dither Saturday by signing with Tennessee for a single year reportedly for $12 million, plus $3 million in incentives. Throughout most of the off-season, the Seahawks could have afforded that by cutting or restructuring contracts of other players.

That they didn’t make the move suggests three things:

  • They suspect he has physical limitations for a 16-game season
  • With the season underway, they don’t want to burn through their remaining cap space, said to be $6.5 million, seventh-smallest amount in the league
  • They screwed up in allowing him to become a one-and-done in Seattle without a clear Plan B — unless it has yet to be revealed

All three likely are parts of the story. As Carroll likes to say gleefully, “You’ll never know.” But the outcome starts to play out Sunday.

Carroll was asked Monday whether the departures of Clowney, and DEs Branden Jackson (injury), Quinton Jefferson (free agency) and DT Al Woods (free agency), along with the adds, have improved the D-line from a year ago.

He didn’t answer directly. He said he liked the speed of the outside guys, liked the sack numbers (eight each) that Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa had with their teams a season ago, and would like to see DT Jarran Reed play in 2020 as he did in 2018,  not the throwaway season in 2019 that began with a six-game suspension.

“Now that he’s back in he’s in great shape,” he said, “if you can get his numbers anywhere near where he was (10.5 sacks working next to Frank Clark) to add to it, we can be in good shape.”

He also mentioned DT Damontre Moore, signed last week, as a depth help.

What does he want to see out of the 10-man group right away?

“We definitely want to see more activity,” he said. “We want to see a better job done on play-action passes and the containment of it. We want to give our coverage a chance to make some plays that we missed out on last year.

“The early season will tell us.”

True. The first three QBs they face are a healthy Ryan, a rejuvenated Cam Newton with New England, and Dak Prescott of Dallas, playing under a franchise tag and eager for an extension.

For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus in mid-July graded out the Clowney-free Seahawks as having the worst D-line in the NFL, writing, “The Seahawks’ defensive line was hugely dependent on Clowney in 2019. If they don’t have him for 2020, they need to find a new source of pass rush.”

In the past, the Seahawks’ source for fixing deficiencies has been in-season trades for players such as Clowney, Marshawn Lynch, Duane Brown, Sheldon Richardson and Quandre Diggs.

But this year, they have diminished draft capital after trading two first-rounders for SS Jamal Adams, and enter a diminished marketplace because all clubs know less about their own personnel, much less players on other teams.

It’s unscientific to suggest the Seahawks are starting out unlucky. Besides, it’s really not true: At least Schaub and McCown aren’t starting anywhere.

 

 


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YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    To be a true playoff contender and not simply a qualifier the Hawks need a Clowney. A player on the D-Line who QBs will respect. Not even someone who gets double figure sacks but just has the respect of QBs and O-Lines. As much as getting Jamal Adams, Quinton Dunbar, Philip Dorsett is exciting I sometimes wonder if Pete and John just get swept up in it the possibilities of some things and forget about Immediate needs. Or assume they’ll find a way to patch the team weaknesses. Because this has been the seeming pattern for awhile. At some point trading away draft picks for a one season rental will catch up with them. I just hope they don’t do something stupid like trading three first rounders to pick a Bo Callahan. And then pass on him. ( See the movie Draft Day.)

    Though this is the model of the Patriots at least when the acquire a Randy Moss or a Corey Dillon they aren’t a one season rental. And they aren’t a square peg being forced into a round hole like Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham. They need to reverse those trends to get another Lombardi.

    • art thiel

      They’ve had just enough whiffs on personnel to deny them the final four. And I think it’s more the draft than FA.

      • jafabian

        I agree. I believe that for both college players and free agents the Seahawks should take a hard look at how they are evaluating players. Let’s look at Bruce Irvin. As a collegian he had some off field issues and was projected by the NFL to be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. The Hawks gambled on him instead of taking the much higher rated DE Chandler Jones who was a 2x All Big East selection Now, I absolutely love Bruce and I’m thrilled he’s back but the Hawks gambled on Bruce instead of going for the obvious pick. They seem to do this in the draft on 2-4 players every year. And IMO that window for another Lombardi has all but closed because of this approach.

        The idea of both Irvin and Jones on the Hawks at the same time just amazes me. Errrgh….

  • Bruce McDermott

    Yes, yes, yes. Exactly right. Not only did Pete not directly answer the question, he used the word “anxious” several times in not answering it. In retrospect, the Hawks were overconfident that they would sign Clowney, that much seems clear. You don’t pass up Everson Griffen for $6 million otherwise, for example, as you wait on a demonstrably unpredictable Clowney. And now they are caught with their pants down.

    What’s equally bad is the state of their run defense, actually. 3 DTs, total. The odds that they all last the season injury-free are very low. Subs? Practice squad. The back 7 can be excellent, but counting on them to cover for a bad rush AND make tackles on run plays near the line of scrimmage is just not wise.

    I’ve followed PC and JS closely for their entire tenure. They’ve made some decisions that did not work out, but I could see the plan and the calculated gamble in each one of them. On this one, though, the plans, or at least the actions taken and not taken, were simply imprudent from the get-go. Surely the worst off-season I can remember. Got some shiny new toys in Adams and potentially Dunbar, and a couple of rookies, but they spent a lot of money on players on both sides of the ball who had not demonstrated that they could be anything more than “depth,” and not much otherwise on true, demonstrated talent. The OL is at best a huge gamble given the mix of new guys, and the DL, on paper, at best did not improve from a statistically bad year last year.

    And their QB is watching…..

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Bruce. PCJS know they are in trouble on the D-line. The little-noticed loss of Al Woods in FA was a bad call. I think Irvin will be stout, but after that the best pure talent may be the fifth rounder, Robinson.

      Pete always misuses the word anxious, as do most people. He means eager.

      • Husky73

        Anxious— uneasy nervousness about something about to happen….Eager—chomping at the bit

  • Joe_Fan

    I somehow suspect that the D line will be better than people are expecting. The Seahawks are due for someone to step up and play over their heads. I’m as down on the D line as anybody, but been around long enough to know that in sports sometimes the unexpected occurs.

    • art thiel

      I can say that about nearly every damn day in 2020. And if you know how to read football player due dates, please advise.

  • woofer

    Lots of pressure on Jarran Reed to make a big comeback. The league would be wise to drug-test him on a weekly basis. On the bright side, Carroll is one of the more creative defensive minds around. He’ll tinker and barter until something works. By the end of the season his ongoing cluelessness about fixing the OL may emerge as the larger problem.

    • art thiel

      He didn’t have a drug ptoblem. It was a DV allegation. No charges.

      Pete burned though several seasons worth of fairy dust last season. I wouldn’t count on a second appearance of Dumbledore.

    • eyeroq

      “Carroll is one of the more creative defensive minds around. He’ll tinker and barter until something works.”

      You really believe this? My take from watching Pete is that he’s fairly inflexible on defense. In other words, he’s stuck with his preference for the cover-3 throughout most of his tenure. He’ll make some changes out of necessity, like last year keeping the linebackers on the field on passing downs from a lack of a competent slot corner. Or being forced to play a lot more cover-2 after Earl left but before they got Diggs. But as a creative defensive mind he’s no Belichick, that much seems clear.

      As for “bartering”, I think he leaves that part up to Schneider to land someone they target via trade. Especially in season when he’s too busy coaching. It’ll be necessary I think to go this route this year if they really want to be competitive. Those first 3 games are scary, I see it as a real possibility they could just as easily start 0-3 as they could 3-0.

  • tor5

    As just a casual observer, it seems the lines (both DL and OL) are where Carroll and Schneider look to go cheap, relatively. Maybe Duane Brown is an exception, and there’s been a few short-term deals (like Clowney), but I’m having a hard time thinking of big deals for stellar linemen.

    • art thiel

      Linemen typically are interchangeable commodities, not game-breakers. For every Walter Jones, there’s 100 Paul McQuistans. And Paul has an SB ring.