Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Overlooked Chris Clemons

Jacob Green was drafted with the 10th overall pick of the 1980 draft. The NFL did not start tracking sacks as an official statistic until his third season, when he recorded 3.0 of what would eventually be a Seahawks record 97.5 over a sterling 13-year career. His number is retired in the Seahawks Ring of Honor, although his son-in-law, Red Bryant, has permission to wear it. Green had double-digit sacks in five of his thirteen seasons, with a high of 16.0 in 1983. Only eleven players in the history of the Seahawks franchise have had even a single season with 10+ sacks. Only four have accomplished the feat twice. Only two have done it more than twice. Chris Clemons recorded 11.0 sacks in each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks, and is sitting on 5.0 after just three games this year. Yet, somehow, people are more likely to talk about almost every other player on the defense. It is time for that to end.

Clemons came to the Seahawks in what has become one of the most lopsided trades in franchise history. Darryl Tapp. The coverage of the move, and the compensation package, implied Tapp was the centerpiece of the deal. Clemons has recorded more sacks in his 2+ seasons with Seattle (27.0) than Tapp has in his entire seven-year career. He had a total of 20.0 sacks in the five seasons before coming to Seattle.

The book on Clemons before his arrival in Seattle was that he could be an effective situational pass rusher, but could not hold up as an every down player. Not only has Clemons proved he can be durable, having played every game in Seattle, but he has shown up as one of the better run defenders in short yardage and goal-line situations.

One of the first things that stood out when listening to Clemons get interviewed his first year in Seattle was just how smart he was. This was a player that studied his opponents, identified weaknesses, and exploited them. He talked about setting up lineman, hand placement, and points of leverage. These same tactics have helped him to anticipate how best he can make an impact on run defense. He uses his hands as effectively as any lineman on the team to create space and get off blocks.

He pairs those smarts with a junkyard dog attitude that helps keep his motor revving. Unlike many Seahawks sack artists, Clemons does not need the 12th Man screaming behind him to get his sacks. Nine of his eleven sacks last year came on the road. He also had more sacks in the last eight games (6.0) than he did in the first eight (5.0). His sacks were evenly distributed in 2010 as well. There were logical questions raised about how getting older--he turns 31 next month--and getting sizable contract extension would effect his production. He has answered those questions through three games by being the only consistent pass rusher. He tortured the Cardinals tackles in Arizona, would have had at least another sack against Dallas if not for Tony Romo's ballerina spins, before tying Derrick Thomas' record for sacks in one half (Clemons got them all in one quarter).

This week Clemons will face a back-up left tackle in Wayne Hunter that was jettisoned from his the NY Jets because he was such a disaster. Oh, and Hunter is also questionable with an ankle injury. The presence of Clemons will force the Rams to give Hunter help in the form of a running back or a tight end. That will give Sam Bradford one less option of where to throw the ball. It will also give rookie Bruce Irvin more one-on-one opportunities on the other side of the line. Rock, meet hard place.

The Seahawks record for sacks in a season in 16.5, held by Michael Sinclair during the 1998 season. Clemons is on pace for 26 sacks this year. Breaking the single-season NFL sack record may be asking too much, but setting a new Seahawks mark is in play.

On a team with bright young stars on defense like Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Red Bryant, and Irvin, it is easy to forget just how fortunate Seahawks fans are to have a player like Clemons on the roster. 

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