Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are not rushing the passer well enough. The offensive line is in shambles. The secondary is thin at cornerback. Stop me if you have heard any of these statements this year. If you read this blog, I know you have seen some of them because I have written them. So many of the comparisons to the 2013 Seahawks have been unfavorable, but there are some individual performers who are making contributions most fans are not fully recognizing.

Cliff Avril & Michael Bennett

The first thing people mention when they bemoan the difference between this team and last years is the departure of Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald. They talk about how all the extra snaps are too much for Avril and Bennett. What most are not talking about is just how well both of those players are playing so far this season.

ProFootballFocus.com 2014 Pass Rush Ratings 4-3 DEs

# Name Team Rush
1  Cameron Wake MIA 25.6
2  Robert Ayers NYG 18.5
3  Junior Galette NO 14
4  Michael Bennett SEA 13.3
5  Cliff Avril SEA 9.7
52 Chris Clemons JAX -12.4

Bennett and Avril ranked third and fifth a year ago. They rank fourth and fifth now. Chris Clemons ranked 17th a year ago, and is now second from the bottom (#52) of all DEs listed.

ProFootballFocus.com 2014 Run Ratings 4-3 DEs

# Name Team Run
1  Jason Pierre-Paul NYG 17.1
2  Derek Wolfe DEN 9.3
3  Michael Bennett SEA 7.8
4  Willie Young CHI 6.9
5  William Gholston TB 6.6
6  Cameron Jordan NO 6.3
7  Everson Griffen MIN 5.7
8  Malik Jackson DEN 5.6
9  Mario Williams BUF 5.2
10  George Selvie DAL 5
11  William Hayes SL 4.9
11  Olivier Vernon MIA 4.9
13  Red Bryant JAX 4.6

And it is not just pass rushing. Bennett was 5th against the run last year among 4-3 DEs, and Avril was 44th. Bennett has moved up to third and Avril a more respectable 18th, just below fan favorite Red Bryant (13th). Brandon Mebane deserves a ton of credit for how the Seahawks have played against the run this year, but very few people understand just how great of a run defender Bennett is. Ask a dozen people who is better defending the run between Bryant and Bennett, and all twelve probably get it wrong.

4-3 DEs QB Hits

# Name Team QB Ht
1  Robert Ayers NYG 12
2  Lamarr Houston CHI 10
3  Michael Bennett SEA 9
We all obsess about sacks, but have come to know that quarterback hits and hurries matter almost as much, and sometimes more. A hit or hurried quarterback can mean an interception. Bennett is third in the league among his position group in QB hits.

4-3 DEs QB Hurries

# Name Team QB Hu
1  Michael Bennett SEA 27
2  Cliff Avril SEA 24
3  Cameron Jordan NO 23
3  Jeremy Mincey DAL 23
3  Junior Galette NO 23
3  Wallace Gilberry CIN 23
Avril and Bennett lead the league in QB hurries, according to PFF.

ProFootballFocus 4-3 DEs Pass Rush Productivity

# Name Team PRP
1  Robert Ayers NYG 15.2
2  Cameron Wake MIA 13.5
3  Junior Galette NO 12.2
4  Michael Bennett SEA 11.8
5  Ezekiel Ansah DET 11.3
6  William Hayes SL 11.3
7  Jerry Hughes BUF 11.1
8  Cliff Avril SEA 10.8
9  Robert Quinn SL 10.6
10  Everson Griffen MIN 10.4

ProFootballFocus tracks a stat called Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) that is a composite of sacks, hits and hurries compared to the number of pass rush snaps a player gets. Avril and Bennett rank a healthy fourth and eighth in that stat. They were third and sixth and year ago. Avril had a 11.0 PRP last year, and a 10.8 this year.

These guys are playing darn good football.

J.R. Sweezy & Alvin Bailey

Sweezy just had a nice article written about him in the Seattle Times this morning, so he is starting to get the recognition he deserves, but consider a few things about his improvement this year.

Sweezy ranked 79th in screen blocking on PFF among guards last season. He ranks #1 this year

Sweezy ranked 42nd in run blocking by PFF rating last year. He ranks 13th this year. 

Sweezy has also cut down his penalties considerably. Nice to know at least one member of the line has done that.

But perhaps even more underappreciated than Avril, Bennett or Sweezy has been the play of Alvin Bailey. Consider that the second-year undrafted lineman has already played four positions (LT, LG, RG, RT) on the line this year. He has started games at LT and LG. He will likely start again this week in place of James Carpenter after starting for Russell Okung last week.

His numbers are not going wow anyone, but think about who he replaced. Paul McQuistan was in the midst of an eight-game run as the worst left tackle in football last year right about now. That is not an exaggeration. McQuistan compiled a -19.7 pass block rating as a left tackle last year. Fans don’t like the pressure Russell Wilson is facing this year. They should go back and watch the Houston, Indianapolis and St. Louis games last year. They make this year look like a day by the pool for Wilson.

Among the Seahawks lineman with at least 100 snaps this year, Bailey has the second-best pass block rating. His ability to sub for a Pro Bowl left tackle without disaster ensuing is a massive luxury. That he can come in at either guard or right tackle is a bonus. Justin Britt is a better run blocker at the moment, but Bailey could sub right now at right tackle and the Seahawks pass protection would improve exponentially. Cable’s preference for run blocking over pass blocking has never been more apparent than his choice to start Britt and McQuistan at tackle over Bailey.

Marcus Burley & Richard Sherman

Seattle welcomes back Jeremy Lane this week, and most assume he will take over the slot corner position. Marcus Burley would beg to differ. 
Since being acquired for a 6th round draft pick before the season opened, Burley has been playing above average nickel corner for the Seahawks. His worst game came when he was asked to play on the edge versus Dallas due to injuries. He was terrific against Wes Welker and the Broncos. He played Andre Roberts well in Washington, can grabbed one of the few Seahawks interceptions in Carolina.

Part of what has made Burley stand out is his tackling and toughness. He has missed just one tackle all year, and ranks 12th among CBs in tackling efficiency, according to PFF. 

Richard Sherman gets plenty of attention, but most are underselling just how well he is playing this year.

Sherman leads the NFL in coverage efficiency

It takes 17 snaps in coverage before a team completes a pass against Sherman. That is best in the NFL. He led the NFL in that statistic last year as well. Notice Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden are nowhere to be seen, and Darrelle Revis is well down the list.

People know Sherman is good in coverage. But he has taken a massive step forward in run defense. He ranked 24th in the NFL in run stop percentage a year ago among CBs, but ranks 8th this year. He ranked 24th among CBs in run rating last year, and ranks 7th this year.

He is playing the position better than anyone else in football.

Appreciate

The next time you find yourself complaining about why the pass rush is not better, or why the offensive line is dreadful, consider the facts about how some of the key players are performing. There is hidden strength in there. It is why Pete Carroll says things like, “We are about to explode.” Adding back key elements only makes the team stronger. 
Do not waste time yearning for the days when Clemons, Bryant and others were on the squad. Do not forget just how bad guys like Paul McQuistan were. Recognize the quality play coming from their replacements. 

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