Seattle’s defense succeeded last season in spite of a lackluster and inconsistent pass rush. One of the most common questions I get about camp is whether the sacks I see are the result of good pass rushers or bad offensive lineman. That is difficult to assess for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the oddity of being able to go against the same people every day adds variables that just don’t exist in a typical game.
Pre-season will be a great chance to evaluate the pass rush since most coordinators avoid getting very creative with blitzing. Offenses also do not shift blocking to account for gifted pass rushers, especially rookies. If Bruce Irvin or Jason Jones beats a lineman for a sack, they likely did it on their own. That matters, because applying pressure without sending extra defenders is major advantage. The NY Giants are a great example of how big of an advantage a defense gets when they can get to the quarterback with four lineman.
Irvin, Jones, DE Cordarro Law, DE Dexter Davis, DE/DT Greg Scruggs, DT Jaye Howard, LB Malcolm Smith, LB K.J. Wright, LB Korey Toomer all have spent time in the back-field during training camp, in addition to old stand-bys like Chris Clemons.
Pay special attention to when the pressure is applied, and where it is coming from. Seattle appears to have the chance to field a defense that can pressure up the middle and from the edges. They also look like they can get that pressure with the base defense, meaning it could come on first down or second down more often than it did last season. Someone I spoke with at training camp said they had seen Irvin and Clemons line up next to each other on the same side of the line. I have not seen that, but it is worth looking out for.
Seattle’s secret weapon in pass rush could be their linebacking corps that is blessed with uncommon speed. Smith, Toomer and Wagner are all 4.5-type guys. Wright is showing a much greater knack for rushing the passer than he did last season, and I am eager to see how that translates to the game.
Matt Hasselbeck is a great test for the defense. He recognizes pressure and tends to get rid of the ball quickly. Jake Locker is sturdy and quick. Success will not be judged solely by sacks. Even seeing a crowded pocket that makes a quarterback less comfortable and less able to step into his throws would be encouraging. Pressure up the middle has been mostly absent for many seasons. Guys like Jones and Howard look like they could help change that.
Lastly, when watching Irvin, look for moves other than a pure speed rush around the outside. It may be a spin or swim move. It doesn’t really matter. Anything that has a lineman preparing for more than the speed rush will only help Irvin reach his potential.