The Missing Pass Rush

Two games have been played. The starting defense has played roughly four of those eight quarters. They have a grand total of zero sacks and zero credited quarterback hits (we all saw Bruce Irvin hit Peyton Manning this weekend, but it does not appear in the box score). The quarterback situation is blotting out the sun in terms of Seahawks analysis, but that is a case of a plentiful harvest overloading the coffers. One could argue that this team needed to improve the pass rush more than it needed to improve the quarterback play. Only Chris Clemons had more than 4.0 sacks, and no other defensive lineman had more than 3.0 sacks. The emphasis on quarterback play in the NFL has increased the importance of pass rushing, and while the Seahawks appear to have added weapons to make major strides in that department, the results have been well below expectations thus far.

Not all pass rush success is equal. For the sake of simplicity, let’s break it into two categories: blitz and base. A blitz is when the defense brings five or more pass rushers on a given play. The extra pass rusher could be a linebacker, a cornerback, a safety. It does not matter what position they are. If there are more than four guys  rushing the quarterback, it is a blitz. Base defense is usually meant to describe a standard group of players on the field for the defense, as opposed to nickel, dime, or other. I will use it here to describe a standard four-man pass rush.

Pressuring the quarterback via blitzes is far inferior to doing so with a base defense. Sending an extra defender–or more–after the quarterback means there is one less player defending the pass. Veteran quarterbacks will often recognize the blitz, and have an easy completion to a receiver that would have otherwise been covered by the blitzing player. That is why you will regularly see a throw go to the same side the blitz is coming from. The blitzer vacates a space. The quarterback throws to that space.

Pressure from a base defense is gold. The NY Giants were the latest team to show how valuable pressure from a four-man pass rush can be. Not only does this allow a team to keep more defenders back in coverage–which also increases the time it takes quarterback to find a receiver and increase the chances the quarterback is sacked–it also means the quarterback is potentially under duress on every single snap. Many teams have pressure packages they install on 3rd down, or obvious pass plays, but the real value is not having to dial up pressure. The Giants had it even better since they could create pressure on the edge with a guy like Osi Umenyiora, and swing guys like Jason Pierre-Paul inside to attack the quarterback up the middle. Quarterbacks are taught to step up in a pocket to elude edge pressure. If a team can create pressure up the middle, it makes things exceedingly difficult for quarterbacks to make a play.

That was the idea when John Schneider and Pete Carroll brought in Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones, and signed Clemons to an extension. All these moves were with an eye on the pass rush. They had edge rushers and interior rushers in the mix. This was to be a huge difference in how an already great defense played. That has not materialized so far.

Irvin has looked very good in practice at times, but has been almost completely absent in the games. Jones played in one game and looked pretty good, but mostly against the run. Clemons has not been heard from. The best pass pressure so far has come from a guy like Greg Scruggs against 3rd team opponents. Jaye Howard had a very nice game against the Broncos as well.

Coaches will say they are not game-planning for the pre-season. That is true, but that implies a game plan is needed to create pressure. If an individual pass rusher can beat a lineman for a sack, they don’t need help from a game plan. When DeMarcus Ware came into play the Seahawks during the pre-season a few years back during his rookie year, he wreaked havoc. Matt Hasselbeck just referred to him by his number, but he sure knew that number before the game was over. We have yet to see that from Irvin, or anyone else.

This does not mean the Seahawks pass rush will be bad this year. It might be far more productive than last season. In fact, getting players like K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, or other speedy linebackers involved could be terrific. An increase in sacks, though, does not mean the team reaching the level of pressure from base defense that translates into championship-level pass rush.

Clemons is a veteran. He may be coasting in pre-season. Irvin is a raw rookie that may just need some time to develop. Jones really has not been on the field enough to say he has been a disappointment yet. Great individual pass rushers, though, are irrepressible. They eat quarterbacks, even if it is just a pre-season hors d’oeuvres.

Everyone will (rightly) be watching Russell Wilson in his first start on Friday, but don’t miss what may be even a more important audition on the defensive side of the ball.

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  1. This is definitely somehting that has been happening under the radar and I hope that it gets remedied quickly.

    I don't know about even mentioning Jason Jones and disappointment in the same sentence though. Granted, you say it's too early to say that he is one, but it almost implies that you, or others might look at it that way already.

    He has only played in one quarter of one game so far. Let's give him a little more time to even start to think about worrying about him.

  2. The things I wanted to see in the game against the broncos was us getting pressure on Manning and keeping pressure off of Flynn. We were 0 for 2 on this. I left the game feeling worried about the season, when I had felt very optimistic prior. I am hoping that it's just preseason issues that get resolved or are not even a factor in the way they are playing the game now (game planning). But considering our schedule, if we can't get pressure on opposing QBs we're going to have to put up a lot of points.

  3. Thanks for the interesting analysis of Wilson. In fact I agree … If This potential is what started as a rookie when to mature and Have Greater sense of play will be a great quarterback. It is to expect good seasons is a fact for the team And This exciting player who comes to put spicy but I understand the concern!

  4. Big Red Bryant was on KJR yesterday and said that they'd be moving him inside to DT on some pass-rush downs on Irvin's side. I think Red is supposed to take up blockers to free Irvin. I thought that sounded pretty savvy on the part of the coaches. Thoughts?

  5. Against Denver, I think the Seahawks were keeping their powder dry. Irvin was taking his time at the snap before making his move. Why would he do this when quickness is his best asset? To get a chance to watch the play develop without going all Tasmanian Devil on the play. Then, once rolling, Irvin kept it super simple.

    I have a theory as to why: the coaches want to slow things down for Bruuuce so he can can focus on developing his vision. Once he sees things clearly, the speed will come naturally. Hopefully, this will prevent EOCS (Early Onset Curry Syndrome).

    So why doesn't he show us his inside move? Because he's not showing the opposition his inside move. Come Week 1, I expect the Cards right tackle to get some surprises.

    Wins and stats in the preseason don't count. Carroll and Wash know that. And they're being very patient.

    Listen to Carroll's pressers. There's not a hint of frustration with our lack of pass rush. It was his biggest go-do in the offseason, yet he shows no concern here in August. The man has something up his sleeve.

  6. I'm worried about Bruuuce. He's sleak and fast but getting overpowered. I hope we weren't being too clever during the draft with Cox (DT), Couples and especially Ingram available.

  7. Pete Carroll and John Schneider talked about how the pass rush was the top priority this offseason. It does not appear they will find immediate success. I am concerned about 2012, but not discouraged long term. I remember when they talked about making the running game a top priority in 2010, and it took a season and a half to realize that objective. Building a pass rush is a really hard thing to do. I think as long as we are patient about it, the pass rush will eventually come together, though probably not any time soon and probably not without further investment.

  8. Great points about base vs. blitz defenses. I'd add just one more thing as I think it enhances the analysis. Three years ago John Morgan at Fieldgulls discusses a study of the NFL that charted the success of various pass rushes. It broke down the effectiveness by number of rushers and used DVOA as the measuring stick of effectiveness. The categories were 3 man, 4 man, 5 man, 6 man, and 7+ man blitz packages.

    7+ was disastrous. Only a fool coach would blitz 7+ (Jim Mora blitzed 7 all the time). Sending 6 was also very counterproductive. Sending 3 was roughly neutral. Sending 4 or 5 were both very good, and nearly identical in effectiveness.

    The point that could be taken from the study is that it's always best to generate pressure from a base pass rush, although sending one extra guy didn't hurt very much, if at all. So if Seattle can make this pass rush work with very light blitzing- just sending one extra guy from a random spot, then maybe this pass rush could be all right after all. We'll probably have to wait until week 1 before we'll know (AZ's line is awful atm, so it should be a good test for how bad our pass rush is).

  9. I am a 'hawk fan and the D isn't as good as what people are reporting. This article is on target on a few points including, we can't apply pressure with a base defense or game-planning, and Bruuuce can be flicked off by an O-linemen like a fly.

    In both pre-season games, the opposing team marched down the field at their will. More often than not, they stoped themselves as opposed to our D stopping them. Not a lot has changed since last year.

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