Seahawks’ pass rush turns up heat on opposing quarterbacks
After struggling to get sacks early in the season, the Seahawks have 16 in the past four games, including four Sunday against the 49ers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks @ Cardinals, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 5
Of all the things that have gone right for the Seahawks over the past month, one of the most distinct — and important — is the returned ferocity of the pass rush.
At its best, Seattle’s pass rush is like a dog searching for its next meal: all fangs, snarling teeth and foaming mouth. And in the last month, that’s how the Seahawks have played.
In the past four games, the Seahawks have 16 sacks, including a season-high six last Sunday against Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. They have at least three sacks in every game during that stretch, and their average of four sacks per game would be tops in the NFL this season. That the Seahawks have won all four of those games isn’t a coincidence.
“The intensity is really obvious,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The timely pressures and stuff to add to the four-man rush has been good and helped us. All in all, I think it’s been a big part of the shift in our effectiveness.”
Seattle’s improved rush could be a big factor against the Arizona Cardinals, who are down to a third-string quarterback, Ryan Lindley. The two teams meet Sunday night in Phoenix.
Not all that long ago the inconsistency of the pass rush was a topic of concern. It looked like last year’s disruptive front was mostly a memory. The Seahawks still rank 24th in the NFL with 29 sacks this season, but that’s more of a reflection of how they rushed earlier in the season than their recent dominance.
Just as important to those improved numbers is how the Seahawks are getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have created steady pressure all season, and that hasn’t changed. But the intensity and effectiveness of the rushers around them is different.
Bennett and Avril have faced double-teams in most games, and the 49ers paid them even more attention.
“Doubled?!” Bennett said. “It was like four or five! I don’t know what the hell that was. I ain’t ever seen no blocking scheme like that.”
Bennett and Avril dealt with extra linemen, tight ends and running backs, but it meant the rest of Seattle’s pass rushers had one-on-one matchups that they took advantage of.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who is used in passing situations, has given Seattle a much-needed rush up the middle. He added two more sacks against the 49ers to give him four in the last four weeks. Bruce Irvin, a defensive end in passing situations, also picked up a sack.
“You can feel everybody is being more effective now,” Carroll said. “They’re all feeding off of one another.”
No defensive linemen played more than 58 percent of Seattle’s snaps last season, but the cold realities of the salary cap meant retaining that much depth wouldn’t be possible. The Seahawks had to adjust.
Bennett has played 84 percent of Seattle’s snaps, while Avril has played 71 percent of the time. Carroll said neither has a “pitch count” dictating how much they can play as the regular season winds down.
Seattle’s pass rush is closer to being in sync, and it’s a process that took half the season to sort out. But the results are there: 16 sacks, six turnovers, 27 points allowed and four wins in the past four games.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com