On Pass Rush: Sacking the Memory of Bruce Arians

If you didn’t know, late season matchups featuring the Seattle Seahawks hosting the Arizona Cardinals have a funny way of playing themselves out. In the latest installment of this enduring classic, replete with the former shooting itself in the foot with sloppy play and bizarre mishaps, the Seahawks snapped their three year streak of losing to the latter at home. For a second there, it felt like the Former New Sheriff in Town never left, but a potent steadfast pass rush, Russ dialing it up in the most critical situations, and the completely trustworthy and ever-true aim of Sebastian Janikowski’s left leg helped lift the curse.

The pass rush was so potent and steadfast, in fact, that it saw two Seattle defensive linemen finish a season with double-digit sacks. Jarran Reed joined Frank Clark as the second member of the 2018 Seahawks Ten Plus Sack-Having Club. On the day, the duo had two sacks each with additional hits. Jacob Martin and Quinton Jefferson each had one takedown, bringing the group’s total to six and eight total quarterback hits on Josh Rosen. It was a game that can be counted among the few this year where Seattle’s pass rush was elemental to the defense’s overall success.

Gifs incoming.

The Edges:

Sunday’s best performance belonged to Frank Clark. He won in all sorts of manners: rushing speed, converting to power, and whipping out his devastating counters.

His first impact play came against play-action standing up in a split-leg stance from the right edge:

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Clark reads the run-action, and immediately stacks up the pass-setting tackle as though to play the run. He carries the left tackle up-field to provide space and then counter-swims off the momentum back over to the inside. Clark explodes into the back field and gets a good look at Rosen who is able to escape his grasp and throw the ball away, effectively killing the Cardinals’ concept.

On Clark’s first sack, from right edge, he executed a dastardly outside-in spin move:

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Clark takes four explosive steps upfield to sell the outside rush. The tackle sets vertically, but Frank’s speed obliges him to open his hips up sooner in the rep and play catch-up. This gives Clark plenty of space to spin inside. He sets up his spin with an expansion step to the outside, plants his left foot, chops the tackle’s hands down with his inside arm, and spins violently inward. His outside foot drops deep enough on the spin to clear the tackle’s back foot and his right arm pins the tackle’s back using the “ice-pick” technique (less euphemistically known as throwing an elbow) to finish the spin. Clark then eats up Rosen. Somewhere Dwight Freeney is smiling.

Clark later used his speed to again set up a pressure, this time converting to power:

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Coming from the left defensive end at nine-technique, Clark comes off the line with blistering speed, taking two long, space-eating strides upfield before reading that the vertically setting right tackle has chip help. Clark instantly changes course, plants and drives his right arm high through the tackle’s chest, who cannot withstand it. Clark rides this long-arm move all the way into Rosen, who is forced to get a hurried, wobbly ball out that sails incomplete unto its intended target.

Keeping with the theme of using speed to set up his rush, Clark again converts to power and devastates the left tackle for a sack, who does his best Kolton Miller impersonation in the process:

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This time from right edge and again aligned at the nine-technique, Clark takes just three long up-field strides and immediately has the tackle off balanced and on the retreat. Clark once more uses his stab-move with his inside arm, planting it right on the tackle’s inside shoulder to out-length him, which renders him unable to gets his own hands on the rusher. Clark rides his excellent hand placement and converted power through the tackle, who gets utterly decleated and thrown into Rosen. The quarterback coughs up the ball, resulting in a sack — Delano Hill careening down the middle on a blitz helps too. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that Clark might have the most effective long-arm among NFL speed edge rushers after Khalil Mack.

Jacob Martin had a great game overall, playing the run and being hectic against the pass. His lone sack was not only his best play of the game, but perhaps the display of his abilities to date of the entire season.

It came on an excellently performed cross-chop swipe combo move to corner a hard edge and wrap up on the quarterback:

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Martin is aligned from right nine-technique with his hand in the dirt. Despite setting up nearly all of his moves with speed, unlike Clark he does not declare to the outside from the get-go. His rush path instead often sees him aiming tight toward the tackle to manipulate pass-sets and draw out hands.

This sack is exemplary of such.

Martin fires out of his stance with his hips and shoulders geared toward the tackle’s mid-line. This keeps the lineman relatively horizontal and tight to the line of scrimmage and, more importantly, forces his outside (left) shoulder and hands to be exposed, readying for power. Right before the engagement, Martin gains last second width with his right leg while simultaneously chopping his left arm across his body and down on the tackle’s outstretched hands. He finishes the lunging lineman with his outside arm swiping across on the tackle’s own, thus securing the corner. Having cornered at a relatively shallow depth, Martin is able to wrap around and consume Rosen on an efficient path.

Martin had another pressure later on, this time from left defensive end:

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Martin rushes wide from nine-technique and, after four or five steps, bends his path inward toward the right tackle, who sets deep, baiting the 240 pound Martin to win with crude power. Martin embraces the challenge and gets inside hand placement and initial knock-back with his right arm while using his left hand to achieve wrist control of the tackle’s outside arm, rendering him unable to recover and anchor. Martin runs him all the way into Rosen, rendezvousing with Clark, and flushing out the quarterback, who eventually throws it away.

It goes without saying that Martin isn’t just a speed rusher. All year long, his most successful rushes have come from manipulating and reading tackle’s sets and use of heavy hands to take advantage. Despite only finishing the regular season with three sacks and eight hits, Martin has had a high pressure rate by PFF’s tracking and will enter the playoffs as a fixture of the team’s pass rush and crucial complement opposite Clark. He has come a long way as a sixth round rookie that was barely getting any reps to start the season.

The Interior:

If the day didn’t belong to Frank Clark, then it easily belonged to Jarran Reed. Reed entered the game with eight and a half sacks. To finish the game with at least one and a half sacks (math should check out) would see him as the only defensive tackle during the Pete Carroll regime to reach double-digit sacks and only the third defensive tackle in team history to do so joining the Hall-of-Fame likes of Cortez Kennedy and John Randle — both sack beasts.

For Reed’s first big play, he is aligned at left defensive tackle in a very loose (wide) three-technique alignment:

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Off the ball, the right guard post-sets hard, gearing up for a power move. Reed plays along and sells power with a hard jab step to the guard’s center mass. This gets the lineman bracing with no thought to the outside. Reed follows the jab up with a hard club to the outside shoulder/upper-arm that is powerful enough to actually send the guard downfield a bit and is utterly discarded from the play. As Reed breaks into the backfield, Rosen is forced to escape up the pocket but falls down and Jefferson cleans up. This jab-club combo — from such a wide alignment inside — is reminiscent of one of Michael Bennett’s staples. Reed’s lateral movement exists in another paradigm this year, to the chagrin of many quarterbacks.

On this next rep, both Jefferson and Reed work together to get the former a sack:

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Both on the left side, Jefferson is aligned in a wide three or four-i-technique with Reed at one-technique. Both slant or stunt across the face of the guard and center, respectively, into the opposite gap. The center half-heartedly passes Reed off to the unaware left guard in an attempt to help the right guard with the in-transit Jefferson. Reed is free to explode past the center and through the weak A-gap. Rosen narrowly escapes and is eventually corralled by a close-behind Jefferson. Ultimately, it’s a simple yet effective design from Seattle that is executed well by the interior duo’s speed and recognition.

Reed’s second sack is another tandem effort, aided by Poona Ford’s penetration into the backfield:

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Ford is able to bull-rush his way to depth (as it turns outs his height only helps his overall play style and ability to achieve leverage), forcing Rosen to side-step and evade up the middle. Reed rushes deep himself, but cannot quite corner on the guard. He does though display his block-disengagement skill by lifting off the offensive lineman’s hands and ripping through to shed him and track Rosen down.

Poona also displayed his explosion and quickness on this screen pass:

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Per design, screens and dump-offs often invite pressure form the defensive line to suck them in and away from the running back. In this case the Cardinals fly a bit too close to the sun as Big Poona is able to slip the block earlier than preferred (from Arizona’s perspective of course), and pressure nearly gets to Rosen before he can even turn around from the play-fake. This gets Rosen running and delays the throw to Johnson, who isn’t able to get moving on his pattern earlier and allows for the second level to come down on it, stopping it for a loss. He just keeps making more plays every game.

The fandom had rightful concerns on the Seahawks’ pass rush heading into the season. The talent exodus that took place this past spring and summer, evaluated on football reasons alone, made a pessimistic outlook on the defensive line’s immediate outlook valid. They started off slow, as expected, but were able to register a huge game against the Tom Cable-coached Raiders’ offensive line. Oakland’s Tom Cable affliction notwithstanding, that game was an indicator as to this squad’s perhaps peak ability, as it did see big games from nearly anyone that logged substantial snaps.

As Seattle’s season unfolded, the collective rush improved and we saw huge continuous development from Reed emerging as just about an elite pass rushing 300 pounder to join Clark as an elite edge rusher.

Jacob Martin showed incredibly promising signs given his pedigree and stands now as a main element on the nickel line.

Quinton Jefferson has been a factor from the inside at times.

We had hoped to see more from Dion Jordan against the pass to follow up his exciting 2017 season albeit on a small sample. The jury is not out on him though as his knee issues may have hampered him a bit. Hopefully his seemingly recouped explosion that he exhibited in the two weeks leading up to this Cardinals game will carry over into the playoffs. On a side note, his run defense has been exquisite.

All in all, the defensive line has greatly exceeded expectations, accumulating 43 sacks (tied for 11th most in the league), which beats out last year’s line’s 39 sacks.

The Seahawks’ defensive line’s narrative this season can be summarized as a crucial and exciting phenomenon for a young line and defense that needed a position group to lead in the wake of the L.O.B.’s departure.

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