On Pass Rush: Green in Name Only

The Seattle Seahawks didn’t tally a single sack in their win over the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday in another case of “almost.” It’s disappointing not seeing the stats rack up, but sometimes, almost is good enough. After all, sacks are really just happy accidents accounting for only about five percent of all dropbacks. Almost is much more common and its presence is much more reflective of a defensive line’s process. Seattle was able to put just enough almost — you know what let’s just say start saying pressure — pressure on Jared Goff to impact throws in high leverage snaps.

Let’s run down the list of how Seattle’s bevy of big, power-oriented, gap-flexible ends affected the Rams’ passing game to help contribute to their victory over the (possibly former) divisional top dog.

Stud Jadeveon Clowney had the best game of the bunch, routinely powering right tackle, Rob Havenstein, deep into the pocket or escaping inside off of sudden swipes and lateral footwork:

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Havenstein’s horizontal pass sets (shoulders parallel to the L.O.S. with split-leg kick-steps) presented Clowney an even hitting surface for rushing such tight angles. The game plan may have necessitated Clowney rushing tight so as to be available for the run, so we didn’t get to see him build off of his game against the Cardinals, where he mixed in diverse footwork. Nonetheless, Clowney won the leverage battle all game and registered a number of hurries and hits.

Here he gets a hit on Goff, from left end.

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Clowney jacks Havenstein back to open up a sudden swipe to the inside, and then bulls Todd Gurley into the quarterback, who has to spit the ball out for an incompletion.

While the following play resulted in a clutch completion from Goff, it still shows Clowney’s impact. He hits the hand at the release!

Jadeveon’s speed from a wide-9 alignment is such that Havenstein has to open up immediately to square up to his opponent, who is rushing a power path. Once the latter essentially gains block control, he just jerks the tackle to the side. It’s a sack worthy rep even though the result didn’t break quite his way.

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On this final snap, Clowney is mandated to simply occupy the right tackle so that the blitzer, Wagner, can rush free to the outside over the top of him (but is picked up by the running back). He stunt rushes Havenstein, basically just throwing his outside shoulder into him and drives him all the way to Goff’s depth anyway.

It had to have been a frustrating game for Clowney, knowing that he was winning his battles but wasn’t quite able to connect for the most valuable stat a pass rusher can rack up. Seahawks fans can take it all as a win though and feel secure that he’s managing substantial impact. The registering of sacks will come in time as he continues to deliver devastating performances.

Notice that, in the last snap of Clowney’s, Quinton Jefferson gets pressure as well. He starts from right 3-technique (possibly the “4i” technique) as a reduced defensive end. He rushes a speed path (pressing to the outside with his first few steps) to get the guard moving quickly, immediately gaining control of the lineman’s chest with a stiff inside arm. He nullifies the guard’s recovery by obtaining wrist control of the outside arm with his own. He bends this positioning all the way to Goff for a clean pressure and the throw sails wide of its target.

Jefferson produced with more power-slanted moves as well. Coming from 1-technique, he swims on the center and transitions to the right guard:

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After splitting them he just bullies his way into the backfield hitting Goff and ruining the play.

Both of the above snaps are microcosms of Jefferson’s interesting blend of strength and finesse that are earning him not just snaps, but rights to help front the pass rush rotation in junction with Clowney. This wasn’t a stand out performance, but it might define his baseline; a baseline that we can count on every week of getting his own true pressure. Jefferson flashed — and perhaps evenly applied — his traits prior to this year, but we are seeing another level of a player completely fulfilling his potential in 2019. He’s a high end rush defensive tackle! At this pace, he’s worthy of getting paid this offseason. His pairing with Jarran Reed inside could prove overwhelming for opposing offenses.

But perhaps the most exciting performance, even if not “best,” was Rasheem Green’s.

The following tweet feature two key snaps, the second of which with both all-22 angles:

These snaps hold significance because, to date, Green has been unable to gain the necessary depth on the guard or tackle he’s been rushing to set up his excellent hand work.

In the preseason of his rookie year, Green was able to get his inside shoulder, or inside hip, on his opponents’ outside half. He hadn’t done that in the regular season until literally last Thursday against the Rams. Now, his improved snap-timing, quickness, and footwork are helping make his handwork more applicable to reps as the following elaborates:

All of the above helps Green get into his rip, which is really the final positioning that pass rushers are trying to achieve when aiming for outside moves (unless it’s of the swim or cross-chop variety). And said rips are much more stout, allowing him to bend through contact and not get ran off.

Even if he’s held:

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And that’s a rep from 1-technique! The gap flexibility flowers.

Green’s development this year is worth of hype manifestation, especially since he’s only 22 years old. It has been slow but as sure as sure gets. The improvement of traits — from quickness, to power, to timing in his hand work and snap get off — has been obvious. They will only continue to combine as the season goes on.

Ezekiel Ansah has yet to really pop off. It’s unclear if he’s simply fighting to get his legs under him given the grueling nature of getting into football shape so late into the process or if his age is showing (or both). His speed and balance might be reduced enough that he can’t really threaten the outside.

However, he might be able to use it to open up the inside:

Here’s an additional angle:

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Ansah’s conversion to power and general grind through blocks might be his best remaining traits for Seattle to rely on. After all, Ken Norton did scheme him as the looper in many called pressures and stunts. Perhaps they just want him to spring into the A-gap and drive whichever lineman catches him deep into the pocket to cause general mayhem. Either way, his story is far from complete.

And neither is the story of the rest of Seattle’s defensive line. Reed is in tow and the group is objectively ascending.