Seahawks’ pass-run plan a big hit

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comJanuary 8, 2014 

RENTON – If eager Seattle Seahawks pass rushers occasionally appear to lose their footing at the snap of the ball, it could be they’re not wearing cleats that gain sufficient traction in the growing puddles of their own drool.

Linebacker Bobby Wagner said the sack-happy defensive front gets so excited to get after the quarterback that “we drool so much we jump offsides sometimes.”

Generating pass rush will be a key factor in the Seahawks’ success as they enter the postseason at home Saturday against the New Orleans Saints.

Their last postseason experience came to an end in Atlanta, in large part, because they were unable to pressure Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan on the late possession that decided the game.

Missing in that game against Atlanta was injured defensive end Chris Clemons, who led the team with 11.5 sacks.

Rookie Bruce Irvin added eight sacks last season, but nobody else had more than three as the team finished with 36, which ranked 18th in the league.

In the immediate aftermath of the loss to Atlanta, coach Pete Carroll said the team’s primary goal was to find pass rushers to upgrade that part of the defense.

Mission accomplished. Two offseason acquisitions – Michael Bennett (8.5 sacks this season) and Cliff Avril (8.0) – lead the team. A holdover from last season, Clinton McDonald, has been a surprising contributor with 5.5.

And whereas linebackers added 3.5 sacks last season, Wagner (5.0) and K.J. Wright (4.5) combined have nearly tripled that figure.

With 44 total sacks, the Hawks have improved to No. 8 in the league.

Wagner points to a couple factors.

“Coach (Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator) runs a lot more blitzes,” he said. “And we’ve got a lot more sackmasters over there. (With more threats) you can’t really slide the protection to one particular person, you’ve got to account for everybody.”

The more threatening pass rush has “made a significant difference,” Carroll said. “The pass defense numbers (63.4 opponent passer rating) show that. All the guys who have come in have helped out and helped the other guys play better.”

In the process, interceptions rocketed from 18 last season to 28.

“We’ve been playing pretty much the same coverage principles, but when the rush picked up, the (opponents’ passing) numbers went down,” Carroll said.

Safety Earl Thomas said the pressure makes his job much easier. “Sometimes I take three or four backpedals and there’s a sack, or (the quarterback is) running for his life,” Thomas said. “It makes my reads easier and I can be more aggressive.”

HARVIN PLAN: CAUTION

Carroll said receiver Percy Harvin (hip) was to be brought back to practice Tuesday in hopes of his making it through the week to see his first action since limited duty in the Nov. 17 game against Minnesota.

“We’re just going to mix him in,” Carroll said. “We’re hoping if he gets to that point he can play and we can utilize him. He has been a very dynamic football player, he has been able to create stuff that is unique and has given him a reputation that’s legit – returns, particularly, he’s as good as you can get as a kickoff returner. We’ll see.”

Since Harvin has had some false starts in his rehab, Carroll has taken a cautious approach. “Let’s just get through today and see what happens,” he said.

After practice, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell addressed Harvin’s participation. “It’s good to have him practicing,” Bevell said. “As we keep saying, it’s a day-to-day thing, see how he reacts to the next day with the workload. ... He had two spectacular plays the last time he was on the football field for us. We’re really hoping he can continue to work his way in.”

COACHES IN DEMAND

With the Seahawks’ success, teams in search of head coaches have approached Seattle assistants as potential candidates.

Bevell said Tuesday that he interviewed last week for vacancies with the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. He said the interviews “went fine” and that he feels he had benefited from being involved in some interviews last season.

“The cool part is it was last week; we’re all full game-plan mode this week, and that’s in the past,” Bevell said. “We’re completely focused on New Orleans.”

WRIGHT STILL OUT

Also returning to practice Tuesday was tight end Luke Willson (ankle). The only Seahawk out of action and already ruled out for the game was linebacker K.J. Wright (foot), but Carroll said Wright was expected to try running Thursday with a possible return the following week if the Seahawks are still playing.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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