Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks’ defense leaving foes running to nowhere

Seattle’s Michael Bennett closes in on Baltimore quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the first quarter. Bennett finished with four tackles, three solo, and one sack.
Seattle’s Michael Bennett closes in on Baltimore quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the first quarter. Bennett finished with four tackles, three solo, and one sack. Baltimore Sun

Michael Bennett has a refrain that’s as familiar this time of year as holiday wreaths, Christmas trees — and the Seahawks winning.

“I always say, man, ‘It’s the pretenders in the beginning of the season, then it’s the contenders at the end of the season,’ ” Seattle’s defensive end said Sunday, following a 35-6 steamrolling of the Baltimore Ravens, the fourth consecutive victory for the two-time defending NFC champions.

“The great teams play great football in December.”

Seattle is now 14-2 during December in the last three seasons.

The Seahawks defense is back, playing as great as that record in this month of Santa Claus and Seattle victories.

With Bennett and fellow defensive end Cliff Avril continuing their Pro Bowl-caliber seasons of zoom off the edge, and tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane devouring blockers inside so All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner can clean up on tackles behind them, Seattle has allowed only 59 total yards rushing on 30 carries in the last two weeks.

Baltimore, missing lead back and former Seahawk Justin Forsett (broken arm), gained only 28 yards on 14 runs. That was a season low against Seattle.

Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman basically quit calling running plays. That left it to the arm of third-string quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Yes, that worked out well for the Seahawks.

“This week we just wanted to hit our gaps,” Wagner said. “We felt if we stop the run game fast that was going to force them to throw. And we felt like we liked our chances with that.”

Clausen is now 1-12 in his journeyman career as a starting quarterback. He’s 0-2 this season against the Seahawks.

He became the sixth quarterback to start two games against the same opponent in an NFL season while playing for two different teams; he had filled in for an injured Jay Cutler when Chicago lost 26-0 at Seattle on Sept. 27.

After Baltimore punted the first two times it had the ball on Sunday, all 13 drives that Clausen had led in two games against the Seahawks this season had ended with punts.

Clausen didn’t produce a touchdown on 20 drives against Seattle in 2015.

Seattle is now allowing 83.2 yards rushing per game. That includes limiting league rushing leader Adrian Peterson to 18 yards the previous weekend. The Seahawks entered Sunday third in the league in run defense, then their average allowed dropped by almost 5 more yards.

During the four-game winning streak, the Seahawks have held San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore to an average of 44 yards rushing per game.

The Seahawks’ plan is to gang up on running backs and lanes, then force second- and third-tier quarterbacks to try to beat them — with Avril and Bennett flying at them with no thought of having to stop the run.

That plan will continue for the next two weeks. Seattle (8-5) hosts Cleveland (3-10) and Johnny Manziel this coming weekend, then St. Louis (5-8) and likely Case Keenum on Dec. 27.

“We pride ourselves up front, the front seven, to try to stop the run,” Avril said. “That’s our big thing, making them one-dimensional.

“We just need to keep chopping away.”

CHRIS MATTHEWS STRIKES BACK

Chris Matthews made his Baltimore debut when the Ravens signed him off their practice squad and made him active for Sunday’s game.

You may remember the 6-foot-5 wide receiver as the breakout star of February’s Super Bowl with his first four catches and first NFL touchdown for the Seahawks.

Seattle released him on Nov. 17.

Matthews had one catch for 21 yards in two targets while mostly lining up opposite Richard Sherman.

In the fourth quarter, Clausen badly overthrew Matthews near the sideline. Sherman easily grabbed his second interception of the season — but went down not-so easily. Matthews pulled him to the turf by Sherman’s long dreadlocks, which stick out the back of his helmet.

How much did Sherman like that?

“I like it as much as kids like getting coal for Christmas,” he said.

Sherman said Matthews apologized. Sherman added that it was the third time that’s happened to him in a game, an opponent pulling his hair, but the first time he’d been tackled by such a tug.

SILENCING WILSON’S DOUBTERS

Russell Wilson’s 23-for-32 passing day for 292 yards gives him 3,289 yards passing this season. He is 186 yards away from his career high, set last season, with three regular-season games remaining.

Wilson was 11 for 18 for 121 yards and touchdown passes to Doug Baldwin and rookie Tyler Lockett in the first half. His passer-rating in the half was 118.1.

Baldwin had his first drop of the season, on an inside-then-out route like the one on which he scored his second-quarter touchdown. Luke Willson dropped a pass in the end zone. And Fred Jackson, the 34-year-old, third-down back, allowed an accurate Wilson pass to go through his hands over the middle to end a two-minute drill before halftime.

Without those drops, Wilson would have had a perfect rating of 158.3 in the half.

“So many people wrote so many things about Russell Wilson, saying, ‘Can he play in the NFL? Can he do that?’ ” Bennett said. “Then he comes out and puts this type of season together: Spectacular.”

EXTRA POINTS

Why the 141 points the last four games? Sustained drives. Seattle is 32 for 52 (62 percent) in converting third downs. That number was 37 percent for the season as of last month. … New starting CB DeShawn Shead got beaten on consecutive long throws down the sideline in the final minute of the first half to set up Baltimore’s second field goal. Then he left the game with a sprained ankle. He returned as the nickel DB in the second half — when Marcus Burley sprained an ankle. Coach Pete Carroll said both Shead and Burley “turned their ankles a little bit.” He said that Shead being able to come back in the game “was a good sign.” … Michael Bennett left briefly with a jammed toe, which he’s had before, but returned. … Kelcie McCray, usually a special-teams standout, played the final three quarters at strong safety after Kam Chancellor bruised his tailbone. “He fit in fine,” Carroll said of McCray. “For the most part, it looked like he was on his stuff.”

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