The key to Seattle becoming a contender again is not the draft or free agency, but the talent already on the team. This is the first in a series of irregularly posted season recaps.
Overview: Jackson started 14 games. If not for Brian Russell, he would have been Seattle's worst defensive starter. When we look back at why Seattle's pass defense crumbled, we must remember Jackson starting, and starting, and starting. It took until week 7 for Darryl Tapp to recover his rightful spot and by week 9 Jackson was back, replacing an injured Patrick Kerney.
What Went Wrong: Jackson lacked NFL capable pass rush moves. That's common and I anticipated Jackson wouldn't consistently contribute as a pass rusher. Unfortunately, he consistently didn't contribute. He recorded four quarterback hits in almost a season's worth of snaps. He could get off the line, nearly turn the corner, string wide and isolate tackles, but couldn't take the next step. Tackle after tackle stonewalled him and eventually he simply took snaps off.
Quintessential Game: Green Bay at Seattle
Clifton enjoyed an easy day stopping Jackson, shading him when he started wide, he almost always did, and then locking him down in isolation. Jackson lacked the burst to get past and around Clifton, he lacked the inside move to cut in and lacked the hand fighting to shed Clifton and make a play for the pass rusher.
Jackson's consistent ineffectiveness made it easy for Green Bay's interior line to stay together and retain integrity. Rodgers benefited from a good pocket, despite bad down and distance and a near nonexistent run game. Of Green Bay's 65 plays before their final, clock killing drive in the fourth, 26 were from a bad down and distance (1st-10+ (2) 2nd-8+ (14) 3rd-6+ (10)) including ten long third downs. Seattle's front four had the green light to "pin their ears" back - an underreported and hugely significant part of generating pass rush - but did nothing of the such. Like adding Brandon Mebane last season was a turning point for Seattle's pass and rush defense, because of Mebane's ability to force double teams, Jackson's ineffectiveness has caused a cascade effect, hurting Seattle's pass rush and weakening its secondary.
What Went Right: Jackson was never physically overmatched. He was quick off the line, moved well, showed very good awareness, and could stalemate run blockers. Jackson created a long edge for outside runs, allowing Seattle's linebackers and defensive backs time to get to the edge and intercept rushers.
Quintessential Game: Seattle at Buffalo
Kerney's Sack and LoJack's FTT: Finally, let's talk about that sack. First play of Buffalo's second drive. 1st and 10 from the Bills 29. Buffalo is in a 4 WR, Rb set. Seattle responds with a 4-2 nickel, with Julian Peterson, Jackson, Craig Terrill and Kerney right to left. At the snap, like really at the snap, Jackson missiles into the Bills interior, forcing a no-shit triple team, getting Terrill on right tackle Kirk Chambers and isolating Kerney on Lynch. Now, you might say, that can't be. The Bills must have just screwed up their blocking assignments, but no way man, Jackson is madness. I really think all three Bills interior linemen surrounded Jackson out of pure practiced instinct. When a guy gets off the snap that fast and with that kind of authority, experience teaches get on that man, he's dangerous. Meanwhile, Kerney cleaned up, quickly shedding Lynch, but damn if Jackson's no stat, no mention, FTT wasn't ten times more amazing.
Jackson wouldn't force any more triple teams. Teams learned that after the explosion off the snap, Jackson lacked a second act. And though imposing at times to the blocker, he never figured out how to get past the blocker and to the ball carrier.
Outlook: Right now, Jackson is a Learjet minus a wing. There's a lot to be excited about, the navigation system is true, the crew strong, and damn there's a couple bangin' turbines near the base, but without that wing it's grounded. The good news is Jackson isn't hapless. He showed the ability to shed blockers at USC. He improved his footwork late in 2008, improving his ability to cut on inside moves and turn the corner outside. The bad news is that his best move pass rush move, a simple push, didn't and won't cut it in the pros. Jackson cratered mid-season, looking disconsolate and incapable, but made the kind of positive game-to-game strides in the second half of the season that hints at, if not break out, potential and growth in his second season.
Quintessential Game: Seahawks at Cowboys:
Lawrence Jackson is beginning to show a little life. He's getting off the ball well and actually showing some fight against opposing tackles. Jackson is still with training wheels as a pass rusher, but then so is pretty much every rookie defensive end. Jackson trails only Chris Long in tackles and sacks among defensive ends selected in the first day of the 2008 NFL draft. On one play, Seattle attempted to stunt Jackson to the inside. He was S.L.O.W off the snap, flat and deliberate to the inside and ineffective on the inside rush. The skills aren't there, but it's been a while since I've seen Jackson really not try. There's reason to think the skills will develop.