The league has retroactively split the ten yard sack of Alex Smith that was initially awarded solely to Aaron Curry. It is now split between Curry and Chris Clemons. That split sack gives Clemons 10 for the season. Though Clemons utility as an every-down defender remains controversial, it is inarguable that he is in the middle of a career season. He has set career highs in starts and sacks and I am sure that is not a coincidence.
The last team to play Clemons as anything more than a situational pass rusher was the 2007 Oakland Raiders. Those Raiders finished dead last in run defense, which might be a coincidence. The Raiders allowed the most yards per attempt, 4.8, the most rushing touchdowns, 24, the second most total rushing yards, 2334, and finished 32nd in run defense DVOA. Oakland finished 13th in pass defense but 22nd in overall defense. That was the year before Nnamdi Asomugha was named first team All-Pro, but despite that always tardy distinction, Asomugha was already in his prime and arguably the best corner in the NFL.
Those Raiders were coached by Lane Kiffin. That is the connection that links Clemons to Pete Carroll. Lane is Monte's son and Lane, Pete and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley each run a version of Monte Kiffin's 4-3. Seattle acquired Clemons as a throw in to the Darryl Tapp trade and almost everyone believes that trade was a success. Clemons is a starter and is tied for fifth in the league in sacks. Tapp is a situational defender and has only three.
There are two remaining questions regarding Chris Clemons:
1. Does he make the defense better?
2. Can Seattle compensate for what Clemons lacks?
The first is virtually impossible to answer. The second is somewhat more interesting. Seattle probably can compensate for Clemons' inability to hold ground, but how, what will it take and what are the trade offs?
Solution one: Push Clemons back to a situational role
This one might be tricky. After being a backup his entire career, Clemons is experiencing a career season and his stats are sterling. That is, he has a lot of sacks. It's a very good draft for defensive ends and an early round pick might justify to fans shifting Clemons down the depth chart, but it's debatable whether Clemons himself would accept the demotion.
Maybe if Seattle drafts an early round end, the Seahawks can then trade Clemons. Teams, especially teams running a 3-4, are always looking for situational pass rushers. Though I am not sure Clemons is any better than say, Travis LaBoy, Marcus Benard or teammate Raheem Brock, it wouldn't surprise me if some team fell in love with his sack total and offered something halfway valuable in return.
Solution two: Upgrade size at under tackle
We all love Brandon Mebane around here, but we all loved Josh Wilson too. It's clear that Carroll and Schneider are rebuilding this roster according to their own plan and an explicit part of that plan is to get bigger. Mebane is a good player but he is not a 3-4 end. Someone that sort of splits the difference between 3-4 end and under tackle might compensate for Clemons lack of stoutness.
Albert Haynesworth is an option, as is Johnny Jolly if he's reinstated. Another option might be drafting Kenrick Ellis out of Hampton. He is probably the most physically talented tackle in the 2011 class and he fits the profile Seattle might want to target: quick, huge and rangy.
Solution three: Improve depth at strong side end
Seattle has no choice but to invest in depth at strong side end. Kentwan Balmer has not matched Red Bryant's production. It's debatable whether Bryant 's injury has in fact led to Seattle's collapsing run defense but it certainly hasn't helped. Seattle needs to add another end that can command and control blockers like Bryant did, especially because Bryant has struggled with injuries throughout his career.
Solution four: Add a superstar strong safety
We all love Lawyer Milloy because Milloy plays hard and has contributed above expectations, but given his function in this defense, Seattle could definitely upgrade. Think of LaRon Landry as the ideal strong safety in Carroll's specialized strong-, free-safety system. Landry has 4.35 speed and that allows him to make plays Milloy can not, but Landry is a rare talent, there is no indication the Redskins are at all interested in letting him leave, and I don't see any safety in this class with his kind of ability. A LaRon Landry the lesser like Bernard Pollard is another potential option.
I would rather Seattle just let Kam Chancellor develop and instead invest resources in more pressing needs, but the Seahawks under Carroll seem scheme-first and sometimes scheme-first teams lock into their perceived needs and overspend.
Of those options, the last is the most demanding and least likely. The second to last is a necessity. The second is the option I assume Seattle will pursue. And the first is the option I think Seattle should pursue. Some combination of the above will be pursued, because despite his career high in sacks, Clemons is playing on a borderline league-worst defense. The Seahawks front office and coaching staff might not agree why the defense is failing, but it knows it is and it knows something must be done.