I must admit that I underestimated a few things going into Monday Night Football. Davis Hsu, in his analytical savantatude, posted something on twitter about how the Seahawks would need Russell Wilson to pass for 220 yards to win this game, which was in response to a comment by Doug Farrar on the radio that Wilson would need 300+ yards passing for the Seahawks to come out of this with a W. I originally kind of agreed with Farrar; I thought that the Seahawks would get down early -- they're not typically quick starters, they instead typically rely on a war-of-attrition style of offense that slowly wears down an opponent until the second half, where they can take advantage of 8- and 9-man boxes and throw the ball downfield for points with a narrow margin of victory. As Tom Cable put it -- you run to win, but you throw to score.
So, yeah, I admit that I underestimated this defense. I thought Seattle would get down early, and the offense would have to alter their gameplan drastically to keep things from getting out of hand. I didn't think we'd see an 8-sack first half.
Then again, I didn't have a whole lot to base my projections on, afterall. Last year, instead of Michael Vick, the Seahawks got currently-out-of-the-league Vince Young. The Seahawks got Caleb Hanie instead of Jay Cutler. They got Rex Grossman, a struggling Sam Bradford, an inexperienced John Skelton, and a game manager in Alex Smith. They gave up 23 points to Tony Romo, 34 to Andy Dalton, 30 to Matt Ryan and 24 to Big Ben (I just don't bother looking up how to spell
Roeghtislibergers that dude's last name so I write Big Ben all the time). I know the Seahawks can stop the run and when they're loaded up to do so, I am confident in that. I was less confident, prior to the season, in their ability to corral elite QBs like Tony Romo and the class of the NFL in Aaron Rodgers (incidentally, they've now done both). This defense is a different beast this year and it has a lot to do with their defensive line and the pass rush.
New weapons in Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones, Greg Scruggs, and Clinton McDonald to go with a re-energized Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch and an emerging superstar in Chris Clemons have ignited this Seahawks defense and given them the ability to pressure the QB, which helps the defensive secondary immensely in their pass coverage. It worked against Aaron Rodgers - 12 points is certainly acceptable for the league's finest quarterback. I didn't expect it, if I'm being honest.
The potential of Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin as a pass-rushing tandem was realized, if only for a short while. But we saw what this front office had in mind when they 'reached' for a raw, undersized pass rusher at #15 back in April.
"We knew going into the week. I told Bruce that ... I knew they would bring the chip to my side and I told him that he had to start off fast. That's exactly what he did; the first series he ended up with a sack and after that I knew that they'd have to start changing their protections and they would leave me backside with one-on-one protection with [left tackle Marshall] Newhouse. So that was the way I was going to be able to actually get free. I knew we could work on him all game long." - Chris Clemons
After a very slow, uneventful preseason, Bruce Irvin looked like a legitimate threat on the outside on Monday. The Packers aren't exactly a model of success in protecting Aaron Rodgers, but regardless, Irvin did the job he was asked to do - 'he started fast.'
Four minutes in - the precise situation that Bruce Irvin needs to be successful - Green Bay's first 3rd and long.
3-10-SEA 49 (11:02 1st Q) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at GB 48 for -3 yards (B.Irvin).
Seahawks come out in their dime look (6 defensive backs) with Chris Clemons, Jason Jones, and Bruce Irvin the three down linemen. Packers are in their standard '11' personnel, 1RB, 1TE, 3WR.
Ball is snapped - you can see Jeron Johnson drift into the middle of the field, K.J. Wright lined up in man with Jermichael Finley as he releases, and Leroy Hill matched up with a releasing John Kuhn to Clemons' side.
Coverage holds up as the three man rush gives Green Bay problems. Irvin uses his speed to get RT Brian Bulaga off balance, then uses a nice bullrush with his hands to the chest/neck area of Bulaga to simply push him out of the way.
Because my new favorite thing to do is to circle feet - I did so below. This is not the footwork you're hoping for. For comparison, see Newhouse to Clemons' side for more proper form.
Irvin gets home for the game's first sack and stifles the Packers on their first drive. A huge statement by Irvin.
Commence discount double check slash Raji.
Later that quarter ....
2-20-GB 14 (2:52 1st Q) (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at GB 8 for -6 yards (B.Irvin).
Green Bay is backed up to 2nd and 20 after an illegal hands to the face by OL Josh Sitton and an incomplete pass, and Seattle trots out their anti-pass, but still kinda anti-run package, I like to call, the nickel. Trufant replaces Bobby Wagner, Jason Jones subs in for Alan Branch at 3-tech, and Red Bryant kicks inside for Mebane. Clemons and Irvin are on the edges. Packers again in their '11' grouping.
Ball is snapped. John Kuhn, the fullback to Clemons' side, chips through on Jones in the B-gap and releases as an underneath option. Irvin gets shows an outside move initially but crosses Bulaga up.
You can see Irvin juke inside and there's that foot circle again! When your feet are not underneath you, as a 300+ pound lineman, your balance isn't going to remain centered very long. Irvin's speed has Bulaga's footwork thinking outside rush, but his torso gets turned in toward the middle.
Irvin is just too fast, and Rodgers doesn't get rid of the football - great coverage downfield on this one, apparently. I'm not sure why he doesn't dump off to Kuhn here - I suppose a 6'5 Red Bryant and 6'6 Jason Jones might have clogged his field of view.
Irvin helped Clemons get one of his sacks later in the first half - Bruce was held badly and Clemons stunted in underneath to clean up. The play was flagged but denied by the Seahawks.