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The StatHawk, Week 12: Looking at the Seahawks' defensive line rotation in 2014

An aggressive, borderline revolutionary rotation of defensive linemen kept the Seattle pass rushers and run stuffers fresh and hungry and healthy all season long... last year. Especially compared with the rest of the division. Like everything else, it's a different story this year.

Harry How/Getty Images

It's isn't 2013.

Calendar-wise, comet-landing-wise, Adrian Peterson-wise, NFC-West-wise, it's a new year.

Defensive-line-wise, too.

In the championship season that was 2013, the Seahawks played essentially seven D-line starters. Out of necessity, or choice, or both, they're not doing the same thing this year. A refresher, and an update, are due:

NFC West D-Line Snap Counts


(3-4 base D)

San Fran

(3-4 base D)

St. Louis

(4-3 base D)


(hybrid base D)

Total snaps for top 2 D-linemen, 2013 1828 1422 1670 1170
Total snaps for top 2 D-linemen, projected 1443 1566 1446 1531
D-linemen with >400 snaps, 2013 2 3 4 7
D-linemen with >400 snaps, projected 3 2 (!) 6 (also !) 4*

(*masochistically includes Brandon Mebane because his snaps happened and they'll go to someone)

Just like on any given Sunday vs. Eli Manning, seven takeaways present themselves:

  • Arizona ran its top two defensive linemen into the ground last season...  but this year, Calais Campbell and Tommy Kelly have played just two thirds of the available defensive snaps. The Cards are operating in a different way this season, with four other guys filling the third DL role and spelling the starters. That's probably good: Kelly is 34 and Campbell, 28, led the NFCW with 963 snaps in 2013.
  • Likewise, on the surface St. Louis moved on from its overuse of Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers from last year... partly because Long is still on the IR recovering from a knee injury. But also because Jeff Fisher turned into quite the subber practically overnight. Six Rams have more than 300 snaps through Week 11; all are on pace to eclipse 400 by far; all have played between 46.2 and 76.6 percent of snaps.
  • Justin Smith and Ray McDonald went from 780 and 642 snaps last year repectively to a projected 728 and 838. So that's up, collectively.
  • Niner fact 2: San Fran has 1390 snaps right now for the top four and only 179 for the rest of the team.
  • Niner fact 3: Three bench guys (Carradine, Dial, Dobbs) have combined for 18 snaps/game, total. Apres moi, le rotation, Jim?
  • No more outliers for the Hawks. The total snaps for top 2 and the D-linemen with >400 are neither highest nor lowest among division foes. The seven quasi-starters of 2013 have given way to a heavier four-man rotation in 2014, which is middle of the pack. The Hawks' aggressive resting of linemen, which resulted in

Hawk Defensive Snaps, 2013
Bennett 600
Clemons 570
Avril 551
Mebane 531
McDonald 530
McDaniel 528
Bryant 481

has morphed into

Hawk Def. Snaps, 2014 (proj.)
Bennett 827
Avril 704
Mebane 445 (for math purposes)
Williams 433
McDaniel 397
Schofield 389

(Seattle's Jordan Hill sits on the cusp of these charts at 313, and who knows where newcomer Travian Robertson fits in.)

  • So if Seattle makes the playoffs, that's something like 227 more snaps on Cliff's engine, and 153 more for Moses Beard. Well, that's not optimal. Conversely, if Arizona keeps Campbell healthy, his 2013-14 snaps project to 1663, or as many as Avril 2013 plus Avril 2014 -- plus all of McDaniels' snaps from this year too. That also sounds risky. For Arizona.

Still, after all that is said and done and over-analyzed, nobody around the NFCW is behaving quite like the 2013 Hawks. Maybe that season was a happy, happy aberration?

Kiddie Table

Here's related information, only "rotated" around for a different perspective:

Arizona San Fran St. Louis Seattle
Total D-linemen logging snaps (number on IR or PUP today) 9 (3) 7 (2) 10 (1) 10 (4)
D-linemen playing >25% of snaps 6 4 6 8
D-linemen playing >38% of snaps 3 2 6 7
Worth Noting

Darnell Dockett's 865 snaps from last year on IR

2nd-place Justin Smith is 35 years old
Brandon Mebane done with snaps. Four guys on IR.


  • Under this view, we're seeing much more rotation among Hawks than everyone else. Yes, Arizona and SF are 3-4 defenses, but that still means 3 DL gotta play. Even accounting for that personnel difference, the Cards and Niners are rotating less. The first two columns show teams with clear dominant starters; the next two show teams with clear rotations.
  • Philosophically, SF carries more LB than DL. Any more attrition on that line, however, would force the Niners to dip into largely untested depth. As the Hawks have found out recently, that can work really well, or not.
  • If Pete were given a quite healthy DL for this season, would he have given many of Red's 481 snaps to Williams, Clemons' 570 to Marsh, Mebane steady near 531, kept McDaniel steady near his 528 and spread McDonald's 530 out? We'll never know but it's a nice theory.

Hawk-Related Conclusion

2013 was a great year for Seattle's DL health. It's not looking that way so far in 2014. 2013 might also have been a banner year for talent. It's not looking that way so far in 2014.

While Pete is still no doubt dedicated to keeping his guys fresh in the short term, medium term and long term, maybe 2013 was a Bigfoot season: elusive, mythical, but definitely real.