The loss by the Seattle Seahawks this week was disappointing, however, one bright spot was a second consecutive impact game from Dwight Freeney. Added in the wake of Cliff Avril moving to IR after suffering a neck injury that may or may not be career ending, there were some who questioned how much of an impact Freeney could have at 37 — after recording one of the least productive seasons of his career as a member of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016.
Apparently, whoever is in charge of the defense in Atlanta has no idea what they are doing or how to deploy a weapon such as Freeney.
Freeney has been phenomenal in both performances for Seattle: In just two games, he has already matched his full season total of sacks for the Falcons with three, in spite of having only played 43 snaps so far, compared with 415 snaps played for the Falcons in 2016.
Without beating around the bush further, Freeney’s performance on Sunday was another great performance representing another great veteran acquisition for the Hawks. PFF lists his accomplishments on Sunday as such:
In particular Freeney’s two sacks were important for Seattle, with the second nearly winning the game for the team. In the fourth quarter after the Seahawks had pulled to within two points, the defense was looking to force a quick three and out and change of possession. Washington faced 3rd and 15 at their own 17 when Freeney unleashed his patented spin move on LT T.J. Clemmings. The result was a strip sack at the four yard line, with Branden Jackson recovering the loose ball in the end zone for the go ahead touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the score would not stand. On replay Cousins was ruled down before the ball came out and Washington was forced to punt. That sack following Freeney’s spin move was not the only success Freeney had using his spin move Sunday. As can be seen in the picture, on the second play of the second quarter, Freeney lined up wide on the offense’s left side, with the rest defensive line aligned to the offense’s right side.
On that 3rd & 9 play Freeney rushed right at Clemmings, using his spin move at the last moment to run free towards Cousins and force a rushed throw for an incompletion.
Once he had established the ferocity of his spin move in Clemmings’ head, Freeney was then able to use other techniques to get to Cousins. Facing 2nd & 10 at their own 29 with little more than a minute left in the first half, Freeney lined up across from the tight end and used his speed to take the corner. Even at 37 Freeney possesses the speed and quickness to wreak havoc in the backfield, and on that particular second down play, the speed and quickness to take down Cousins.
As mentioned, however, Freeney’s success was not simply the result of his physical abilities. While his skills have undoubtedly eroded in the fifteen years since he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft, Freeney brings an immense amount of experience and wisdom to the defensive line. Just to illustrate how much experience Freeney has in the NFL, he has played in 233 regular and postseason NFL games, which is 50% more games than Cliff Avril has played in his career and over 80% more games than Michael Bennett has played in his career. Just to put it into perspective, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have combined to play 248 regular and postseason games between them, which is just fifteen more games than Freeney has played himself.
With that experience, Freeney has the knowledge to bring pressure using skill rather than simply physical skills, and even in a limited role should allow Seattle to best endure the injuries the defensive line has suffered. Coming into the season the Seahawks were thought to have a ferocious pass rush rotation including Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Frank Clark, but with Avril on IR and Bennett fighting through a foot injury, pass rush could be an area where Seattle might see the need for improvement.
This is a topic with which Seattle coaches and fans alike are very familiar, as the team has seen postseason success slip away as a result of a lack of a pass rush several times in recent seasons. These include an inability to stop the Atlanta Falcons in the 2012 divisional round, as well as the team watching the New England Patriots march down the field twice in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX.
Thus, as Seattle prepares to take on Freeney’s 2015 employer, the Arizona Cardinals led by coach Bruce Arians, on Thursday Night Football, Seahawks fans are looking forward to seeing Freeney continue his 2017 rampage, and continuing to provide an extra bit of situational pass rush. The team knows how important late game pass rush can be, and hopefully by limiting his snap count and keeping him fresh, the Hawks will have one little extra weapon on the defensive line when they need it.