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Frank Clark’s dominance of Byron Bell keys Seahawks to victory

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Clark was perhaps most noticeably seen on Sunday in the image above, banging the pot as Justin Coleman leaped in for a go-ahead pick six early in the third quarter. But it was Clark’s presence on the edge, and the absence of Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, that really keyed the Seattle Seahawks to a 21-12 victory.

Per ProFootballFocus, Clark had six pressures to go along with his sack of Dak Prescott. His seven pressures were the most of any 4-3 defensive end in the entire NFL for Week 16, leading up to the two Christmas Day games. While pressures vary for different outlets, and I don’t have PFF’s full season total, FootballOutsiders has credited Clark with 27.5 pressures for the season leading up to the game in Dallas. That’s a very good total, even if not ranking in the top 20 league-wide.

Clark also had three run stops on 11 run plays — his 27.3% stop percentage was the best mark in the NFL in Week 16 for any position.

Still, Clark is just a third-year player, and he played in just 48 of a possible 76 defensive snaps. While Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett, Shaquill Griffin, Bradley McDougald, and Byron Maxwell basically never came out of the game, Clark is just a cog in the rotation, getting only two more snaps than defensive end Branden Jackson. Clark, filling in as a starter for the first time this season after Cliff Avril went down in Week 4, is adjusting to a new role and is still only one sack shy of his second straight 10-sack season.

And just one year shy of hitting free agency.

(Read: Seahawks defensive line arrives against Cowboys.)

Of course, seven pressures probably would not have been possible if Clark was lining up against Smith instead of Byron Bell, and that’s something to be noted. Especially with Clark hitting free agency in a year. (As I noted on Saturday before the game, the presence or absence of Smith was probably the key to pressuring Dak, which in turn would be the key to winning the game.)

Facing off against backup-quality left tackles, Clark is expected to dominate as he did on Sunday. Luckily, in another must-win situation next weekend against the the Arizona Cardinals, Clark will likely be facing fifth round rookie Will Holden.

Holden, a backup, is filling in for Jared Veldheer, who went on injured reserve earlier this month with a “cracked ankle.” In Holden’s first start, Arizona quarterback Blaine Gabbert was sacked five times. In his second start, Sunday’s 23-0 win over the New York Giants, Drew Stanton was sacked twice and threw two interceptions. Per PFF, Giants’ defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had one of his best games of the season, notching six pressures on 33 passing snaps, including a seventh that was nullified by penalty.

With what we’ve seen from Clark against backup left tackles and what we’ve seen from Holden in two starts after being a backup, we can expect this to be an area of advantage for the Seahawks in their Week 17 game against the Cardinals. And Prescott being forced into two interceptions is quite evidently the reason Seattle still cares about Week 17.

Expect Clark to end his season on a high note, and hope that it is enough to keep the Seahawks from ending their season at all.

Some other notes from PFF:

  • The Seahawks “conservative offense” plan was in full effect. (Read: Seattle attempted fewest passes since 2014.) Russell Wilson went 0-of-3 on passes 20 or more yards downfield, the first time since Week 5 that he failed to complete a deep pass.
  • Mike Davis tied for team-lead in targets with five, and he caught four of those for 18 yards with 22 yards coming after the catch. As a runner, Davis had two missed tackles and gained 30 yards after first contact. (Davis finished with 25 rushing yards.)
  • Seattle had the fewest pass dropbacks of any team (26) this week, up to the Christmas Day games. They still two sacks and eight hurries on those drops, meaning Wilson was pressured on 10 of 26 pass drops, which is not great.
  • After a terrible game against the Rams, Luke Joeckel allowed just two QB hurries and was highly efficient in the run game; the Seahawks gained 5.6 Y/C on five rush attempts through the B gap between the left tackle and left guard. A good sign for the Duane Brown-Joeckel combo for Week 17 and potentially beyond, even though Brown is drawing a lot of criticism on Twitter on Monday.
  • Michael Bennett drew three more flags, but had a sack, three hurries, and a run stop. (Seahawks now have 2 of 3 most penalized players in NFL.)
  • K.J. Wright’s absence was huge against Todd Gurley and his presence was equally huge against Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott; Wright rushed the passer twice all game and generated pressure on both plays, he also allowed just 11 yards to be gained on eight passes in his direction, with an interception.
  • Shaquill Griffin allowed one catch for 11 yards on four targets. Byron Maxwell had a key forced fumble. DeShawn Shead played special teams but made no appearances on defense. If Seattle makes the postseason, they can feel a little more ease about their secondary than they did when Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were ruled out for the year, especially when you include the jobs done by Justin Coleman and Bradley McDougald.