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Jadeveon Clowney is beginning to look like the player the Seahawks hoped he would be

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle’s two biggest offseason acquisitions are finally getting up to speed, having missed nearly the entire preseason. Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah are the biggest names on a defensive line that everyone hopes will be...better than it has been. Therefore, they’ve received the bulk of the criticism for the Seahawks’ inability to get after the quarterback.

But Clowney and Ansah are both gaining momentum, health, familiarity with the scheme, and comfort to do what they do best. Clowney is still ahead of Ziggy at this point, and improves his play each week even as teams continue to hurl double teams at him.

Remember way back in Week 1 when Pete Carroll said that Clowney’s 61% of snaps were way more than they wanted him to play? Well, it doesn’t look like they plan on holding him back any longer.

But it’s not just the time spent on field. It’s the fact that Jadeveon Clowney is all over it. J.C. has caused a turnover in two consecutive games. Last week, his 27 yard interception return for a touchdown basically cemented the win against the Arizona Cardinals in the first quarter. This week he forced the ball out of the arms of Todd Gurley. Then, after KJ Wright was unable to secure the ball, Clowney was able to jump on it and recover his own forced fumble.

These plays are a snapshot of the type of player Clowney is, and hopefully will draw fans away from the type of player he is not. Sometimes it feels like people are expecting Clowney to be a sack-generating quarterback killer. Take this narrative, for example:

I’m not sure what exactly is so obvious, but the Seahawk D-Line being at 25% strength for a couple games could be part of it. Furthermore, Clowney was never going to come in and start cranking off a sack per game. That’s not who he is. Especially when he was the only healthy pass rusher with meaningful experience for a few weeks.

Clowney’s best strength is the all-around versatility he brings as an exceptional athlete who is especially gifted in stopping the run. For what it’s worth, PFF graded Clowney as the second best edge defender against the run in 2018. For something a little more objective, ESPN says he’s currently a top-10 option in winning head-to-head battles in pass blocking:

Statistically, this week’s game may not look that impressive. Clowney only registered three tackles, one for a loss. He did have two quarterback hits for the first time this season, but was unable to generate a sack. However, he makes the rest of the team better, in part because of the attention given by opposing teams trying to stop him.

Clowney spent most of Thursday’s game either being double teamed or driving one of the Rams tackles straight into Jared Goff’s grill. These are not the things that show up on a stat sheet, but Goff is notably bad under pressure, and his 20 different incompletions attest to the pressure (official or not) that he was under all night.

In the fourth quarter drive that resulted in the field goal which brought L.A. to 29 points, Clowney made his presence known. On the first run play to his side, he tackled Gurley for a loss. He was then double teamed twice, as well as two pass attempts in which admittedly he could have done better. The Rams also sent two quick passes to the left side, opposite Clowney. On the 3rd and 7 he finished very much in the face of Jared Goff who failed once again to make a completion under pressure.

The biggest improvement still needed will be for these guys to get home and bring down some quarterbacks. Clowney looked to be employing a bull rush far more than anything else, electing to bring right tackle Rob Havenstein into Goff’s area instead of himself. I think it was highly effective, but fans aplenty continue to lament the lack of violence applied to opposing QBs. But Clowney is incredibly fast, and is playing without Jarran Reed or a healthy Ziggy Ansah. On the forced fumble, he was actually in the Rams backfield before turning back and chasing down Gurley en route to the turnover.

Furthermore, Jadeveon is currently contributing out of his strengths to Seattle’s stifling run defense. The Seahawks have held opposing teams to under 90 yards rushing in four of their five games. Note this is entire teams, not just the lead back.

This is a team currently starved for turnovers. Following the Cincinnati game, Seattle only forced one TO per game until the contest against the Rams. Clowney had three turnovers all last season, and already has two.

This is a team that has faced Joe Mixon, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, and David Johnson. Seattle’s rush defense is 6th in the NFL in yards per game.

This is a team that has played parts of three games without Poona Ford, Jarran Reed, or Ziggy Ansah, and yet they’re now 4-1.

If the only thing you want is sacks, you’ll probably remain disappointed. But in one-point games against division-leading rivals you can’t win without playmakers. Clowney is here to be a disrupter and he is doing it at a very high level right now.