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L.J. Collier’s performance is especially important against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins

NFL: NOV 24 Seahawks at Eagles Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

L.J. Collier has played 117 snaps through three games and recorded just two tackles and two quarterback hits. It’s not a great showing even for a position that’s not necessarily defined by counting stats. There’s no true way to do an apples to apples comparison, but for perspective in 2018 in 124 snaps Quinton Jefferson had 6 tackles and 5 quarterback hits. Last season was Q’s money making season and he got off to a very hot start: 9 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 hits and 2 passes defended in 133 snaps.

Funny thing is, while Collier hasn’t had a blowup game like Jefferson had in week 1 of last season, it seems to me that he’s consistently playing better than Jefferson did. What I notice most is that Collier seems much more active. That’s ambiguous and cliche besides, but what I mean is that I notice his impact on more plays. Jefferson could come up big and he could disappear. Collier is a different kind of frustrating. He gives you a little bit a lot but doesn’t finish terribly often.

Collier actually represents more than a quarter of Seattle’s hurries. Seattle’s pass rush is strange; it ranks 20th in hurries, which are defined as “QB threw the ball earlier than intended or chased out of pocket.” That sounds like a stat which cannot help but be inaccurate. However, just for the sake of argument, taking that stat at face value would indicate that the Seahawks are not generating pass rush quickly. At the same time, Seattle ranks sixth in knockdowns per attempt. Which could be a product of the Seahawks blitzing, or could indicate that coverage has been better than we may assume it to be, or it could tell us something about the quarterbacks Seattle has faced or the game scripts the Seahawks have put those quarterbacks in, etc. One interpretation that accounts for both stats is that Seattle is winning against pass blocks just not very quickly.

That is, Seattle’s pass rushers get there eventually. Jarran Reed, Benson Mayowa and Damontre Moore seem to fit that description. Reed has one hurry and one sack. Alton Robinson also has one hurry and one sack. Mayowa has four hurries and one sack. But Mayowa has played 188 sacks to Robinson’s 30. Moore has three hits, no sacks and no hurries. For people who remember him as a prospect, he flunked the NFL Combine. That was the beginning of his slide from a projected spot in the first round to being selected in the third round of a very weak class. He’s a skilled but not particularly talented pass rusher. He gets there eventually.

Apart from Collier, Jamal Adams, and potentially Jordyn Brooks, no Seattle defender seems to get there quickly. Shaquem Griffin has potential to get there quickly, but he didn’t last year and hasn’t regularly this year. He’s quick, but his rush arsenal is unrefined. Thankfully his spin move no longer renders him completely out of the play, but it’s hardly a weapon. Last season Seattle’s unquestioned leader of disruption was Jadeveon Clowney. He accounted for nearly a third of Seattle’s 60 hurries netting 17.

Which gets me back to Collier. Like Clowney, Collier seems much more able to separate and hurry the quarterback than hit or sack the quarterback. I do not expect Collier to ever become a great pass rusher, but the Seahawks desperately need him to continue being disruptive. Like this:

And though against a run, like this:

Separate, close and get in the ball carrier’s head. Penetration is not a tackle for a loss and a hurry is not a sack, but this Sunday achieving either regularly may be enough to greatly improve Seattle’s performance on defense.

I do not quite share my colleague’s opinion that Seattle should only rush four. All defenses wish to achieve pass rush with as few rushers as possible, but I would rather Seattle blitz and create pressure than rush four and have the extra players in coverage. From what I’ve seen, losing Jamal Adams is a bigger blow to pass rush than coverage. Five is probably my preferred number of rushers, because I do not want Seattle to get stuck regularly playing man against Ryan Fitzpatrick.

He’s a decent scrambler having added almost as much value this season as Russell Wilson. He has a pop gun arm which is best attacked by playing down hill. He’s ballsy and he can make good reads. If the defensive back has their back to the quarterback, Fitzpatrick can find the window to give his receiver a chance. But if his passes can be anticipated, he’s easy to pick. His arm strength is marginal and his accuracy is poor. He lives on timing, reads and trusting his teammates.

However many Seattle rushes, turning that pass rush into disruption is particularly important this week. Shortening Fitz’s clock should help the secondary maintain good positioning. Maybe even more importantly, it could encourage him to rush his mechanics and depend on his arm talent. He’s known for his blowup games, and with good reason. But would you believe that of his 159 games, he’s only thrown two or more picks 45 times? He’s thrown zero picks 65 times. Fitzpatrick has one of the highest interception percentages of any quarterback who has a 1,000 or more attempts in this millennia, yet he only throws an interception on 3.4% of all throws.

That’s one reason this feels like a trap game. The Seahawks could win by 20. They could lose by 2. I think the latter only happens if the pass rush collapses fully. Collier doing his thing, contributing a little a lot, should help ensure that doesn’t happen.