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The best way for Seahawks to fix their pass rush

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With the Jadeveon Clowney watch well into its fifth month, Monday saw reports emerge that the Seattle Seahawks had both placed a pass rusher on the non-football injury list while also bringing back a familiar name on the defensive line. Early in the afternoon it was first reported that the Hawks had agreed to terms on a contract that would see Branden Jackson return to the team for a fourth season, and then towards the end of the day the team placed second round draft pick Darrell Taylor on NFI. Fans have been excited for Taylor’s potential, as well as that of fifth round pick Alton Robinson, since they were added in the April draft.

The moves Monday, however, weren’t what many Seahawks fans were hoping for. Many have long lobbied for the team to bring back Clowney or to add a player like Everson Griffen or Mike Daniels to the defensive line. However, there is a more significant fix for the pass rush available to Seattle that won’t involve using significant cap space, and it’s a fix that many have been clamoring for since the final whistle sounded in the team’s 28-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

First, however, it’s necessary to understand some things regarding sacks and the situational nature of football. At the end of the day, sack production largely boils down to a team’s ability to put the opponent in disadvantageous situations.

For starters, here is the sack rate on passing plays by down across the league in 2019:

  • First Down: 5.46%
  • Second Down: 5.43%
  • Third Down: 9.79%

So, obviously the first key in increasing sack production is to put the opponent in third down. However, not all third downs are created equal. To boil things down even more situationally, sack rates are dependent not just on the down, but on the score differential between the teams playing. Here are the 2019 sack rates on third down based on how big a lead the offensive team has:

  • Third Down, offensive team has a 9 point lead or greater: 8.44%
  • Third Down in a one score game (offensive team is within 8 points of the defense): 9.29%
  • Third Down, offensive team is down by 9 or more points: 12.04%

Quick and dirty, the easiest way to generate more sacks is to force the opponent into situations where the offense is facing third and long while down big. The predictability of an offense in that situation makes it easier for the pass rush to get home, and over the course of the 2019 regular season Seahawks opponents faced 3rd & 5 or more yards to go while down nine or more points just 19 times. Here’s a look at how many times opponents of every NFL team faced that same situation during the 2019 regular season. It’s a little hard to not notice that Seattle falls towards the bottom of the list amongst a bunch of teams that aren’t very good.

Number of times opponent faced 3rd & 5+ while down 9 or more points during 2019 regular season

Team Opponent 3rd & 5+ while down 9 or more points
Team Opponent 3rd & 5+ while down 9 or more points
BAL 57
KC 51
NWE 48
SF 47
NO 44
LAR 42
DEN 41
MIN 35
PHI 33
TB 33
DAL 32
GB 28
LV 28
TEN 28
DET 27
HOU 27
BUF 26
NYJ 26
MIA 25
ATL 24
IND 24
CLE 23
PIT 23
CAR 20
JAX 20
SEA 19
CHI 17
ARI 16
LAC 16
NYG 12
CIN 10

Obviously, if a team has pass rushers who can’t get to the quarterback no matter the situation, that’s going to be an issue. However, keeping everything else the same, there are ways to increase the probability of success when rushing the passer that don’t require the addition of expensive talent to the roster.

So, the quickest, easiest and least expensive way to address the pass rush for the Hawks is to, as many have called for over the years, to run an offense that scores more, forcing the opponent into repeatedly facing situations with a low probability of success. In short, if the Hawks want to improve their pass rush, one of the best steps they can take is to let Russ cook.