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Seahawks really did let an elite pass rusher walk away

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

The conversation about Jadeveon Clowney has done a complete 180 in Seattle Seahawk camps over the last week. It’s an impressively difficult thing to accomplish, as football fans (and writers) are not the most level-headed bunch, yet here we stand.

That’s right, the 12s have largely gone from downright outrage to a modicum of optimism.

First things first, let’s call it what it is and say it straight.

The Seahawks let an elite pass rusher walk over some amount of dollars that they could have found.

Now that Clowney is gone, there’s been an unhealthy uptick in the belief that Clowney was not so good at his job anyway. This is frankly not the case.

He was one of the best in the game at the shiny Pass Rush Win Rate stat above, while the rest of the team was, well, not among the best in the game.

Seattle finished 16th in the NFL at beating the opposing offensive lineman, yet they were tied for second-worst at sacks. With 28, they were better than only the Miami Dolphins.

For whatever reason, the Seahawks were unusually bad at actually bringing the opposing quarterback to the ground with football in hand. They had a top-10 rusher, an exact middle-of-the-league team, and were just the very worst at the finish.

New DE Benson Mayowa said that “pass rushing takes a village of guys”. A village, in 2019, Seattle did not have.

You know what else they didn’t have last year? Anybody better than Tedric Thompson or Lano Hill playing in the secondary at times. “T2” earned himself a 46.6 rating from PFF last year, which is useful only because it’s one of the worst numbers I’ve seen from a Pete Carroll multi-game starter. Lano Hill received a 55.

See, what just happened in that paragraph is exactly what’s taking place in the Seattle conversation. People are turning to the newly improved secondary as if it has anything to do with the departure of Jadeveon Clowney. It does, sure, but it also has absolutely nothing to do with Clowney.

My contention is simply that he played way above his 3.0 sacks, that he was far better than the rest of the line last year, and that sacks are a little bit like turnovers. That is, they tend to come in bunches and can be extraordinarily random. Put the secondary and the sacks away, Jadeveon Clowney was, and should be again, elite at getting behind offensive tackles.

The amount of plays last season that Clowney beat his blocker, chased the quarterback right, and into an empty void of open throwing lanes, was laughable until it turned ludicrous.

So while people are really mad about stuff like this:*

Many others are saying things like this:

*Notice, on Ben Baldwin’s chart, that the original came before the Jamal Adams trade, so add him into the mix.

The Facts

Jadeveon Clowney was an elite pass rusher. Don’t change the narrative on that. He is also, for whatever reason, not elite at obtaining sacks, a number which I’ve repeatedly argued gains vast arbitrary and undeserved dollars.

The Seattle secondary is going to be vastly improved in 2020. A full season of Quandre Diggs, the additions of Quinton Dunbar and Adams, and apparently some Marquise Blair nickel, will do that.

Does an excellent secondary result in additional sacks? Absolutely. There’s a wonderful little study on pass rush verse coverage; here’s the summary - “teams with elite coverage (67th percentile or better) and a poor pass rush (33rd percentile or worse) win, on average, about a game and a half more than teams with the reverse construction”.

That is clearly where the coaches focused their attention this offseason. Two big names in the DB room, alongside enough pieces to field a full double rotation along the defensive line. All adept, no stars.


Does the improved Seahawks secondary have anything to do with Jadeveon Clowney?

Yes, in that Seattle believes this D-line has improved through depth and growth and rookies.

Yes, statistically, in that Jamal Adams’ presence alone will likely account for some measurable improvement that we will point to this year to make us feel better.

Yes, in that the team made a value decision and focused on improving what they felt was the bigger weakness.

And then no, none whatsoever, because the Seahawks could have had all the above and found some way to magic $12 million.

From the unforeseen trade to the day he finally shut the door, Clowney will remain one of the most fascinating one-year stories that Seattle fans will have to tell, and it is sad to see him go.