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The Seattle Seahawks will take six sacks in one game any way they can get them, especially considering how hard they were to come by early in the season.
But it might be a good sign that they reached that total Monday night with a group effort. They’ll need more of the same if Carlos Dunlap has to miss time because of the foot injury he suffered in their 23-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Dunlap had an MRI Tuesday morning to determine its severity.
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He recorded another half-sack against Philadelphia to bring his total to four in as many games since he was acquired in a late-October trade with the Cincinnati Bengals. He split that sack of Carson Wentz with defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Strong safety Jamal Adams, linebacker K.J. Wright, tackle Poona Ford and ends Rasheem Green and Benson Mayowa all had one apiece as Seattle kept its recent sack splurge going.
If that performance were a one-off, it would be easy to dismiss it as the Seahawks doing what every other defense has done to the Eagles’ struggling offensive line. Instead, it was the continuation of the 180 that Seattle’s pass rush has undergone since around the time Dunlap arrived.
“It was really good to see so many guys contribute and factor,” coach Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle. “Everybody was rushing the passer well. They’ve had problems and they’ve been working through it and we took advantage of it. … I think really Carlos continues to be kind of the fire-starter here. He got this thing going a little bit and we’ve been improving since he arrived, but there’s a lot of guys that contributed and got after it.
“We saw Jamal again have a couple big rushes and some problem-causing in the backfield and so it’s really exciting to see it. It’s fun for us to make that change in the middle of the year. I know people were thinking we were dead and gone, but we ain’t dead yet. We’re still going.”
Most of the first half of the season had a here-we-go-again feeling with the Seahawks’ pass rush, which was their defense’s Achilles heel last year. Their nine sacks through six games actually put them on pace for four fewer than their 2019 total of 28.
The Seahawks were hoping they could get by with a combination of free-agent pickups Bruce Irvin and Mayowa plus some lesser-known rushers and an increased amount of blitzing with Adams and linebacker Bobby Wagner. But Irvin, their most accomplished pass-rushing defensive lineman, tore his ACL in Week 2. Adams, Mayowa and Green all missed multiple games apiece and have since returned.
Error! Filename not specified.Benson Mayowa and Rasheem Green each had a sack of Carson Wentz on Monday night. Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
The turnaround began with three sacks in a Week 8 win over the San Francisco 49ers and continued the following week when Dunlap made his Seattle debut. The Seahawks’ 22 sacks since Week 8 are three more than the next-best team (New Orleans Saints), while their 19 sacks since Week 9 are five more.
It’s been a key to the Seahawks’ overall defensive resurgence along with the continuity they’re finally enjoying in their secondary with Adams back from his four-game absence. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin returned from his four-game absence Monday night.
“The swagger is through the roof, man,” Adams said. “We’re playing with a lot of swagger. We’re playing with a lot of confidence. We know when we step on the field, we’re going to try to take the ball away, we’re going to get a sack, we’re going to get a pick and then we’re going to invite everyone to the party. That’s what we do.”
Another good sign: Seattle hasn’t had to rely as much on blitzing over the last two games to keep the heat on opposing quarterbacks. No team blitzed more from Weeks 8 through 10 than the Seahawks, who sent an extra rusher on 53.7% of opponents’ dropbacks. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. made no secret of the fact that all that blitzing was done out of necessity as Seattle’s front four wasn’t getting enough pressure on its own.
The Seahawks’ blitz rate fell to 34.7% over their last two games, which is 13th in the NFL in that span. Of their nine sacks in those games, six came on plays in which they didn’t send an extra rusher. They were only rushing three when Dunlap dropped Kyler Murray to seal their Week 11 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
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When they do blitz, Adams is making them count. He has 4.5 of his team-high 6.5 sacks since returning in Week 9. With five games left, he has a chance to break the record for most sacks in a single season by a defensive back since they became an official stat in 1982. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Adrian Wilson has the record with eight in 2005.
Adams was the Seahawks’ only legitimate pass-rushing threat earlier in the season, but now he has some much-needed help.
“It’s a coming together of the players, the scheme, the continuity that comes with guys playing together,” Carroll said. “All aspects of it. It’s been coming. The potential has been here since we saw it back in camp. And then obviously Carlos has had a big impact and we needed somebody to be a factor in the pass rush. Unfortunately, Bruce wasn’t able to do that for us by getting banged up and then we saw Benson Mayowa get banged up.
“It just kind of snowballed on us for a little bit and now we’re starting to feel it. Hopefully we’ll keep everybody out there and keep them hammering away at that quarterback.”