RENTON -- Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said last Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Rams was the point where he began to sense a change in the tide for the team's pass rush.
The Seahawks didn't sack Jared Goff once and only registered five official hits on the Rams' quarterback. However, Carroll said he believed they were finally starting to see how all the puzzle pieces up front should fit together.
"I think this was the game to me where now I can see some things that we need to do better and we can utilize our guys a little bit uniquely for them, their strengths," Carroll said. "I’m really excited about that. It’s the first time I really could see enough and feel like we’ve seen these guys out there enough to make some evaluations to make the kinds of little tweaks and stuff so we can help them out.”
The group has a high ceiling of potential that has yet to be fully realized. There are legitimate reasons for that reality. Jadeveon Clowney is trying to learn the defense on the fly after joining the team at the end of training camp. Ziggy Ansah has played in just three games after missing all of the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery. Jarran Reed has missed the first five games and will miss Sunday's game in Cleveland as he serves a six-game suspension for a personal conduct policy violation.
The Seahawks have just 10 sacks through the first five games of the season. That ranks 22nd out of 28 teams that have played five games this season, Only Baltimore, Oakland, Washington, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Denver have fewer than Seattle's 10 sacks through five games. And yet, the Seahawks are 4-1 and off to one of the best starts of Carroll's tenure as head coach.
"That's the funny part," Clowney said. "We always keep laughing in the locker room about us not being on the same page and not rushing as good as we normally do and being as good as we normally is. It's funny that you all say that because we're winning games and we're not playing at our best right now, which is always a good thing. Any time you got room to improve and you're still getting dubs, getting wins, it's great for the team."
Clowney had two of Seattle's five hits on Goff Thursday night. He stripped Todd Gurley and recovered a fumble that thwarted a Rams drive and consistently pressured Goff even if it wasn't resulting in hits or sacks.
“There was real good activity from Jadeveon for certain, as well as Quinton [Jefferson] was really active too," Carroll said of the performance against the Rams. "Those guys were around the ball a lot. We were so close to three or four sacks. You can just feel it’s coming alive. I think just the combination with Zig outside and what’s going on inside, I think we’re going to be able to work together better. We’ll spot them a little better.”
The cohesion with his teammates along the defensive line is starting to come together after a month of work with the team.
"I'm still feeling better. Still improving," Clowney said. "You've got to improve each week and I think we're heading in the right direction. I think overall we can do a lot more than what we're doing and make a lot more plays up front in the tackle-for-loss game. But we've got wins and I think it's going to keep getting better and better each week if we keep sticking together and playing together."
That process will continue to evolve once Reed returns to the lineup next week. Clowney has never lined up alongside Reed and hasn't had the chance to get to know him at all while he's been barred from team headquarters during his suspension. Ansah hasn't really had a chance to work with him either because he missed all but the final week of training camp while rehabbing his shoulder injury and has never played with Reed either.
While all three players have bonafide sack production in their history, it may take a bit longer still for the whole operation to reach its pinnacle for the season.
"We're still trying to figure it out," Clowney said. "It's going to come through practice and everything. The more we're out there with each other, communicating, it's going to be a lot better and being on the same rush page so we can be in different lanes and rush lanes.
“That December football (will) be real crazy. You know how it is in December. Once we start clicking on all cylinders, I think we’re going to make a big push at the right time. That’s all we’re waiting on. Everything’s about timing. We’ve just got to keep working together, keep getting better and winning games.”
K.J. Wright remembers one vivid moment from his last trip to face the Browns:
Linebacker K.J. Wright is the only member of the Seahawks that was with the team the last time they traveled to Cleveland in 2011.
The Seahawks lost that game 6-3. It should have been one of the most forgettable games the team has played in the last decade. But with Charlie Whitehurst facing off against Colt McCoy at quarterback, the game has been memorable because of how terrible it was.
"It was just a bad game," Wright said. "We were super young, didn't know how to win. It was just ugly."
Red Bryant blocked a pair of Phil Dawson field goals to keep Seattle in the game. Leon Washington had a punt return touchdown erased due to a penalty, and Walter Thurmond broke his leg which set the stage for Richard Sherman to make the first start of his career the following week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
But while some of those details weren't exactly at the front of Wright's mind when thinking back to that disaster of a football game eight years ago, there was one vivid moment that has stuck with Wright since then.
"I remember that hit that Kam [Chancellor] laid on that guy," Wright said.
"That guy" was Browns running back Montario Hardesty.
Hardesty sprung free on a fourth quarter run before stumbling slightly as he approached Chancellor. Chancellor caught Hardesty mid-stride, picked him up off the ground and slammed him to the ground at the end of a 14-yard run.
"It's definitely top five of his best tackles he's ever made," Wright said. "Dude is running full speed and he stopped him in his tracks. I definitely remember that. That's one of the coolest plays I've seen Kam make."
Right guard D.J. Fluker was unable to practice on Wednesday as he recovers from a hamstring strain sustained just nine plays into last week's win over the Rams.
Additionally, backup guard Ethan Pocic remains limited in practice due to a mid-back injury that has sidelined him the last few weeks.
With Fluker and Pocic banged up, it paves the way for Jamarco Jones to likely start for the team at right guard this week in Cleveland. Jones had not played guard in a game at any point in his football life prior to last week's game against the Rams when he was called upon to replace Fluker in the lineup.
Defensive end Branden Jackson did not practice due to a neck injury and Duane Brown got the day off as well as he continues to manage a biceps injury that has persisted the last two weeks.
Photo Credit: GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 29: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Seattle Seahawks battles through the block of offensive lineman Justin Murray #71 of the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of the NFL football game at State Farm Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)