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The Buckets: Ranking Seahawks' 14 pass rushing opponents on the 2022 schedule
Seaside Joe 1195: Do the Seahawks have the NFL's worst offensive line?
On Monday, I saw John Gilbert tweet out that the PFF ranked the the Seahawks as having the worst offensive line in the NFL. My gut reaction is that same as it always is with PFF—pure, unadulterated skepticism and anger—and I wanted to start diving into how poorly of a job ANYBODY does when trying to predict the future outcomes of offensive line play.
This may be especially true of the Seahawks, a team that is in a period of great transition with the offensive line. Not only because of the all-important change at quarterback, a move that will have huge ramifications on the expectations and “sacks allowed production” moving forward, but also because they will be entering year two under Shane Waldron and offensive line coach Andy Dickerson.
Then we can start to talk about the changes at both tackle positions and center.
Instead, I fought the urge to do the obvious and decided to turn to the other side of the trenches. BEFORE we talk about the offensive line, let’s talk about something just as important: The schedule. The matchups. How difficult will Charles Cross’s assignments be during his first year as Seattle’s left tackle?
The good news is that I think the Seahawks kind of avoid having to face some of the more dominant pass rushing units in the NFL next season.
The bad news is that they still have to face Aaron Donald and Nick Bosa a total of four times.
As we near the 1,200th day in a row for Seaside Joe today, I want to place Seattle’s pass rushing matchups into five buckets for next season. There will be some relatively easy matchups, though maybe I will be off in my predictions of who they will be. And yes, given that it is June, we can’t foresee injuries, playcalling tendencies, and game situations.
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We’ll go from worst to first. The order within each bucket does not matter. Tell me in the comments where I went wrong and where I am right!
32nd in pressure rate (17%), 32nd in sacks (18), 25th in blitz rate (24%)
At least Cross gets to face by far the worst pass rushing team in the NFL last year. The Atlanta Falcons. Despite that, the Falcons still went with a receiver with their first round pick, not addressing the edge until taking Arnold Ebiketie with pick 38.
Atlanta averaged barely more than one sack per game, well behind the 31st team in the league. Dante Fowler, now with the Cowboys, was the only player on the defense with more than two sacks. Even star Grady Jarrett only had one sack in 17 games.
One sack in 17 games.
The team also added versatile linebacker weapon Troy Andersen in round two and outside linebacker DeAngelo Malone in round three, but there’s little reason for optimism other than to say: There’s nowhere to go but up.
But “Up” is how opposing QBs felt when facing the Falcons last season. They were rarely ever going down—I don’t see what has changed this year.
29th in pressure rate (21%), 30th in sacks (30), 9th in blitz rate (27%)
The Lions added Aidan Hutchinson with the second pick in the draft and many people feel that he was the best defensive end available, if not at least the one who can contribute right away. Hutchinson is not being touted on the level of a Bosa, but even Joey Bosa entered the NFL with plenty of skeptics about his place as the number three pick in his class.
We just can’t say until we see him play—however, he’s going to a team that doesn’t have much else to boast about on defense.
The Lions ranked 31st in points allowed during Aaron Glenn’s first campaign as defensive coordinator. They were 30th in yards per drive allowed, 32nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and 30th in sacks. Charles Harris and Julian Okwara led the team in sacks and do return for another season together, but look at how much effort they had to give only to be a bottom-three team in sack production.
This is all about Hutchinson. If he demands double and triple-teams, the rest of the job gets a lot easier for Glenn.
The team is also high on defensive tackles Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike, both entering year two, plus they drafted defensive end Josh Paschal with pick 46 this year.
AZ Cardinals (x2)
t9th in pressure rate (26%), t13th in sacks (41), 4th in blitz rate (34%)
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph returns for his fourth season at the helm for Arizona, with 2021 ranking as his best for points allowed (11th in the NFL), and that’s whether it was with the Dolphins, Broncos, or Cards. But where will improvement be coming from for a unit that didn’t seem to make any notable changes in the offseason other than losing Chandler Jones?
Vance Joseph’s ranks from 2016-2021:
Arizona was led in sacks by Markus Golden (11), followed by Jones (10.5) and then a steep drop to Jordan Hicks and Zach Allen (4 each). The Cards are likely relying on a breakout campaign by third-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons (1.5 sacks in 17 games last year) or a bounce back by Devon Kennard (0 sacks in 15 games) or a return to form by J.J. Watt (1 sack in seven games).
I am a fan of third-year nose tackle Leki Fotu and defensive end Zach Allen may be underrated, but I don’t see that arbitrary yet notable 10-sack mark being reached by anyone on Arizona’s defense right now. The Cards were an NFL-average 6.7% by adjusted sack rate and they lost Jones to the Raiders. How could they go anywhere but below the average in 2022?
30th in pressure rate (20%), t22nd in sacks (34), 16th in blitz rate (25%)
For as underrated as their defense may be, the Giants still ranked 23rd in points allowed, 25th in rushing yards allowed, and 28th in plays per drive allowed in 2021 under the since-fired Patrick Graham. The team hired Brian Daboll to replace Joe Judge as head coach and Don Martindale to take over for Graham.
Martindale spent the previous four seasons running the Ravens defense but whatever positive momentum he built up in the first three years was ruined with a defense that ranked 32nd in passing yards allowed in 2021, finishing in the bottom half of the league in sacks.
He might have more talent to coach with the Giants, but much of it is unproven or untested.
Azeez Ojulari, a second round pick in 2021, had eight sacks as a rookie. Is that the start of something or just good timing? He had only 2.5 sacks in the final 10 games of the season. He doesn’t have nearly as high of a ceiling as Kayvon Thibodeaux, probably a steal for the Giants at pick five this year, but that’s only my opinion. Thibodeaux, 21, may be a year or two away from really contributing at a high level.
Leonard Williams is a good player but not even that great of a pass rusher, as he has averaged five sacks per year over his seven-year stint in the NFL with the Jets and Giants. Dexter Lawrence is similar in that regard, posting nine sacks in three years since being a first round pick.
There seems to be a wide range of outcomes here with the Giants, so I’ll place them in a bucket that has room to improve—or could get worse.
7th in pressure rate (26%), t15th in sacks (39), 3rd in blitz rate (34%)
As awful as the Carolina Panthers look on paper, we tend to stare too long as who the QB is when we look at those pages. Outside of Sam Darnold vs Matt Corral, there are things to like about the Panthers and most of them should center around the franchise’s best first round pick of the last 10 years in defensive end Brian Burns.
Not often touted as one of the great up and coming players, Burns has consistently been a source of optimism on a team that deserves persistent pessimism. He posted 7.5 sacks as a 21-year-old rookie, then nine sacks in each of the last two years, making his first Pro Bowl in 2021.
At $4.3 million, Burns is one of the great bargains in the league this year, but that ought to change soon if the Panthers want to keep him happy, even if he still has the fifth-year option to go in 2023. I would expect Burns to top Maxx Crosby’s recent five-year, $94 million contract with the Raiders.
But is he on an island with Carolina?
2020 second round pick Yetur Gross-Matos has six sacks in his first two seasons, while 2020 first rounder Derrick Brown is living up to expectations as a defensive tackle with at-best a moderate impact as a pass rusher. The team found a gem in Haason Reddick last year, as he led the Panthers with 11 sacks, but then he left in free agency to join the Eagles on a three-year, $45 million pact. Carolina had an adjusted sack rate of 8.2% last season, third-best, but that could take a tumble this year.
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow can dial up a lot of blitzes again next season, but do they have a Reddick in place to make it matter? And if the Panthers end up being one of the NFL’s worst teams, constantly fighting from a deficit, will they even have that many pass rushing opportunities? Snow could even be the interim head coach by the time Carolina faces Seattle.
t9th in pressure rate (26%), t16th in sacks (36), 14th in blitz rate (25%)
Part of Denver’s success last year has to be attributed to Von Miller, who did play seven games for the Broncos prior to being traded to the Rams. Miller is now with the Bills. Despite a truncated season, Miller’s 4.5 sacks ranked fourth on the team, while new Seahawks defensive end Shelby Harris actually led the Broncos with six sacks in 2021.
Dre’Mont Jones was second with 5.5, followed by Malik Reed with five.
Denver fired Vic Fangio and his staff, meaning that there will be new sheriffs in town, including first-time defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, a former secondary assistant under Sean McVay with the Rams.
His players to highlight in the front-seven will be oft injured Bradley Chubb (zero sacks in seven games last year), free agent signee Randy Gregory (six sacks in 12 Cowboys games), Dre’Mont Jones, and second round pick Nik Bonitto—a player who was insanely productive at Oklahoma, but fell to the second round because of concerns that the moves won’t translate against NFL competition.
Keep an eye on nose tackle McTelvin Agim as a wild card.
Denver’s defense has long had a reputation of at least being solid, but we can’t overlook the loss of Von Miller, the neverending health issues for Chubb, and the lack of a true pass rushing star who the Broncos can rely on.
27th in pressure rate (21%), t25th in sacks (33), 18th in blitz rate (25%)
Head coach Robert Saleh, formerly of the Pete Carroll coaching tree, tabbed Jeff Ulbrich as his defensive coordinator in 2021. Ulbrich had previously served as a linebackers coach under Dan Quinn and was an assistant special teams coach for Carroll in 2010 and 2011.
So this continues to be a family affair when the two teams meet very late in the season. My prediction, that none of you are going to agree with, is that the Jets are still in the AFC playoff race when that happens in January; in large thanks to Zach Wilson and in some thanks to a defense that might be on the precipice of popping.
“How can you say the Jets are going to be good, you dick?!” I mean, is that what we want of our writers? To have them just come in and tell you things that you already know and assume to be true? To repeat the same messages that everyone else is writing, knowing that everyone else is just basing their opinions off of last season?
Nobody was saying that the Seahawks would finish first in DVOA when the 2012 season began. Nobody was predicting the rise of the Rams when they hired Sean McVay in 2017. Nobody was calling their shot with the Bengals prior to 2021.
The Jets are talented.
Defensive tackles Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers each posted six sacks last season. They will be bookended by Carl Lawson (missed all of 2021) and rookie first round pick Jermaine Johnson, a defensive end touted in many Seahawks draft circles as a “savior” prior to the festivities.
New York’s depth includes Solomon Thomas, former Seahawks linebacker Jacob Martin, former first round pick Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry, Bryce Huff, Bradlee Anae, Tanzel Smart, and fourth round pick Michael Clemons. Support at linebacker includes C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, and Hamsah Nasirildeen.
It’s easy—and therefore boring—to say that the Jets will be bad. It’s interesting—and correct—to say that the Jets will surprise everybody this year.
The Jets’ 6% adjusted sack rank was below average, but ahead of the Raiders, Colts, Eagles, Chiefs, and Ravens, to name a few.
t15th in pressure rate (24%), t18th sacks (5), 32nd in blitz rate (12%)
No other team in the NFL was even close to Gus Bradley’s league-low blitz rate of 12%, as the next team up was the Eagles at 16%. How much different are the Raiders going to look under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, formerly leading an underrated unit with the Giants from 2020-2021?
It’s hard to say yet, but the Giants had a blitz rate of 25% last season. Certainly no defensive coordinator intends to hold back Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones.
The Raiders extended Crosby in the offseason, paying him like one of the top pass rushers in the NFL (25 sacks in his first three seasons, and 30 QB hits in 2021 alone) and then added Jones in free agency; disregarding his injury-plagued 2020 season, Jones has posted at least 10 sacks in his last six full campaigns.
The team unearthed a Pro Bowl linebacker by signing Denzel Perryman last year, but he won’t contribute in pass rushing, and it’s important to remember that Crosby remains the only real success that Las Vegas has had in adding talent that can get to the quarterback. Yannick Ngakoue had 10 sacks with the Raiders last season, but who remembers Ngakoue on the Raiders? And that was only last year! Ngakoue signed with the Colts in the offseason.
The team also lost Quinton Jefferson to the Seahawks and had disappointing returns on Carl Nassib, Clelin Ferrell, and Solomon Thomas.
Still, Las Vegas has at least two competent pass rushers and that’s two more than some teams.
4th in pressure rate (26%), 29th in sacks (31), eighth in blitz rate (28%)
Take out Chris Jones and this could be one of the worst five front-sevens in the NFL. That’s how important one player can be to a defensive line unit. It’s not the same as an offensive line, which is often only as good as its worst player.
Jones led the Chiefs with nine sacks in 2021, his third second team All-Pro campaign in the last four years, but he was only followed up by Frank Clark (4.5 sacks), Derrick Nnadi (3) and Michael Danna (3).
At FO, the Chiefs tied 26th for adjusted sack rate (5.5%) with the Eagles and Jaguars. Only the Ravens, Seahawks, Lions, and Falcons were worse.
It’s like the Jadeveon Clowney rule: PRESSURE does not equal SACKS and PRESSURES are not as valuable as SACKS.
This is not disputable.
You can say that sacks are overrated. You cannot say that it’s just as good to pressure the quarterback, especially in an era where pressure almost seems to make quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson even more dangerous in certain moments. But you simply can’t be dangerous when you get sacked; you can only be sacked when you’re sacked.
Kansas City returns defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, as well as Jones, Clark, Nnadi, and Danna. The Chiefs drafted defensive end George Karlaftis with the 30th overall pick, an ‘undersized’ prospect out of Greece by way of Purdue, who had 4.5 sacks in 12 games last season as a junior. I like Karlaftis, but at 21, he may not be a huge threat during his rookie campaign.
Therefore, we may not see Kansas City convert a ton more of those pressures into sacks in 2022.
New Orleans Saints
12th in pressure rate (25%), 8th in sacks (46), 24th in blitz rate (22%)
The Saints could face issues trying to effectively move the ball on offense, but they should be playoff contenders in the NFC because of an underrated defense, which will be co-run by former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard now that Dennis Allen has been promoted to head coach.
New Orleans quietly ranked sixth in adjusted sack rate, behind only the Bears, Steelers, Panthers, 49ers, and Dolphins. But unlike many other teams, the Saints return a lot of their best players from the front-seven.
That includes the remarkably consistent Cam Jordan (five straight Pro Bowl bids since he turned 28 in 2017) and Marcus Davenport, a player who feels like he’s been in the league forever but is only 25. Health is always an issue for Davenport, but he managed nine sacks in only 11 contests last year. Linebacker Demario Davis has made first or second-team All-Pro in each of the last three years and has only missed one game (during last season’s 17-game season) over his 10-year career.
In addition to the players we know about, New Orleans is also hoping for further production from Tanoh Kpassagnon, who posted four sacks in only eight games, and second-year defensive end Payton Turner, a first round pick out of Houston in 2021.
The Saints rank just outside of the top bucket because you have to respect them on their own—but especially when looking at a matchup of a rookie left tackle against one of the best defensive ends of his generation.
Tampa Bay Bucs
2nd in pressure rate (28.6%), seventh in sacks (47), 1st in blitz rate (41%)
Tampa Bay is an interesting case in that they don’t enter 2022 on the same high that they did in 2021, as Shaquil Barrett is the only returning player who had more than six sacks last season. And that’s only if Ndamukong Suh returns.
Surprisingly, it’s not even Jason Pierre-Paul who ranks close to Barrett, as he’s coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro and doesn’t look to be returning to the Bucs; JPP, still a free agent, recently met with the Ravens.
The top five returning players here under contract (Barrett, Anthony Nelson, William Gholston, Vita Vea, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka) combined for only 27.5 sacks last season, but the real star of the unit is second-time head coach Todd Bowles. Tampa Bay blitzed an NFL-high 41% of the time in 2021 and that resulted in the second-highest pressure rate in the league, as the Bucs ranked 10th in pass defense DVOA.
The downside entering 2022 is the potential declines of Barrett and Gholston, as well as the departures of Suh and JPP. The upside is 2021 first round pick Tryon-Shoyinka and 2022 second round pick (33rd overall) Logan Hall, a defensive end in the mold of former Houston teammate Payton Turner. The secret weapon who isn’t so secret is former UW defensive tackle Vita Vea, a player who seems capable of well more than the career-high four sacks he posted last season.
Flying under the radar is the acquisition of veteran nose tackle Akiem Hicks, an underrated presence on the Bears’ pass rushing units of the last six years.
11th in pressure rate (25%), t18th in sacks (35), 15th in blitz rate (25%)
If not now, then when?
The Chargers boasted the best defensive hire of 2021 with head coach Brandon Staley, adding his coaching talents to a team that already employed Joey Bosa and Derwin James. The results were underwhelming, as LA ranked 29th in points allowed, 30th in rushing yards allowed, and 22nd in net yards per pass attempt allowed.
After adding Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson, there is no more room for excuses.
The Chargers had a below-average adjusted sack rate in 2021, but responded by trading for Mack (six sacks in seven games with the Bears last year) and signing underrated nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day away from Staley’s former defense with the Rams. Bosa has 58 sacks in his first six seasons—despite missing 17 games—and at 27 could be a favorite for Defensive Player of the Year.
If he and Mack are both healthy, with James, Jackson, and Asante Samuel Jr holding down the secondary, plus Joseph-Day and Jerry Tillery commanding some attention in the middle of the defensive line, and continued development of linebackers Drue Tranquill and Kenneth Murray, the Chargers should have a Great Wall between any offense and the end zone.
However, we’ve told this story before and the Chargers keep letting us down. If not now, when?
I’m not sure, but I have to go with talent and talent says that the LA Chargers are a top-tier bucket front-seven.
SF 49ers (x2)
t19th in pressure rate (24%), t5th in sacks (48), 29th in blitz rate (20%)
The 49ers went 10-7 and reached the NFC Championship last season while ranking 9th in points allowed, 10th in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and seventh in rushing yards allowed. This was not a classically dominant defensive performance (the 2019 version was better) but DeMeco Ryans continues to prove that he will be a head coach in the near future.
It still all starts and stops with Nick Bosa.
When Bosa missed all but two games in 2020, the 49ers went 6-10. They’ve reached the NFC Championship in his other two campaigns, and Bosa posted a career-best 15.5 sacks with an NFL-high 21 tackles for a loss in 2021. He was third in total pressures (49) behind only TJ Watt and Myles Garrett.
Facing Nick Bosa is pretty much the only thing we need to see in order to keep the 49ers in the top bucket—but he’s not completely alone.
San Francisco was fourth in adjusted sack rate in 2021 (8%), as Arik Armstead and Arden Key (now with the Jaguars) each posted six sacks. There is an expectation that Dee Ford will be released, but he’s not much of a “loss” until he actually does something with the 49ers, which seems it will never happen.
The 49ers keep pushing to add more front-seven talent, drafting Javon Kinlaw in 2020, signing Samson Ebukam in 2021, and picking defensive end Drake Jackson in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The team also brought back Kerry Hyder after his lone season in Seattle and has a budding linebacker star in Azeez Al-Shaair.
The Seahawks keep beating the 49ers, but San Francisco still posted seven sacks in two games against Seattle last year. How will Charles Cross and company feel about the matchup this time?
LA Rams (x2)
25th in pressure rate (23%), 3rd in sacks (50), 11th in blitz rate (27%)
Though we’ve known the name for a long time, 2021 was Raheem Morris’s first as an actual defensive coordinator over the course of an entire season—and he had to take over for Brandon Staley, who many called the BEST DC of 2020. The results were mixed, as the Rams ranked 15th in points allowed and 25th in plays per drive allowed, but they also won the Super Bowl and the defense had a relatively strong performance in their postseason run.
The LA Rams held the Cardinals to 11 points, the 49ers to 17 points, and were stout against Tom Brady until the fourth quarter. They of course also shutdown Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase in the Super Bowl, at least, when they needed to—and that’s in large thanks to the pass rushing unit led by the best all-around defensive player of the 21st century.
Unfortunately for the rest of the NFC, Aaron Donald isn’t going anywhere—the Rams signed him to a three-year, $95 million contract this offseason. It’s not an extension, only a reward, as Donald was already signed for the next three years. In that way, it is kind of a “good thing” for Seattle, but the Rams having Aaron Donald is not a good thing.
Von Miller was a potent pass rushing weapon in the playoffs, but left for another large contract in his career, this time with the Bills. Leonard Floyd had 9.5 sacks, however I still don’t see him as a consistent weapon in that regard, he’s more of an opportunist.
I know the Rams very well and the short answer is that it all flows through Donald. Is there a player on the defense who could consistently be a great presence without Donald? Nose tackle Greg Gaines could be that guy, as he was really a disruptive force in the second half of the year, but I don’t think he’s going to regularly threaten the 8+ sack barrier.
Linebacker Terrell Lewis can’t stay healthy to save his career. Bobby Wagner isn’t going to total more than two or three sacks in a season. This is all about Aaron Donald.
And that’s proven to be extremely difficult for Seattle to stop over the last eight years, so why will that change in 2022?