SEATTLE — Jadeveon Clowney and Duane Brown were all smiles as they walked off the CenturyLink Field turf side by side Sunday afternoon following the Seattle Seahawks’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
And why not? Sunday’s game was an indication of just what Clowney’s addition is going to mean for the Seahawks.
Seattle unwrapped its newest Christmas present Sunday when Clowney made his Seahawks debut in a 21-20 victory over the Bengals, and Clowney’s presence had just the effect Seattle was looking for when it acquired the three-time Pro Bowl defensive end from the Houston Texans last week.
“He was making plays,” said Brown, Seattle’s starting left tackle who was teammates with Clowney in Houston from 2014-17. “He creates pressure, he runs quarterbacks out of the pocket, he plays hard. He’s still a little rusty, he’s only been in football for a week now, so he’s just getting his timing down with his moves and hands, things like that. But it was a great effort for his first time out.”
The pass rush off the edge was Seattle’s biggest area of concern this offseason following the trade of Frank Clark to Kansas City. The Seahawks addressed the issue first by drafting L.J. Collier in the first round, then signing former Pro Bowler Ziggy Ansah, and finally by pulling off the coup of trading for Clowney, a former first-overall draft pick.
But Collier and Ansah were both sidelined Sunday as they continue to recover from injuries, putting all the spotlight on Clowney as the new face of Seattle’s pass rush.
“It felt good,” Clowney said about his Seattle debut. “Today I didn’t even think I was going to play that much, I was just trying to go out there to knock some of the rust off and get going, try to make some plays for my team. For me to force the play for other guys around the ball was great.”
The plan was to ease Clowney into action because he only had a week of practices under his belt after holding out from the Texans all of training camp and preseason. Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green started at defensive end for the Seahawks, and Clowney was supposed to rotate in. But Clowney came onto the field on the game’s third play and was a regular presence the rest of the way, featuring on all downs and in all situations.
“They were saying 20-something snaps,” Clowney said. “I don’t know how many I had, but it was probably past 20-something.”
Indeed, by my count Clowney was on the field for 45 of Cincinnati’s 70 offensive plays. He lined up regularly at both ends ends — 28 on the right, 16 on the left — generally on the strong side. Only once did he line up inside as a stand-up rusher, something he did frequently while playing in Houston’s 3-4 defense.
Clowney’s final numbers were modest — two tackles, one sack, one pass defensed. But he was a major presence from the moment he stepped onto the field, with his quickness off the ball and strength on the rush causing the Bengals headaches. On just his second play he thwarted an attempted screen by batting down Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton’s pass; on his fourth play his penetration forced Bengals tight end Drew Sample into a holding penalty; on his sixth play he shot the gap and shared a tackle for a loss with K.J. Wright. He had moments where his pressure forced Dalton to get rid of the ball before he wanted, and he had moments where he drew a double team and opened up space for the likes of Jefferson, who had a career day with two sacks and two batted passes.
Clowney even had his first sack in a Seahawks jersey, when he forced Dalton out of bounds midway through the fourth quarter while the Bengals were in the red zone — though the sack was as much due to the coverage as it was due to Clowney.
In total the Seahawks had four sacks, and it illustrates how Clowney can make a difference even when he isn’t the one making all the plays.
“I love it!” Jefferson said about Clowney drawing the primary attention of blockers. “Everybody go slant to him, I’m trying to do my thing. But it’s going to be fun, man. He’s going to get his, too.”
Clowney’s effect on the game waned as the game progressed. Part of it was because the Bengals either ran the ball away from him or because Dalton got rid of the ball quickly. Part of it may also have been Clowney feeling the effects of a lack of preseason — though he disputed that possibility.
“I felt good,” Clowney said. “We had a great rotation, a great group of guys who can sub in and play on any down, and that’s what’s good about this team.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the season,” Clowney added. “It’s a long season, you don’t want to peak right now, you just want to keep getting better throughout the season.”
Clowney still made his presence felt in his first game for the Seahawks. The frightening thing? There’s more and better to come.
“Absolutely,” agreed Brown, who would know as well as anyone. “He’ll get a lot better.”
And that means there will be fewer smiles for Seattle’s future opponents.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.