RENTON — Nothing helps a defense like a quarterback under duress.
That explains why elite pass rushers are among the game’s highest-paid players, and it also explains why, in football more than any other sport, home-field advantage is a very real thing. There’s a reason why the Seahawks’ def
ense looked better last week than it did in the first two games, which were on the road.
“When the offense can’t communicate with each other and the offensive line has to get off on my first step or (Chris) Clemons’ first step, that’s a great advantage for us,” said defensive end Raheem Brock, who teamed with fellow end Clemons for 20 sacks last season.
And when the Seahawks face Atlanta today, they’ll have a much better shot at keeping the Falcons in check if quarterback Matt Ryan spends a good portion of the day on his back or running for his life.
“It’s so important to have the quarterback under pressure,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s the brains of the whole thing and you need to affect the way he’s thinking and what he’s seeing as much as you can. The number one way to do it is pressure
“It’s enormously important and we have to do whatever it takes to get that guy. … It’s real obvious that that’s a key to how we play our defense.”
The good news for Seattle is that Atlanta, after allowing just 23 sacks all of last season, has allowed 13 already through three games. And the Falcons’ offensive line struggles should benefit Clemons as much as anyone. Clemons, who Seattle acquired in a trade with Philadelphia last season, was one of Seattle’s pleasant surprises in 2010. In his first season as a starter, the former Redskin, Raider and Eagle piled up a career-high 11 sacks, the most by a Seahawk since Patrick Kerney had 14.5 in 2007.
After playing at less than full strength because of an ankle injury in the first two weeks, Clemons was back and as disruptive as ever last weekend, coming up with one sack while creating another and making several other big plays that helped lead Seattle to its first victory this season. After not making a huge impact in the first two games, Clemons was the most disruptive player on the field last weekend, and it’s hardly a coincidence that it was also the best performance of the season for the defense.
“He had an excellent football game and he really looked like he was flying,” Carroll said. “I said that to you guys a couple weeks ago that it didn’t look like he was quite back yet. He looked like it yesterday. This was the guy that we watched last year and he was on fire. I thought he had a very, very good game.”
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said that, in addition to the impact as a pass rusher, Clemons is also making his mark as a leader on a young defense. That’s a marked change from the player Clemons was as a teenager at Georgia’s Griffin High School
“He was the kind of kid who kept to himself,” said Griffin coach Steve Devoursney, who was the school’s defensive coordinator when Clemons played there. “You had to speak to him. He wasn’t going to go out of his way to speak to you.”
And leader or not, Clemons still isn’t speaking to everyone — he turned down multiple media interview requests for three straight days this week. But while he isn’t in a talkative mood around reporters — other than to offer excuses like, “I don’t speak English” — Clemons’ game has done plenty of talking for him ever since he got to Seattle.
After entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia in 2003, Clemons has bounced from Washington to Oakland to Philadelphia, never finding a good fit. He did have eight sacks in his one season in Oakland, but ended up in Philadelphia the next year.
With the Seahawks rebuilding under Carroll last offseason, the Eagles inquired about defensive end Darryl Tapp, and in what turned out to be a steal of a trade, Seattle got not only Clemons, but also a fourth-round pick for Tapp. And like other players who have thrived given a fresh start under Carroll — Mike Williams and Red Bryant last year, and Alan Branch and Brandon Browner this season, to name a few — Clemons has made the most of his latest opportunity.
“He was always a good pass rusher, but there are certain situations you can’t control,” said Brock, who has also thrived in a new setting. “All you can do is take advantage of the little bit of opportunity that you get, and he’s in a great situation .We’re both in a great situation right now and we’re just trying to take advantage of it.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog