Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett sacks Rams quarterback Jared Goff on Thursday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Seahawks sacked Goff four times in the game. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett sacks Rams quarterback Jared Goff on Thursday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. The Seahawks sacked Goff four times in the game. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Seahawks’ pass rush goes from dormant to dominant

SEATTLE — As Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff dropped back after taking his first snap of the third quarter, Cliff Avril beat Rams offensive lineman Rob Havenstein around the left edge and stripped Goff of the football deep inside L.A. territory.

Goff, the Rams’ rookie signal-caller, recovered for a loss of 7 yards, but Avril was credited with his second sack of the game.

That pushed Avril’s season total to a career-high 11.5 sacks, a particularly poignant statistic given that the veteran defensive end has pledged to build a house in Haiti for each sack he records this season.

“That’s my job, to get sacks and make the plays I’m supposed to make,” said Avril, who had not recorded a sack since Seattle’s 26-15 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 20. “So when you go a few weeks without getting (any sacks), it can get frustrating.”

For Seahawks fans it signaled the return of a pass rush that had been dominant for the first half of the 2016 season, only to go dormant in recent games.

In fact, the Seahawks recorded just one sack in their previous three games and that came when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers fell down in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 38-10 loss at Lambeau Field. That sack prevented what would have been a unprecedented three-game stretch in the Pete Carroll era without a sack.

“Last week showed if we don’t do our job as defensive lineman, look at what can happen,” Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark said. “We saw a very embarrassing loss out there in Green Bay, but they deserve lots of credit. It’s no disrespect to them. They’re a great team. But it shows without the pass rush, without that same type of effort, it’s not going to get done for us as a team as a whole.”

Seattle found the perfect whipping boy in Goff, the first overall pick in April’s NFL draft out of Cal, who has struggled since replacing Case Keenum under center prior to the Rams’ Nov. 20 loss to Miami.

The key was getting to Goff early, and Clark did that when he brought down Goff for a loss of 9 on the Rams’ initial third down less than a minute into the contest.

“No quarterback wants to get hit,” said Avril, who along with Clark finished with 1.5 sacks. “So I think putting pressure on him, making him move his feet in the pocket, that’s always going to worry him a little bit and think about the rush more so than the guys downfield. It works hand-in-hand. The guys on the back end were doing a good job as well.”

Cassius Marsh added another sack as the Hawks finished with eight tackles for loss. It was the type of performance Seattle fans have grown used to seeing from a defense that piled up 27 sacks in the first eight games of the season.

“We definitely got better results,” Marsh said. “We had some more opportunities and we took advantage of those opportunities to rush the passer. Obviously we were able to get home four or five times, get some hits, have him move around. We’re happy, but not satisfied, and we’ll get back to work on Monday.”

The Rams’ best opportunity to find the end zone came on their second drive of the game. Michael Thomas got behind the Seattle secondary, but dropped what might have been a 59-yard touchdown pass. Then, with Los Angeles facing third-and-1 at the Seattle 7-yard line, Goff’s pass attempt was behind a wide-open Brian Quick. The Rams attempted to go for it on fourth down. Todd Gurley was initially ruled to have gained the necessary yard, but it was overturned when Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll successfully used his second challenge of the game.

Seattle took over at its own 7 and finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Luke Willson at 12:27 in the second quarter.

It didn’t get much better for Los Angeles after that. The Rams’ lone points came on a 36-yard field goal with 59 seconds to go in the first half.

Goff eventually left the game with nine minutes to play and was evaluated for a possible concussion after taking a shot from Richard Sherman at the Seahawks 2-yard line. The play was negated for holding and Goff finished 13-for-25 for 135 yards before he was removed for Keenum.

“I think we showed how good we can be,” Avril said. “There’s definitely room for improvement on a few things, missed tackles, more sacks, different things like that.

“But I definitely feel like we took a step forward for sure.”

Follow Herald Writer Jesse Geleynse on Twitter.

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