In aftermath of Jaguars loss, Seahawks’ “Death Row” not ruthless enough

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Blake Bortles made big gains too often by having endless time to throw, with rare pressure and no sacks by Seattle on Sunday

Blake Bortles officially dropped back to pass 27 times in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ win over the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, but he was also s— well no, the Seahawks did not sack Bortles any times in the game (Bortles did scramble three times for two yards).

The sole quarterback hit got credited to Frank Clark, and though he was frustrated frequently by rookie left tackle Cam Robinson Clark did get crafty using spins, in-steps and variations of his bull rush to try to make his way toward Bortles. I also remember Michael Bennett sprinting after the Jaguars quarterback as Bortles rolled out to his right, but Bennett curiously decided to tag at Bortles’s feet rather than slam into the passer. I’m sure Bennett lost his balance on the play—Bortles with the 4.93 40-yard dash time isn’t exactly out of Bennett’s clocked-five-second speed, especially while trying to sort out traffic downfield—but he also may have been wary to avoid a penalty if Bortles got rid of the ball.

Anyway, there was precious little pressure on a guy who, back in August, wasn’t even supposed to start an NFL game the rest of his Jacksonville career because of how badly his footwork tended to disintegrate facing a rush, leading to some memorably bad passes. The lack of defensive line penetration allowed Bortles to repeatedly find open receivers crossing through the secondary, connecting on completions for 16, 18, 18, 23, 29 and 75 yards. These sorts of breakdowns are meant to be the antithesis of Pete Carroll-coached defense, a system designed to eliminate explosive plays (the Jaguars also had four runs longer than 12 yards).

Jacksonville has the fifth-best adjusted sack rate in the league according for the season according to Football Outsiders, with only 20 total quarterback takedowns allowed on the year, so give some credit to the blocking. But with second string players filling out the defensive backfield, Seattle’s attacking front of Bennett, Clark and Sheldon Richardson, with a hand from Quinton Jefferson, Branden Jackson and Marcus Smith, needed to be the superior force on the field Sunday and instead they disappeared—at least until the late game melees that saw both Richardson and Jefferson expelled. That need grew still greater when Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright both suffered injuries in the second half, leaving a defensive line already lacking Cliff Avril, Dion Jordan and Nazair Jones as the healthiest Seahawks group on that side of the ball.

The lack of sacks and pressures can also be partly explained by the fact the Jaguars ran only six plays in the third quarter, when they scored all three of their touchdowns—the defense as a whole was more effective in the other portions of the game. But whether Kris Richard should have been more creative in delivering stunts or disguising blitzes to challenge the Jacksonville offensive line or if the stars up front ought to have executed better, Seattle’s pass rush seemed discomfitingly absent on an afternoon that, after all, might have been decided by a punt return.

The Seahawks have now played four games when they sacked the opponent either zero times or just once, and they are 1-3 in those contests. Sacks aren’t everything, sometimes just making the passer move or hasten his timing can have significant influence on a game, but the Seattle defense too seldom did either of those things against the Jaguars. All quarterbacks get worse under a heavy rush, but both Jared Goff and Dak Prescott, the next passers the Seahawks will face, have been adept at avoiding mistakes when allowed to stand upright in the pocket this year.

To qualify for the postseason or hope for advancement, the pass rush unit has to be more productive in harassing quarterbacks and putting them on the turf, and it won’t help if the NFL disciplinary board makes most the most active talents spend extra time thinking about it. Missing out on football isn’t a lifetime sentence, but a playoffs without the Seahawks would give new meaning to the term Death Row.

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