I can understand if Seahawks fans are a little dejected. Their team came literally inches away from winning not only the game over the 49ers, but also the division. While I’m not generally receptive to moral victories, I will say there were a few bright spots in Week 17 (hello, Beast Mode!) that should help the Seahawks faithful keep hope alive heading into their road playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
In particular, one play near the end of the game could be a harbinger of positive developments in Philly. I would bet not many people even paid much attention to the play in question.
The 49ers were facing a third-and-17 from their own 14-yard line, nursing a five-point lead with just under three minutes left in the game. The safe assumption was that the 49ers would play it conservatively. Jimmy Garoppolo dumped the ball off well short of the sticks to Raheem Mostert, who just about converted it before getting tackled for a gain of 16 yards.
What was positive for the Seahawks about that play, other than watching their guys busting their asses to catch up to Mostert before he could get a first down, was why Garoppolo had to dump the ball off.
The first reason was that Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was lined up on the right defensive edge and came off the ball low and hard on the snap, then lowered his pads as he exploded into 49ers left tackle Joe Staley while avoiding an attempted chip block by George Kittle. Clowney slammed into Staley with so much force that Staley’s knees appeared to buckle a little, and when Staley tried to dig in to stop Clowney from pushing him right back into Garoppolo, Clowney quickly transitioned to a snatch with his outside (right) hand and an arm-over with his inside (left) arm.
Feeling Clowney storming in from his blind side, Garoppolo tried to step up into the pocket and almost ran himself right into reason number two: defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Ansah was lined up on the left defensive edge, and he had slammed into right tackle Mike McGlinchey in a similarly violent fashion, knocking McGlinchey back almost four yards on contact. Had it not been for Mostert successfully chipping Ansah on his outside edge and blunting his momentum, McGlinchey might’ve ended up with cleat marks on his chest.
Instead, with Ansah crouching there while keeping McGlinchey at arm’s length and ready to pounce, Garoppolo made the wise decision to just throw the ball to Mostert and live to fight another day. Even then, Ansah stuck his big paw up and almost got his hands on the ball at the line of scrimmage.
See, that play showed just the kind of damage that duo can do when they are both at least relatively healthy. Judging by how Ansah and Clowney played on Sunday against the 49ers, I would venture to say this might be the healthiest they have been at the same time all season.
Clowney and Ansah have a lot in common in their careers — including injuries
Truth be told, I had been expecting a lot more quarterback sandwiches from that tandem. I’ve been a Clowney fan since I first did his draft profile way back when, and after his big game against the 49ers earlier this season, I wrote about his immense potential in the Seahawks’ scheme and the growth he had already shown as a pass rusher in his short time there. Unfortunately, he injured himself in that game, just when it looked like he was really about to take off, sacks wise.
I’ll tell you what, though: If Sunday was any indication of the type of performance we can expect from Clowney in the playoffs, that will be more than enough against the Eagles.
At the same time, Ansah is the one who has already reached double-digit sacks in a season. In fact, he’s done it twice. Admittedly, Ansah has had some big swings in production, but he’s the real deal. When healthy, I’ve seen him make plays as impressive as any Clowney has made in the NFL.
The crazy thing is Ansah is one of the few defensive ends in the league who could stand next to Clowney and make him look like the younger brother.
Imagine thinking you’re an offensive lineman and you see Clowney going out of the game and you’re like, “whew, I get a breather,” then you look up and see the bigger and just as destructive Ansah jogging in the game to replace him.
Clowney and Ansah are also similar in that you really have to watch them play to get a feel for their impact on a game. While Ansah isn’t quite as quick laterally as Clowney, he can do a lot of the same things as Clowney, like dropping into coverage, blitzing from linebacker depth, or moving around up front and pass rushing on the interior. That means a lot of times Ansah will be a wrecking ball, setting up his teammates to make the play after taking out the blockers.
Both of those guys have this aggressive brand of physicality that they bring to the game. They just keep pounding and pounding until the dam breaks and they knock your quarterback on his ass a few times. Even if you are skilled or lucky enough to keep them from getting a sack, you’re still going to feel it the next day if you have to try to block those cats for four quarters.
But, that’s when they’re at least relatively healthy. There is no denying that injuries have had a limiting effect on both of their careers.
That injury bug caught up to the both of them again this season. After a shoulder injury restricted Ansah to just seven games last season, the Lions decided to let him walk and he ended up signing a one-year deal with Seattle. Ansah missed five games with ankle and neck injuries and has only had one start all year. Even when he has been active, he hasn’t always looked like the dominant player I’m used to seeing every game.
Clowney, on the other hand, didn’t sign the franchise tender offered by the Texans, who then traded him to Seattle in a deal that got him a fat salary for 2019. So Clowney has been basically playing on a “prove it” deal, too. Due to a nagging core injury, he missed several games, and while he has gotten a ton of pressure on the quarterback, the sack numbers just haven’t come.
Between Clowney and Ansah, they have a grand total of 5.5 sacks combined. As an old defensive lineman myself, I know as well as anybody that sacks, by themselves, never tell the *whole* story when it comes to a pass rusher’s performance.
You know what, though? Both Ansah and Clowney have the perfect opportunity to swing public perception back in their favor if they show their ass in the playoffs, and I think that’s just what they’re going to do.
Here’s why Clowney and Ansah can feast against the Eagles
Keep in mind that these guys were only active for nine games together this season. And, again, sometimes one or both of them weren’t close to being healthy.
But, back to this bright spot: Do you remember Ansah’s big game he had in Week 12 against the ... Philadelphia Eagles? If you didn’t remember, don’t worry, neither did I at first. But then I was reminded by this tweet that Ansah had pushed Jason Peters around in that game. I was just blown away with how easy Ansah made it look the two times he basically just decided to run through Peters’ chest. You just don’t see guys moving Peters like that ... ever.
But don’t get it twisted, Ansah had smoke for everybody in that game. In addition to the 1.5 sacks he was credited with (which is some pretty absurd production considering he was only in for 37 plays), Ansah also ran right over Eagles first-round right tackle Andre Dillard and Allen Iverson’d him on the way to the quarterback. Then, when Ansah got to Carson Wentz, he used his outside (left) hand to grab Wentz’s wrist before he could make a forward throwing motion, forcing a fumble which the Seahawks recovered.
But then it turned out someone in the Seattle secondary had been flagged for holding, which negated the play — on paper, at least. It still happened, though, and it could damn sure happen again this weekend.
And if you’re wondering, yes, that was a game that Clowney missed.
I realize that both Clowney and Ansah still aren’t close to actually being 100 percent, but then again, damn near nobody is this time of the year. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that the Seahawks have been limiting Ansah’s game reps all year to make sure he is ready to go for the playoffs so they can really unleash him.
I feel like more of Ansah could make a huge difference with that defense.
All I’m saying is the Philadelphia offensive line, which is already banged up, is going to have its hands full. Can you imagine being Wentz in the shotgun on third down? You hike the ball and try to run away from Godzilla chasing you on one side, then end up getting blasted by King Ghidorah from the other. Well, I have a feeling you will get to see the real thing live on Sunday afternoon.
But there isn’t much the Eagles can do. Dread it, run from it, destiny still arrives all the same. And those two monsters are going to eat on Sunday.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Seahawks will definitely win. There are still a lot of question marks elsewhere. What I am saying is this atomic ass-whupping that Clowney and Ansah are about to hand out to the Eagles up front is inevitable.
That is my pass-rushing prediction for the Wild Card Round in Philly. There’s going to be pain, and lots of it for Wentz and anybody else who gets in Ansah and Clowney’s way.