By Chris Cluff
The Seahawks have not been a great pressure team this season, but what little angst they have created among opposing passers has generally been the product of Chris Clemons, who led the team with 11.5 sacks.
They certainly will miss him as they continue through the playoffs.
Early reports turned out to be true: Clemons suffered a torn left ACL in the 24-14 win over Washington at FedEx Field. He also has a torn meniscus.
“It’s a big loss for us in a lot of ways,” coach Pete Carroll told reporters. “Chris has been a great football player. He’s just been a symbol of consistency for the years we’ve had him. But he’s been a great leader for us, too. And a tough dude.”
Carroll refused to blame the terrible turf on Washington’s field for causing Clemons’ injury.
“I don’t know that,” he said. “As he planted, there was a push on him by the offensive lineman that kind of hit simultaneous as his foot planted, and he got caught. I don’t know that. The field was not a great turf to play on. There was a lot of loose footing out there.”
Clemons has 33.5 sacks in three years in Seattle. His 11.5 sacks this season were nearly a third of the team’s 36-sack total. He also had a sack and forced fumble against Washington on Sunday, although it was nullified by a penalty on Brandon Browner.
First-round pick Bruce Irvin, who was second on the team with eight sacks, will move into the starting lineup. He stepped in after Clemons was hurt in the third quarter Sunday, and Irvin came up with a big sack of Robert Griffin III that set the Redskins back at their 12-yard line. Griffin’s knee gave out on the next play as he tried to pick up an errant snap, and the Hawks recovered and ended up with a field goal to close the scoring.
Irvin also later batted down a pass attempt by Kirk Cousins.
The Hawks were criticized by many for reaching to draft Irvin in the first round. He hasn’t been a star, but he has been effective at times in the role Carroll and Gus Bradley set for him. Now he will have to show whether he can be the every-down end Clemons has been.
“This is Bruce’s opportunity,” Carroll said. “It’s what we drafted him to play. And we’ll see how he does. We expect him to do really well as he steps up.”
Irvin credited Clemons for tutoring him through the season, tweeting (edited version), “If Clem is out, I think he has done enough these past 20 weeks of getting me ready for situations like this. I will be fine, people!”
Rookie Greg Scruggs will play even more as well, and Carroll told reporters that linebacker Mike Morgan might be used to provide pass rush off the edge.
Bradley is loath to blitz on the road especially, but the Hawks are going to have to get pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on Sunday. They can’t rely on Irvin to do it alone.
On top of that, the Hawks will miss Clemons’ ability against the run.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.