Things I don’t know: 1) Whether Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney’s hit on Carson Wentz warranted a flag, ejection and/or a fine; 2) whether that hit was the difference in the Seahawks beating the Eagles on Sunday; and 3) whether there was any intent on Clowney’s part beyond simply making a tackle.
Thing I know: When Clowney is healthy, he has had more impact on the Seahawks’ success than anybody not named Russell Wilson.
The most nationally discussed story line out of Seattle’s 17-9 playoff win over Philadelphia on Sunday was Clowney concussing Wentz on the Eagles’ second drive. It appeared Clowney led with his helmet, which many think should have warranted a targeting penalty and/or an ejection, but because Wentz didn’t give himself up, referee Shawn Smith deemed it incidental contact.
The Eagles, unsurprisingly, didn’t buy this ruling. Neither did former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, who called the hit a “cheap shot” during which Clowney was trying to “needlessly punish” Wentz, who left the game and didn’t return. This has been debated on every sports-talk show you can think of, as some analysts concluded that Philly would have won had Wentz been healthy.
Maybe. Backup Josh McCown still went 18 for 24 for 174 yards with no turnovers, and the Eagles scored just as many points as the previous time they played Seattle. So you’d need a deity to tell you if the outcome would have actually been different, and none has responded to requests for comment.
But all of that detracts from the larger point: That Clowney — as Sunday’s game reinforced — has been borderline mythical when on the field for Seattle.
What stood out about the pass rush Sunday? Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was asked.
“Jadeveon Clowney was really a factor,” he said. “You saw everybody was active. If there’s one thing, though, I think his impact was really noticeable.”
His impact was pretty noticeable the second he arrived in Seattle. He had a batted ball two minutes into the Seahawks’ Week 1 win over the Bengals and added a sack. He returned an interception for a touchdown against the Cardinals three weeks later, and after that forced a fumble and recovered it vs. the Rams.
He had a highlight reel reminiscent of his SEC days in the Seahawks’ first game against San Francisco, when he tallied a sack, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a recovery. It was that night when it became apparent the move to acquire him had clearly paid off, and as a pending free agent, the night that guaranteed Clowney will get paid.
But perhaps the best measure of his influence comes in the games in which he didn’t play or was limited. Is it a coincidence the Cardinals smashed the Seahawks in Seattle when Clowney was out because of an injury? How about the losses to the Rams and Niners, when he played just 59% and 66% of the snaps, respectively?
Next Gen Stats shows that, with Clowney in the game, Seattle’s defense pressures quarterbacks at a rate of 24.6%, with a 4.8% sack rate. Without him, it pressures QBs at a 17.5% rate with a 3.9% sack rate.
Perhaps you see the mere three sacks he had in the regular season and think he isn’t driving offensive linemen bonkers. But Clowney also is constantly drawing double-teams while making plays on the ball in a manner that makes him one of the most distinct defensive forces in the NFL.
Is he the best in the league at his position like Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner? No. But considering how critical having a monster on the edge is to winning in today’s game, there is nobody on that side of the ball more crucial for Seattle than Clowney.
We don’t yet know if there will be a fine from the NFL for Clowney’s hit, but there will not be a suspension. And given the nature of the modern-day news cycle, that play on Wentz should be out of it by Sunday.
But Clowney likely will make headlines again for what he achieves on the field against the Packers. Whether it comes with controversy or not, he has been a nightmare for opposing teams.