The addition of Carlos Dunlap and a defensive scheme heavier on blitzes than just about any time during the Pete Carroll era has transformed the Seahawks’ pass rush seemingly overnight.
After getting nine sacks in the first six games of the season, the Seahawks have racked up 16 sacks in the last four games. And in the three games since Dunlap first moved into the lineup, they have 13 — second-most in the NFL in that span behind the 18 of New Orleans, getting at least three in each game.
Even the Seahawks’ 13 in the last three games would be the second most over the last four games (Pittsburgh’s 12 in the last four games is third behind the Seahawks and Saints).
And on Monday night, the Seahawks face the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, who are facing even more changes on an offensive line and has allowed an NFL-high 40 sacks to QB Carson Wentz in 10 games.
The Eagles learned this week that veteran tackle Lane Johnson is done for the year due to an ankle injury. That means even more shuffling of the Eagles’ line with Philly set to start its 10th different offensive line configuration in 11 games this season.
The Eagles are moving third-year player Jordan Mailata into a starting role at left tackle with second-year player Matt Pryor taking over at right tackle and veteran Jason Peters moving to right guard.
Mailata has just five career starts and Pryor six in the regular season (Pryor also got a start at guard last year against the Seahawks in the wild-card playoff game).
Some Eagles observers think the moves could give the Eagles a better offensive line than it has had in recent games when Johnson has been hobbling and with Peters struggling at tackle.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson put a happy face on it Saturday when he spoke to reporters, noting that the young players have played considerably well this season.
“It is a challenge to get that continuity and consistency but having played together gives them the confidence to play as a unit,’’ Pederson said. “Quite frankly, we can’t worry about that. Obviously, Seattle and the rest of our opponents won’t worry about that. We still have to go play and execute.”
But on the surface, the Seahawks going against two relatively inexperienced tackles and an already struggling offensive line would seem like another chance for the revived pass rush to shine.
Dunlap and safety Jamal Adams have 3.5 sacks in the last three games to spark the Seahawks’ pass rush. Dunlap got his the traditional way — by beating an offensive tackle with a rush — and Adams hot his on blitzes, something the Seahawks have done with increasing frequency this season.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Seahawks are blitzing 34% of the time this season, the ninth-highest percentage in the NFL.
Two years ago, the Seahawks blitzed on just 18% of plays, via PFR, and 27% last year. Those numbers were more in keeping with the usual ratios during the team’s Legion of Boom heyday (23% in 2014, for instance).
The addition of Adams, and wanting to maximize his obvious pass-rush talents, has been a big factor in blitzing more. The Seahawks have pushed to improve on last year’s low sack total of 28, which was the second-fewest in the NFL.
But blitzing comes with the risk of giving up big plays, something that may be more abhorrent to coach Carroll than just about anything else. Ideally, the Seahawks will be able to continue getting a good pass rush while not exposing its secondary quite as much.
That’s where Dunlap comes in.
Dunlap’s arrival not only gives the Seahawks an elite rusher but also helps other players on defense.
One of those is veteran Benson Mayowa, who returned last week from missing three games with an injured ankle to play 18 snaps against Arizona and figures to see more time against the Eagles.
But maybe not too much more time.
Mayowa was the team’s primary LEO, or rush end, during the first six games of the season, playing at least 63% of the snaps in every game.
But that was more than the Seahawks wanted.
When the Seahawks signed Mayowa to a one-year, $3.05 million deal in the spring — bringing him back to the team he started his career with in 2013 — they also anticipated having Bruce Irvin able to play rush end on passing downs, and they thought that second-round pick Darrell Taylor would also play a significant role.
Instead, Taylor has yet to even practice while dealing with a leg injury, and Irvin suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game.
That threw a heavier load than expected on Mayowa, who had two sacks in six games but the team feels he may be more effective when used in smaller doses.
With Dunlap around and Mayowa healthy, the Seahawks may finally be able to unveil the kind of pass-rush rotation off the edge they hoped for all along.
“We’ve always liked Benson in being able to rotate him for passing situations, to keep his freshness and speed and explosion up and all that,’’ Carroll said Saturday. “I would like to keep it going like that and keep him where he’s really attentive to all of the third downs and nickel situations and two-minute situations, so that we can highlight him and so he can play on one side and Carlos can play on the other.
“So that’s kind of how we’re looking at it. But he’s ready to play at any time and as often (as needed) to get through it and keep the rotation alive at the LEO spot with Carlos.’’
Monday night appears to represent a golden opportunity to keep their recent pass rush resurgence alive, as well.