Russ’s Rookie Year,
A Re-Look At The Season The Seahawks Gained A Super Star
Monday Night Football in the Pacific Northwest was usually a welcome proposition, with the Seattle Seahawks owning the all-time highest winning percentage of any team in the National Football League, at 73%. With the Seahawks coming off a monster win against the Dallas Cowboys, this overlooked squad had an opportunity to show America that winning football was back in the Pacific Northwest. Before the Hawks was quite the challenge. The Green Bay Packers were not far removed from their 2010 Super Bowl season, and their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, was the reigning NFL Most-Valuable-Player.
The Packers had not started the season in quite the fashion they had hoped. At 1-1, their MVP was still in top form, but their running game was weak. In week one, free agent acquisition Cedric Benson had generated only 18 yards on 9 attempts. In week two, he gained 80, solid production but hardly Earth-shattering. Defenses had picked up on the Packers’ over-reliance on Rodgers and were now ignoring the run in favor of pass. Due to such, Rodgers had already been dropped for eight sacks. The Seahawks planned to hit Rodgers in a similar fashion.
The Defensive Line Grounds Rodgers
Known as one of the best movers within the pocket, with an eerie ability to feel pressure at his blind side, Rodgers could often escape containment, scrambling into the open field. The Seahawks’ defense tasted an escaping Rodgers early. On the Packers’ first offensive play, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane fell down, allowing Rodgers to squeak free for a sixteen yard gain. Undoubtedly, Rodgers felt confident in his ability to manipulate the pocket against the Seahawks. This was a temporary conclusion. Plays later, first round draft pick Bruce Irvin sacked Rodgers in a way that signaled both a growing confidence not only in Irvin but in the defense itself.
The defense came out in a “dime” package, meaning the defense had six defensive backs. The goal for these three corners and three safeties was to flood the passing lanes, making it nearly impossible for Rodgers to reach quick throwing decisions. On the defensive line, the Seahawks chose to go with pass rushers Chris Clemons (91), Jason Jones (90) and Bruce Irvin (51). By choosing to decrease the usage of defensive tackles Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was sending a statement. He wasn’t afraid of Green Bay running the football.
Both offensive guards TJ Lang (70) and Josh Sitton (71) prepared themselves to cover a blitzing linebacker, either KJ Wright (50) or Leroy Hill (56). At the snap, neither linebacker came, dropping into coverage. This miscalculation left three offensive lineman—Lang, Sitton and center Jeff Saturday (63)—to handle Jason Jones, leaving Clemons and Irvin solo on offensive tackles Marshall Newhouse (74) and Bryan Bulaga (75). Irvin delivered an arm blow that sent Bulaga tumbling. With the Hawks having eight men in pass coverage, Aaron Rodgers (12) became frozen as he looked for an open receiver. He never felt Irvin until Irvin wrapped him up and took him down.
It was the first solo sack of Irvin’s career.
The Packers offense recovered, effectively moving the football and picking up momentum. Until Chris Clemons had possibly the greatest quarter of football of his life.
This sack was a representation of great hustle and containment across the entire defensive line. At the snap, Jones ran a stunt for Clemons. Jones got on the outside of Lang’s shoulders, successfully twisting Lang while chugging deep into the backfield, nullifying Newhouse. The vacancy allowed Clemons to sneak underneath, into the heart of the pocket. Rodgers escaped, but was intercepted by Irvin, who had forced Bulaga 10-yards backward. Irvin put a claw into Rodgers, allowing Clemons to catch up and bring the signal-caller down.
Coming out of a timeout, the Packers were 2nd and 27. It was a pass rushing down and, once again, the Seahawks had the trio of Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones on the field. At the snap, Clemons put a monstrous rush on Newhouse, using his agility to get underneath Newhouse’s pad level at the edge. Rodgers felt the backside pressure and stepped into the pocket. He made it to space, looking downfield. His opportunity was cut short. Jones had come off being double-teamed and was in hot pursuit. Rodgers barely avoided Jones, but was left in a compromising position. Clemons hunted Rodgers down from behind.
In total, Clemons had four sacks in the second quarter, with two of those sacks being on 3rd down.
Player Profile: Chris Clemons
6’3″, 255lb Chris Clemons was born in Griffin, Georgia to what can only be described as abject poverty. Raised without a father, Clemons went through stretches of his childhood without utilities and occasionally without food, in circumstances so porous Clemons rarely provided details about it. What Clemons made clear was his belief that he had only two opportunities. The hope for work at one of the local textile manufacturing plants or his dream of playing in the NFL. For the latter, Clemons had one connection that could give him the opportunity he so needed. His uncle, Charlie Clemons, was formerly a University of Georgia Bulldog, and after years of struggle, had finally found a home in the NFL, playing defense as a hybrid-linebacker for the St Louis Rams.
Clemons played three years at Georgia, becoming a linebacker when he noticed a lack of depth at the position. His final year was undoubtedly his best. The 2002 Bulldogs went 13-1 en route to defeating the Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl, finishing the year as the third best team in the nation. Due to what Clemons self-described as “academic issues,” he declared for the NFL draft a year earlier than many expected. Clemons was undrafted and was ultimately signed to the Washington Redskins, having a largely forgettable rookie season.
When incumbent coach Steve Spurrier resigned, new head coach Joe Gibbs hired Dale Lindsey as linebackers coach. Lindsey liked what he saw in Clemons. The two spent hours discussing the game, studying film and eventually bonding, with Clemons referring to Lindsey as a father-figure. Under Lindsey’s tutelage, Clemons rapidly developed as a player. By 2005, he had played his way onto the defense. Even though he was provided few snaps, he displayed a knack for pressuring the quarterback. However, an injury to his MCL cost him the rest of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
Healthy again, Clemons signed with the Oakland Raiders and switched positions, becoming a defensive end and centralizing his identity on pass rushing. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp helped Clemons greatly, giving Clemons feedback on his technique and execution. By season’s end, Clemons had generated eight sacks and had finally found his role in the pro-game. Moving onto the Philadelphia Eagles, Clemons closed the 2008 season by being named Week 17’s NFC Player of the Week.
In 2010, Clemons was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. During four seasons as a Hawk, Clemons tallied 38 sacks, including three consecutive seasons of over 10 sacks. Clemons played two more years with the Jacksonville Jaguars before retiring from football prior to the 2016 season.
Former NFL defensive tackle Nic Clemons is Chris Clemons’s brother.
In the third quarter, the Packers offense picked up. This drive began on the Packers’ 12-yard line and, ten plays later, they were on the Seahawks 22, needing only three yards for a first down. Cornerback Richard Sherman (25), who had held his own in single coverage all evening, read Finley moving to the inside and got his shoulders there first. By doing so, he fought off Finley’s attempt to create separation by rotating his own body. Using his long reach, Sherman deflected a for-sure catch from Finley’s hands.
The Offense Clicks…For One Play.
The Seahawks receivers had started the year poorly, and that start was not exactly surprising. The offseason had seen the Hawks give up on Mike Williams and try-out Terrell Owens. Finally, the team had settled on another troubled wide-receiver, Braylon Edwards, hoping to find anyone who could cement the number-two spot beside Sidney Rice. By week 3, the Seahawks were running out of options and out of patience and were ready to hand the keys to third-year receiver, Golden Tate.
Having run the ball consistently, the Seahawks wanted to use the play action to generate a big play. Prior to the snap, the Packers were playing with safety Morgan Burnett (42) high and safety Charles Woodson low (21). Linebacker AJ Hawk (50) was speaking with Woodson about who would account for the two tight ends on the bottom side of the formation, Zach Miller (86) and Anthony McCoy (85). Hawk decided to take on Miller, with Woodson taking on McCoy. Quarterback Russell Wilson (3) used a foot tap to signal Miller into motion. By moving Miller, the Packers were forced to make a coverage adjustment. Burnett came down low on Miller and safety Charles Woodson (21) abandoned his coverage to play deep safety.
At the snap, linebacker AJ Hawk (50) crashed to the line of scrimmage, having never deduced that, with Woodson having retreated, he was now the coverage assignment for McCoy. McCoy ran right by him and into the open field. With Woodson now forced to cover for Hawk, he had to play up, using his speed to close on McCoy. By doing so, cornerback Tramon Williams (38) was left alone on Golden Tate (81). Williams had expected inside-help on Tate. It never came.
Oh, and Wilson threw one hell of a pass.
What happened on this play was almost less important than what didn’t happen. There was no false start, no delay of game, no massive blocking breakdown, and no incorrect and/or poor route running. Everyone knew their jobs, focused on their jobs, and executed their jobs. If only the same could be said for the rest of the game. The offense struggled, much of its wounds being self-inflicted. Once again, the unit was responsible for a mess of unforced penalties, led by left guard Russell Okung. Okung had returned to action after a week two absence and brought with him a false start and a holding penalty. Tight end Anthony McCoy had two false starts. Quarterback Russell Wilson added another delay of game penalty.
Facing these challenges, the burden fell to Marshawn Lynch, who carried the ball 25 times for 98 yards. Wilson joined him, adding 3 rushes for 18 yards. Thus far, Wilson had proven himself to be an efficient runner. On only 12 carries, he had gained forty-eight yards. With Green Bay having shut down the passing game, the offense needed a way to utilize the threat of Wilson and Lynch as a ground combination.
The Hawks were playing two tight ends, each book ending the offensive line, and a fullback in the backfield. Wilson faked a fullback hand off to Michael Robinson (26), but both did a mediocre job of selling the exchange, giving the cornerback Williams a clear line of sight to the ball. Williams initially fell for the fake, taking a three large steps in, but adjusted with enough time to interrupt Wilson’s ability to toss the ball to Lynch. Wilson tucked it in and ran into tacklers.
The play failed, but the groundwork was there. The offense was looking for solutions, and this test had made one point painfully obvious. If the Seahawks were going to use a running attack that required fake hand offs, those fakes better be convincing.
According to sportingcharts.com, the average NFL football game contained about 13 penalties. On Monday night, the Seahawks and the Packers incurred 24 penalties for 245 yards.
Several of the calls were controversial and became part of an extended discussion involving replacement officials.
Prior to the 2012 season, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association were unable to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. The failure of negotiations led to the NFL locking-out its officials. For many, this posed questions about the quality of officiating for the 2012 NFL season. For one, NFL officials were the premiere officials in America, usually having over a decade of officiating experience. Because the NFL required aspiring officials to be so seasoned, many already had jobs in college football and were unlikely to risk those jobs for a temporary gig at the pro-level. As a consequence, the talent pool the NFL was reaching into for its replacements was sub-par.
In only two weeks, controversy had engulfed the replacement officials, including mistakes that granted the Seahawks a timeout they did not have in week 1, and incorrectly assessing penalty yardage that gave the Detroit Lions the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal over the Tennessee Titans. Despite these errors, the NFL seemed content to maintain the lockout.
On September 24th, 2012, during a nationally televised game, with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks were 4th and 10 on their own 24-yard line and in need of a touchdown to win. Wilson retreated backward, buying his receivers time to reach the end zone. He was back at his own forty when he released the throw. Golden Tate completed one of the most controversial touchdowns in league history, with one official signaling a touchback while a second signaled a touchdown. For this reason, many referred to the final play as, “The Fail Mary.”
On September 26th, the lockout was ended after the NFL reached a new labor agreement with the Referees Association.
If it was a catch or an interception was highly debated, with each side having solid points to their argument. What stood out, though, was how unnecessary the interception was, as Green Bay already had the lead and the game clock was double-zero. All M.D. Jennings (43) had to do was bat down the ball and Green Bay would’ve sealed the victory. By choosing to attempt the interception, Tate had the opportunity to establish possession. Upon closer examination, it did appear Tate had his left arm inside the chest of Jennings and was fully grasping the ball. Tate landed with both his feet inbounds and in control of the ball before Jennings did.
The call could’ve gone either way, and it went the way the Seahawks needed it to.
For the next week, media coverage of the game and the Seahawks hit levels not seen in years. The team was now on the radar. Now, it needed to stay there.