With just one week to prepare after holding out of training camp and the preseason with the Texans, the Seahawks hoped to ease newly acquired defensive end Jadeveon Clowney back into action in Sunday’s season opener.
But Seattle’s offense sputtered out of the gate with three straight quick possessions that ended with a Michael Dickson punt, forcing the defense to spend most of the first half on the field. Cincinnati held onto the ball for nearly 11 minutes in the first quarter alone, running 19 offensive plays while Seattle ran just eight.
With Ezekiel Ansah held out for one more week as a precautionary measure and L.J. Collier also inactive, the lack of depth made playing Clowney more than expected a necessity for the Seahawks to win the game. He wound up playing in 48 of the team’s 77 defensive snaps, more than coach Pete Carroll and his staff planned.
“He went a little more than we thought. But he was fine, he felt good about it.” Carroll told reporters following the game. “We really knew we would have to play it by ear. I think he had 20-something snaps in the first half, which was not really the plan, but we were just out there so much because we didn’t get much of offense at all.”
With the ramped-up workload, Clowney admitted to being rusty from a footwork and technique standpoint. But though he made just two tackles in his debut, the stat sheet doesn’t indicate the overall impact he made for Seattle’s defensive line on Sunday.
Early on, Clowney had his way with left tackle Andre Smith, forcing Andy Dalton to unload the football quickly on several occasions. On Cincinnati’s first drive of the game, he snuffed out a screen and nearly intercepted the pass on third down, forcing a Kevin Huber punt.
“He did some stuff.” Carroll said while referencing the pass deflection. “It was great to have him out there.”
Along with holding serve as a run defender and helping Seattle hold Cincinnati to 34 rushing yards, Clowney also came through in the clutch as a pass rusher when his team needed a crucial stop in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 21-17 after a Tyler Lockett touchdown reception put the Seahawks back in front, the Bengals went on a long, methodical drive and advanced the ball all the way to Seattle’s four-yard line. After a holding penalty on Smith, Clowney chased down Dalton as he scrambled to his left, bringing him down near the sideline for his first sack of the season.
Unable to compensate for penalty yardage and Clowney’s sack, Cincinnati eventually had to settle for a short Randy Bullock field goal and didn’t threaten to score again.
Heading into next week’s road test against the Steelers, the Seahawks hope to have Ansah and/or Collier available as part of their defensive line rotation. But if one or both can’t go, Carroll isn’t concerned about Clowney being able to handle more snaps moving forward as long as the team takes care of him.
“He’s 26 years old, he’s ready to go and all that. We’ll see. He’ll be pretty sore this week.”