Jadeveon Clowney wasn’t fully satisfied with his first game in eight months.
“Yeah,” he said. “I felt like I was still knocking some rust off. …Technique. Learning the playbook…
“I expect myself to play better next week.”
Thing is, what was “rust” to Clowney was shiny and new compared to what Seattle’s defensive line was looking like before he got here last week.
Or do you want Cassius Marsh to be starting at pass-rushing end instead?
The Seahawks’ new bookend edge rusher who arrived in a trade with Houston a week earlier exceeded expectations in multiple ways in Sunday’s opener at CenturyLink Field, a 21-20 victory over Cincinnati.
First, and most noticeably, Clowney played 48 of the 77 defensive snaps. That’s 62 percent. That’s more than his coaches had planned after his first four practices since January, after his spring and summer holdout from the Texans. He played 21 of the first 32 snaps on defense because Andy Dalton and the Bengals kept throwing, and the coaches kept asking Clowney if he could keep pass rushing with fellow end Ziggy Ansah not playing the opener.
“He went a little more than we thought. But, he was fine, he felt good about it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “So, 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 on offense, at all.”
The 67-year-old coach doesn’t think Clowney’s unexpectedly large workload will affect his ability to play Sunday at Pittsburgh (0-1 after losing 33-3 at New England Sunday night).
“He’s 26 years old. He’s ready to go and all that,” Carroll said. “We’ll see. He’ll be pretty sore this week.”
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In the first quarter the 6-foot-5 Clowney leaped and nearly tapped to himself a pass from Dalton for an interception.
Dalton got passes out increasingly more quickly as the game went on, when it became apparent fill-in left tackle Andre Smith (playing for injured starter Cordy Glenn) was having trouble keeping Clowney out of the Bengals’ backfield.
Clowney appeared to tire late in the opening half, and Dalton got his most time to throw of the first two quarters. With Clowney breathing heavily and bent some at the waist during Cincinnati’s final drive of the half, Dalton had time to catapult an artillery round of a pass over mistimed Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson’s jump to wide receiver John Ross for a touchdown. Seatle trailed 17-14.
Clowney resumed his high-energy debut following the 15-minute halftime intermission. He began attracting double-team blocks from the Bengals, who finally helped Smith with him. Seahawk Quinton Jefferson benefited from Cincinnati’s extra attention on Clowney. Left to battle only a single Bengal, Jefferson had two sacks, three other hits on Dalton, two tackles for losses, and two passes knocked down. It was by far Jefferson’s best game for the Seahawks.
Eventually, after Dalton started throwing on one-step drops to mitigate Clowney’s effect, Seattle’s coaches encouraged their defensive linemen to jump and try to bat down Dalton’s throws. It only worked sporadically. Dalton threw for 418 yards, up near Dan Fouts, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger (Seattle’s foe next week at Pittsburgh) for the most by a quarterback against the Seahawks in team history.
“Oh yeah, he was getting it out pretty fast,” Clowney said of Dalton. “I looked to the sideline and I was telling our coach,’He’s getting that ball out fast.’ He said to just keep getting my hands up and just try and bat the ball as much as possible.”
In the fourth quarter, with his new team leading 21-17 and Dalton finally holding onto the ball to make a play, Clowney got his first Seahawks sack. He ran to his right and chased the scrambling and somewhat fearful-looking Dalton to the sideline, pulling the quarterback down from behind for a 2-yard loss. His sack was part of Seattle’s goal-line stand that turned away Cincinnati and kept the Seahawks ahead. The Bengals settled for a field goal to make it a 21-20 game.
It wasn’t a fantastic, blow-their-minds debut.
But put it this way: It was far better for the Seahawks than having Marsh or Branden Jackson starting at ends, as they were throughout the preseason. The team released Marsh after they acquired Clowney Sept. 1.
After the game, amid the blaring rap and shared smiles of his new, victorious teammates, Clowney looked at ease. In fact, the only way Clowney could have looked more comfortable in his new locker room after his first Seahawks game would have been if the new pass rusher had his feet in his bedroom slippers kicked up on his coffee table.
Yeah, he’s happy. Happy to be out of Houston. Happier to be a pending free agent showcasing his skills on a Seattle defensive line that is desperate to feature them.
Clowney is emblematic of the Seahawks’ defense and perhaps the entire team on Sunday. With all that is new in key places, with the fact the huge piece in Ansah has yet to play, what they showed in the opener is not necessarily indicative of what they will look like in November and December.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Clowney said. “It’s only our first week being together like this and getting to know each other. I just got here, so we’re just trying to get guys lined up and learn what they’re doing.
“We’re not trying to peak right now. We’ve got a lot of football left. We’re just going to keep working towards that.”