Defensive end Chris Clemons has much in common with his peers on the Seattle defense: They're good, they're unknown, and they don't care.
"I consider us the best defense in the NFL,'' Clemons said over the phone from Seattle on Thursday. "As for what other people think, I don't care. If some other team thinks otherwise, prove it. We're playing the best right now.''
Seattle, coming off the bizarre 14-12 "win" over Green Bay on Monday night, is first in the NFL in scoring defense (13.0 points allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (272.3 yards allowed per game. The run defense (3.1 yards per rush) and stingy 75.6 opposing passer rating are also among the league's best. Seattle pitched an eight-sack, first-half shutout against the formidable Pack, with Clemons getting four of them. Pretty good for a guy in his eighth season who entered the game with 43 career sacks.
The Seahawks, rightfully, can play the Rodney Dangerfield card on the defensive front seven, which was so dominant in the first half Monday. Only one of the 10 'Hawks on the front seven who played at least 25 snaps Monday was a Seattle first-round pick -- rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin. Four were middle-round picks by Seattle, one (second-round rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner) was a high pick, and four more are playing for their second or fourth team in the NFL.
Clemons (Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia) is on his fourth team at age 30, dealt to Seattle by Philadelphia in 2010. "I just asked Pete [Carroll] if I had a chance to play here,'' said Clemons, who'd always been a part-time player prior to the trade out west. "He said, 'Play? You've got a chance to start.' That was all the motivation I needed.''
In 34 Seahawks games, all starts, the 6-foot-3, 254-pound Clemons has 27 sacks. That factors out to .79 sacks per game. Compare that to the rich guys. Mario Williams has averaged .64 sacks per game in his career. Jared Allen: .83. He's got the kind of outside speed to beat quick tackles around the edge, and a surprising amount of power for a guy who plays low to the ground and uses leverage the way Dwight Freeney does.
That number could rise, now that Irvin's in the fold, to help defensive-line stalwarts Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane and Clemons. Against Green Bay, Irvin got two quick sacks of Aaron Rodgers, and then, according to Clemons, the Pack went to a man-to-man blocking scheme along the line, leaving left tackle Marshall Newhouse alone for much of the half to handle Clemons. Big mistake. Clemons trapped Rogers four times and hit him solidly once more. "To my knowledge, I never had had a half like that in my life,'' said Clemons, in the understatement of the year. To sack a quarterback four times in a half is one thing. To sack a mobile guy with a clock in his head like Rodgers is another.
I told Clemons that some vets over the years have shied away from signing in Seattle because it's so far from everywhere -- as far as Siberia, an East Coaster or two has said. Clemons, a Georgian who played at the University of Georgia, said that's actually an advantage for him.
"I play better when I'm not close to home anyway,'' he said. "Too many distractions for me back in Philly. I had one of my best years in Oakland, actually. So I like it out here, and I can concentrate totally on football. That's one of the reasons when [GM] John Schneider talked to me in the offseason about extending my contract, I was interested. I signed a five-year deal in Philadelphia, and this was going to be my last year, so it was good to be able to extend it [through 2014]. I've seen too many guys enter the last year of their deal and get distracted by thinking about their contract. I didn't want that to happen to me.''
Clemons did the three-year extension for $22.1 million, and if he keeps up the stereo sack act with rookie Irvin, Seahawks fans will be thrilled he's in the fold for three seasons. The 2-1 Seahawks have something good going, and they hope to continue it Sunday in St. Louis.
Oh -- and about that game Monday night ...
"Referees make calls, and players live with them,'' Clemons said. "We're not sitting here apologizing for anything. An official made a call, and we won. It is what it is.''
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As has been the case through three games total, defensive end Williams is not getting the pressure the Bills paid $16 million a year for -- and it's not because opposing offenses are stacking up to block him, a ProFootballFocus.com study found. In 101 passing plays with Williams rushing, he has 1.5 sacks (PFF disputes the half-sack, claiming the sack should belong solely to tackle Marcel Dareus), with one additional quarterback hit and six pressures.
In three games, he has been double-team-blocked on four of the 101 passing plays, and chip-blocked (another blocker, a tight end or running back usually, helping momentarily while performing another task) another seven times. That means, according to PFF, that on 11 of 101 pass plays (11 percent), teams have devoted more than one blocker to Williams, at least for a short time with a chip.
Williams, at 292 pounds, has never been a cat-quick rusher, and therefore not likely to get as many sacks as a quicker rusher such as DeMarcus Ware. That's bearing out this season. For the Bills to get their money's worth, he has to hit the quarterback much more often. And for that to happen, he has to vary his rush technique but always rely the most on power. "When I looked out there,'' said coach Chan Gailey said in the wake of Sunday's Buffalo victory at Cleveland, "Mario went to the power rush, and that's what he's good at.'' Gailey's right: When in doubt, bull-rush.
In three games now on 101 passing plays, Williams has picked up:
• 1.5 sacks (adjusted to reflect NFL stats).• 1 hit.• 6 quarterback hurries.
He simply has to do more.
Enjoyed interviewing defensive end J.J. Watt of the Texans and Don Banks of SI.com for the fourth podcast of 2012. Here's where you can find it on SI.com and on iTunes.
Watt on how 3-4 defensive ends aren't supposed to be big sack guys: "I keep hearing people say that 3-4 defensive ends aren't supposed to be big playmakers and aren't supposed to make big plays and I don't understand why not ... It always kind of irks me when people say that -- say that we're supposed to be the block-eaters and let everyone else make the plays. We like to have fun, too.''
Chicago left tackle J'Marcus Webb (No. 73) -- The man with the neat birthday (8-8-88) has the toughest task of any other player in the Monday night matchup with Dallas in Cowboys Stadium: keeping DeMarcus Ware from sacking Jay Cutler multiple times. Webb, a seventh-round pick in 2010, has had a forgettable year so far, and it's becoming clearer by the week that he'll be the number one guy on GM Phil Emery's got-to-replace list when free agency begins in March, or come draft weekend in April. But for now, the question is: How much help will the Bears give Webb in handling Ware?
1. Kevin Kolb, the new dad, trying to keep the Cards flying. Kolb's third daughter, Saylor, was born Thursday night. So scratch all the angst off, Cards fans. Your quarterback will line up to play the Dolphins Sunday. Amazing how a quarterback can go from failure to savior in three weeks.
2. The refs. Quicker games. Games more under control. Games without Lance "I swear I made the right call" Easley. It's all good.
Not so good: Ed "Guns'' Hochuli won't be in wide display Sunday. He's got Cincinnati-Jacksonville, with the Jacksonville, Savannah, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, Columbus, Toledo and Charleston (W. Va.) markets.
3. The spin. These referee talks weren't solely about saving $3.3 million in pension costs per year, though that was a part of it. The stalemate also was about the league being able to replace poorly performing officials between 2013 and 2019 -- and decreasing pension contributions over the life of this contract. The officials won more than the league here, but the quality-of-officiating thing can't be forgotten. I'll be interested to see the reporting on this over the weekend.
4. Green Bay simmering. Can't wait to see how the crowd at Lambeau responds after the Pack got a 12-7 win transformed into a 14-12 loss. The league should be thankful Green Bay has the most polite fans in the league.
5. Seattle, starting a road-rattling test. Seattle has five games in 29 days starting Sunday (nothing odd there), but four are on the road. The stretch: at St. Louis, at Carolina, New England at home, at San Francisco, at Detroit. Five games, four time zones. Strap it on, Russell Wilson.
6. Matthew Stafford's hip. It's injured. Looks like he'll play, but Jared Allen is licking his lips in anticipation of facing a wounded animal.
7. The Jets without Darrelle Revis. You ready for your close-up, Kyle Wilson?
8. Field-goal nuttiness. Kickers are hitting 93 percent of their field goal attempts through 49 games. The weather's been great, and that helps, to be sure. But that's an amazing run of success that I can't see continuing.
9. The real truth about Kellen Winslow. Smart people knew he and Bill Belichick would never be a fit. In fact, I'm told in the offseason, when Belichick inquired about acquiring Winslow from Tampa Bay, the coach's good friend Greg Schiano told him, in effect, 'Bill, you do not want this guy.' I'm doing you a favor -- lay off this player. And Tampa traded him to Seattle instead. Now, with the news that Winslow asked for and received his walking papers after one week in New England, the mystery deepens. Was it a physical reason Belichick agreed to let him go? Or was it Winslow wearing out his welcome in yet another place?
10. J.J. Wattmania. The Houston 3-4 defensive end will attempt to continue his hot streak (last five games: nine sacks, seven passes batted down) against Tennessee at home. You are hereby forewarned, Jake Locker.