Putting 21 points on the board on four possessions in the first half, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense rightfully received much of the acclaim coming out of the team's 28-16 season-opening win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But while Wilson had coordinator Shane Waldron's offense humming most of the afternoon, Seattle's deep, versatile, and talented defensive line proved crucial in opening the new season with a signature road victory. Harassing quarterback Carson Wentz all day long and helping limit Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines to 90 combined rushing yards, all nine defensive ends and defensive tackles who dressed on Sunday made an impact.
Standing out amongst his peers much as he did during an outstanding preseason, a resurgent Rasheem Green turned in one of the finest games of his NFL career, coming up with big plays throughout the contest. He stuffed the stat sheet, contributing a sack, two run stops, two pass breakups, and a trio of pressures. The former third-round pick also made a nice tackle pursuing Hines downfield after a quick dump off pass from Wentz on a fantastic effort play.
Here's a quick, yet detailed assessment of how Green performed as a run defender, pass rusher, and in coverage in Indianapolis:
In his first three NFL seasons, Green struggled mightily as a run defender, failing to earn a season grade from Pro Football Focus higher than 52.4. At the center of his issues, he hasn't always maintained gap integrity at the line of scrimmage, helping create run lanes for opposing backs. He has dealt with leverage issues at times, letting opposing blockers get underneath his pads and stand him up at the point of attack, while he was also credited with seven missed tackles.
But against the Colts, though he finished with just three tackles, Green played masterfully against the run all afternoon. He held his own against tackles Julie'n Davenport and Braden Smith while also performing well in a few instances where he reduced inside to defensive tackle and was pitted against guards Quenton Nelson and Mark Glowinski. He rarely got pushed off his spot and did a quality job attacking and stacking opposing blockers with his hands, keeping run fits intact. As shown in the two clips below, he found ways to battle off of blocks to help corral Taylor and Hines quickly for minimal gains, playing a key role in limiting the opposition to just 3.8 yards per carry on the afternoon.
While Green has endured his share of issues as a run defender, the former USC standout showed promise in spurts as a pass rusher in his first three seasons. In 2019, he led the team (gulp!) with 4.0 sacks and according to Pro Football Focus, he generated 30 quarterback pressures on 376 pass rushing reps. An eight percent pressure rate isn't anything spectacular and PFF gave him a 4.5 pass rush productivity rating, which ranked 54th out of 55 qualified rushers. These numbers illustrate the inconsistency issues that have plagued him to this point in his career.
However, in part due to transitioning to the LEO defensive end spot while still seeing snaps at base end and defensive tackle, Green seemed to have a light switch click on as a pass rusher during the preseason. Logging 80 pass rush snaps in three exhibition games, he generated nine pressures and a pair of sacks. It's a small sample size against backups and future insurance salesmen, but that equates to an 11 percent pressure rate, a significant improvement compared to prior seasons.
Looking back at the regular season opener, consistency remains an area of concern for Green in the pass rushing department. He finished with three pressures on 38 pass rushing snaps for a pedestrian 7.8 percent pressure rate. On several plays, his pass rush stalled out quickly and he wasn't able to execute a counter move or hand fight his way off of the block. This was especially evident against Nelson, who was able to lock him down most of the game in pass protection when Green shifted inside.
But Nelson is an All-Pro guard and potential Hall of Famer for a reason and when Green was able to turn up the heat on Carson Wentz, he made the most of his pressures with a sack and two pass deflections. Among defensive linemen in Week 1, he earned 5.9 pass rush productivity grade, ranking 14th out of 53 players with at least 20 pass rush snaps. Check out three of Green's signature pass rushes from Sunday in the video below:
At 285 pounds, Green is obviously best-suited to play in the trenches either at defensive end or defensive tackle. But with the team working him some at the LEO spot, which has become interchangeable with SAM linebacker in many ways, he inevitably will be asked to drop back into coverage once in a while and did so three times against the Colts. Two of those plays came when the Seahawks had three natural defensive tackles - Poona Ford, Al Woods, and Bryan Mone - all on the field together to help neutralize the run game.
As expected, Wentz took advantage of Green dropping back into zone, completing a pair of passes for 22 yards against him. One of those completions appeared to be a potential coverage bust, as Green passed off receiver Michael Pittman without a defender in the middle ready to pick him up. In another instance, Jonathan Taylor beat him on an out route in his curl/flats responsibility for a quick eight-yard gain.
Here's a quick rundown of both of those completions and what the Seahawks tasked Green to do in coverage:
Overall, Green served the role of disruptor quite well for Seattle's defensive line in Sunday's opener. And as well as he played, there's still a ton of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to hand technique and usage as a pass rusher. When he gets locked up on rushes, he has to figure out how to be more effective at disengaging from those blocks on a consistent basis. This is especially evident when defensive line coach Clint Hurtt rotates him in at defensive tackle on obvious passing situations.
In the run game, Green has made tremendous strides since the start of training camp. He's far more assignment-sound than he was in his first three years and interestingly, adding another position to his arsenal has seemed to improve his understanding of the defense as a whole, particularly with run fits. He's also playing with far better leverage. His next step revolves around becoming more active in the tackle department, putting himself in position to use his athleticism to penetrate gaps and blow up plays in the backfield.
Capable of playing anywhere across the defensive line for the Seahawks, after playing 53 snaps against the Colts, he should be primed for extensive snaps each week moving forward. And as he approaches free agency next March, if he's able to unlock his potential as a rusher, he may still have a chance to play his way into a second contract with the organization.