RENTON, WA - During the opening month of the NFL season, the Seahawks have gotten off to a hot start, winning all three of their games to stand alone atop the vaunted NFC West heading towards the quarter mark.
But despite Seattle's unblemished record, the team has been far from perfect through the first three weeks. While Russell Wilson has thrown touchdowns at a ludicrous rate, the defense has been making history of its own and not in a good way, surrendering an NFL record 1,292 passing yards during that span.
While the Seahawks new-look secondary deserves much of the blame, the lack of a consistent pass rush from their front four has also continued to be a significant factor. The team only has five sacks so far, with two of them coming courtesy of safety Jamal Adams on the blitz, meaning the front line has produced just three of them.
However, if there's a reason for optimism, Seattle seemed to find some life late in last week's 38-31 victory over Dallas. At the center of this success? After inexplicably being a healthy scratch the first two games of the season, rookie defensive end Alton Robinson delivered in a stellar NFL debut with three tackles, two tackles for loss, and his first career sack.
"He had a good day," coach Pete Carroll stated on Wednesday. "He played really hard, he wasn't hesitant at all. He worked the edge well in the run game, chase off the backside was good, his effort downfield getting in on some hits, the big pressure that he had in the sack. He did really, really well. We're really excited that he showed up in his first real opportunity."
For fans who hadn't seen Robinson play yet, his initial performance may have surprised. But for those who were able to watch him shine at his first training camp last month, the fifth-round pick out of Syracuse looked exactly as advertised, displaying a blend of athleticism and power off the edge while proving to be highly disruptive.
Seeing 30 defensive snaps in his first NFL action, Robinson made his first big play less than five minutes after the opening kickoff. On a second down run, L.J. Collier wrecked the play with instant penetration on the left side, forcing Ezekiel Elliott to spin back inside. Left unblocked, the rookie closed in on the star running back and dropped him for a three-yard loss.
Then midway through the second quarter, Robinson set back the Cowboys again. Trying to catch the Seahawks off guard with some trickery on second down, quarterback Dak Prescott handed off to running back Tony Pollard on a fly sweep and he promptly lateraled to receiver CeeDee Lamb on a reverse, but the rookie wasn't fooled.
Rather than chasing Pollard, Robinson exhibited great discipline by setting the edge and rocketed into the backfield, nearly tackling Lamb for a 10-yard loss. Teammate Poona Ford promptly cleaned up after the missed tackle, leading to a five-yard loss and setting up a 3rd and 14 situation for Dallas. Two plays later, the opponent was forced to punt and Seattle eventually took back the lead moments later on a touchdown pass from Wilson to Tyler Lockett.
Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, with Seattle barely hanging onto a seven-point lead and under two minutes to play, Robinson came through in the clutch. Nearly into the red zone after quickly moving Dallas downfield, Prescott dropped back to pass as he had done 55 times already in the game with great success.
Initially working upfield on a speed rush, Robinson managed to catch left tackle Brandon Knight leaning to his left, creating a lane for him to slant hard inside. With the blocker unable to recover, he sped past him with a direct path to the quarterback, corralling Prescott for the sack and forcing the Cowboys to burn their final timeout.
On the ensuing play, this time with pressure coming from Benson Mayowa, Prescott scrambled to his left. Somehow breaking out of a sack, he stumbled and tossed up a prayer to the end zone, only to be intercepted by reserve safety Ryan Neal to seal the victory for the Seahawks.
After giving up over 470 passing yards, there's much improvement to be had by the defense as a whole and Robinson shouldn't be viewed as the savior of Seattle's pass rush, especially after one game. Carroll would be the first to admit the team can't put too much stock in a handful of snaps and the rookie has to prove he can play at a high level over a multiple-game period, including on Sunday against the Dolphins.
But there's no question Robinson's ability to make such a substantial impact right away as both a run defender and rusher is a promising development for the Seahawks. If he's able to provide them with 30-35 snaps per game and generate consistent pressure off the edge, he could be the remedy this team has been seeking since trading Frank Clark two years ago.