INDIANAPOLIS — Darrell Taylor powered through Braden Smith with a bull-rush that knocked the Indianapolis Colts‘ stud right tackle on his backside. Then he slammed Carson Wentz to the turf for the first sack of his career.
It was everything the Seattle Seahawks have been waiting for since they drafted Taylor in the second round last year, only to watch him miss his rookie season with a leg injury.
Here’s what’s even more encouraging to coach Pete Carroll: Taylor has yet to play a regular-season game in the din of Lumen Field. And he was hardly the only Seahawks pass-rusher who stood out in their season-opening win. Taylor looked as good as advertised in his NFL debut and the rest of Seattle’s defensive line looked as deep as advertised Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It was really spread across the board,” Carroll said. “Everybody had something to contribute.”
Rasheem Green and Benson Mayowa each matched Taylor with a sack and two QB hits. Kerry Hyder Jr., Carlos Dunlap II and Poona Ford were all credited with a QB hit. Bryan Mone, the 345-pound defensive tackle who’s known more as a run-stuffer, got a QB hit. And a fourth sack by strong safety Jamal Adams was negated when officials flagged him for being in the neutral zone, even though the replay showed he might not have been.
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“It was interesting when Alton [Robinson] came in late,” Carroll said. “He had a nice contribution late, too, and he just didn’t get a chance to play many plays just because of the rotation. Everybody looked good, Darrell particularly. I think he played 25 plays or somewhere right in there. He was very active, and really an exciting addition as we’ve been talking about. We were hoping he’d show up on game day.”
Officially, Taylor was on the field for 26 of Seattle’s 76 defensive snaps. Robinson played only 12. Green led the D-ends with 53, followed by 41 for Hyder, 40 for Dunlap and 32 for Mayowa.
If everyone stays healthy, it’s such a deep rotation on the edge that the Seahawks won’t have to lean too heavily on Dunlap, which will help keep his 32-year-old legs fresh late into the 17-game regular season.
It’s also so deep that Carroll and his staff could face more decisions like the one they made pregame Sunday, when they put 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier on the inactive list. With 10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster and no injured players to de-activate, Collier was among six healthy scratches.
“We had everybody healthy and that just worked out with the way we stacked it up this time around,” Carroll said. “That thing is always in question every week. Just part of the makeup for this game-plan.”
The Seahawks had a Pass Rush Win Rate of 53.1% in their opener, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That ranked 10th league-wide for Week 1 and was easily better than their 39.7% mark from 2020, which ranked 23rd.
They got pressure on Wentz on 40.9% of his dropbacks (sixth-best in Week 1) and finished with a QB contact percentage of 28.6% (fifth-best). Those were also better than their numbers from last season: 28% (17th) and 22.2% (eighth), respectively.
Last season’s pass-rush numbers were dragged down by a slow start. It was nearly non-existent until a midseason turnaround — aided by Adams’ return from injury and Dunlap’s arrival via trade — that saw them lead the league in sacks over the second half.
“I thought we felt our pass-rush much more than we [did] early in last season, much more like how we finished the year,” Carroll said. “The back end, though, definitely knocked down a couple different route concepts that allowed us to get to him, and the rush was really consistent and persistent. And it worked together really well, so it’s a good start for us. Really good start.”
Even the best pass-rushes sometimes run hot and cold, so Seattle’s production Sunday probably won’t be repeated every week. But if it can be that effective more often than not, it’ll take pressure off of their cornerbacks, still the biggest question mark on their roster. Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed held up mostly well Sunday against a Colts receiver corps that was without T.Y. Hilton. They’ll get a tougher test this week against the Tennessee Titans‘ Julio Jones and A.J. Brown.
And it’ll make Adams’ prowess as a blitzer more of a luxury than a necessity like it was at times last season.
“Elite,” Adams said when asked how good Seattle’s pass-rush can be. “It’s very elite. So many guys that can get after the quarterback and do special things. A rotation of really three fronts. It can be really, really special.”
As promising as it looked Sunday, the usual caveat applies: it was one game. And it came against an offensive line that had a backup at left tackle with starter Eric Fisher sidelined. Then again, the Colts allowed only 21 sacks last season, tied for second-fewest in the NFL. And their right tackle, the guy Taylor beat for his sack, is so highly regarded that he got a $72 million extension this summer.
“He had a number of rushes,” Carroll said of Taylor before looking ahead to this week’s home opener against Tennessee. “You can see it, when we get him with the 12s, he’s going to be 12s’ best friend now. When they can get to roaring on third down and on passing downs and get him the chance to get off, you can see how explosive he is coming off the football.”
“He’s going to have some big games. He’ll have some big games where it’ll be really hard for people to match him up, so I’m excited about that. And it showed.”