SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jadeveon Clowney's 2019 season could be Exhibit A for why sacks aren't the only measure of a pass-rusher's effectiveness. He had only two of them through the Seattle Seahawks' first nine games, belying the pressure he has generated and the impact he has made as Seattle's most disruptive defender.
His game-wrecking performance Monday night was the latest and strongest example yet.
Consider everything he did in the Seahawks' overtime win over the 49ers in addition to his one sack. Clowney recovered a fumble and returned it for his second defensive touchdown of the season. His sack forced a fumble that Seattle recovered in San Francisco territory, setting up a touchdown. It was one of Clowney's five tackles and five official QB hits. And he contributed to at least two sacks for teammates with constant pressure that forced Jimmy Garoppolo off his spot. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Clowney created a season-high 10 QB disruptions.
"Golly, what a fantastic football game he played," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He just was unblockable. He just continued to weave his way into the backfield to make plays on the run and the pass. Plays that he wouldn't get credit for that he affected were many and all across the board."
Clowney now ranks sixth among all defenders in ESPN's Pass Rush Win Rate at 26.6%. That metric, powered by NFL Next Gen Stats, measures how often a pass-rusher beats his block in 2.5 seconds or under. Before Monday night, he had only the two sacks to show for all the pressure he was generating.
"We've been waiting for it to happen," defensive end Branden Jackson said. "Week by week, he's winning his one-on-ones ... he's just a hair or two late or they get the ball out too quick or something like that. So it was good to see it come together."
Who knows where the Seahawks' defense would be this season had it not been for the master stroke general manager John Schneider pulled off when he acquired Clowney in a trade with the Houston Texans. He has been the only consistent threat in a pass rush that has arguably been Seattle's biggest weakness.
The Seahawks' inability to get pressure with a four-man rush has necessitated more blitzing than Carroll would prefer. Seattle has brought an extra pass-rusher on 32.3% of opponents' dropbacks, according to ESPN charting. That's the highest since Carroll's first season in Seattle in 2010 and a considerable jump from the Seahawks' 18.5% rate from last season, when Frank Clark and Jarran Reed combined for 23.5 sacks.
The Seahawks' five sacks Monday night matched their combined total from the past five games and pushed their season total from 15 to 20. Their 10 hits on Garoppolo were easily their most in any game this season on a QB. Reed's strip-sack was the biggest play he has made since returning from his six-game suspension to begin the season. Seattle would have had another sack and hit had officials not flagged Quinton Jefferson for lowering his head to initiate contact with Garoppolo, who had ducked his own head after slipping free from Clowney's grasp.
"I think it's a breakout game," Carroll said of Clowney. "I just thought he was so impressive all night long. ... They were tackling him. He was just penetrating so fast and so furiously, but what a fantastic game. Yeah, we would have liked to see him a little earlier, but if we got going now and this is where we kick into high gear, then that's a really good defense and we looked pretty good tonight, too."
Clowney is the NFL's only front seven defender with two defensive touchdowns this season. His other one was a pick-six of a Kyler Murray screen pass in Week 4.
At this rate, it's hard to imagine Schneider not making it a priority to extend the contract of Clowney, who's unsigned beyond this season. That might be easier said than done. Clowney is in his sixth NFL season and has yet to reach unrestricted free agency thanks to his fifth-year option, and now the one-year deal that replaced his franchise tag with Houston, which facilitated his trade to Seattle. How could he not be tempted to see what's out there on the open market?
If he's determined to do so, the Seahawks can't really stop him since they agreed to not use the franchise tag on Clowney after this season. He pushed for that, and because he held all the cards as a franchised player who couldn't be traded until he signed his tender, he got it. That means it'll almost certainly take a top-of-the-market deal from Seattle to convince Clowney to forgo free agency.
That conversation will take on greater significance as March approaches. Clowney has punted on questions about his future beyond 2019. For now, both sides would like nothing more than for his strong season to continue.
"He's been playing great all season," Jefferson said. "I feel like what he did tonight is what he's been doing all year. ... I'm positive we're going to continue to see him play this well the rest of the season."