Seattle ranked 18th in the league this year in total sacks, finishing the regular season with 36 in all 16 games. Roughly 32 percent of that production may be absent from play when Jan. 13 rolls around.
Chris Clemons, the Seahawks leading pass rusher, went down with a knee injury on Sunday evening against the Redskins. Clearly in serious pain, Clemons exited the game early and later said his knee felt "loose". Not a sign that bodes well going forward.
With 11.5 sacks in 2012, Clemons led all Seahawks defenders and was labeled as their highest pass rusher by Pro Football Focus with a ridiculous 24.6 rating. He recorded 11 hits and 37 hurries as well, basically wreaking havoc on any and every opposing offensive front.
Pete Carroll said Monday morning that the results of Clemons' MRI had not be revealed yet, but the extent of his injury should be known in the coming hours. He wasn't hit on the play where he went down. His agent later chalked up the incident to the poor condition of FedEx Field, which was pretty apparent when watching on television.
If Clemons is unable to go against the Falcons, a huge weight will be lifted for their offensive line. No one wants to see another player go down with a serious injury, but it's clear Atlanta will avoid facing one of the league's top pass rushers. Clemons recorded at least 11 sacks in each of his last three seasons.
Bruce Irvin will be next in line to step up in attacking Matt Ryan in the backfield. The rookie out of West Virginia finished second on the team with eight sacks in 2012. Fun fact: he's originally from Atlanta. "Happy homecoming, Bruce. Now go out there and lead our pass rush in your second playoff game ever!"
Per PFF, Irvin rushed from the left side of the line 84.4 percent of the time in the regular season. That likely won't be the case, though, if he's replacing Clemons. Sam Baker would then be the man taking on Irvin. Baker turned it around this season after constantly drawing criticism from every Falcons fan over the past few years, but now will really be his time to prove his naysayers wrong.
In 24 pass rushing snaps against the Redskins, Irvin finished with one sack and three hurries. The playoffs don't seem to be intimidating him. However, Irvin only played 486 snaps this season. Why? Because 368 of those were passing situations. The Seahawks were able to throw him with the sole purpose of attacking opposing quarterbacks. Run defense is not his strong suite. Irvin is rated as a -6.5 in run defense by PFF, second-worst on his team.
The Falcons are middle-of-the-road in pass protection, but facing a team without its best pass rusher will certainly ease the pressure off this group. Now they throw a running back in to chip Irvin if needed, focusing on that side of the line. If the Seahawks are forced to use Red Bryant in passing situations, Tyson Clabo is going to sit back and block from a lawn chair.
Update, Jan. 7 at 5:33 p.m.:
MRI confirms torn ACL for Seattle's Chris Clemons— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 7, 2013
So, there you go.