Seahawks' DL was good in the first half but could be better down the stretch

With the Seahawks off this week on bye and the club's regular season at the halfway point, it is a logical time for midseason grades.

Each position is assigned a classic "A-F" grade as is each individual player. A's are rewarded for exemplary Pro Bowl-caliber play. B's are given for very good to good play - better than the league average. C's are given for average play and D's for significantly below average play. Failing grades are reserved for players who, frankly, shouldn't be on the roster.  

Completed Grades: 

Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Fullbacks | Tight Ends | Wide Receivers | Offensive Line

Next up, the defensive line: 

Defensive Line:  Quite literally, a big part of why the Seahawks ranked No. 2 overall in Total Defense entering Week 10 of the regular season is the play of the defensive line. Though the numbers don't necessarily back it up, Cliff Avril has been enjoying the best overall season of his career in Seattle and other than some poorly timed penalties from the ridiculously-gifted Michael Bennett, he's been enjoying a Pro Caliber campaign. 

Through the first eight games of the season, Avril has "only" recorded 3.5 sacks, however, he's already matched his previous career-high of five passes defensed and has consistently forced opposing quarterbacks to re-set - which in Pete Carroll's defensive philosophy is nearly as good as an actual sack. The 6-3, 260 pound Avril has also shown impressive strength and tenacity in the running game. 

Bennett, of course, is Seattle's best defensive lineman. Quick enough to beat offensive tackles off the end and strong enough to hold up inside, the 6-4, 274 pounder leads the Seahawks with 6.5 sacks, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career-high of nine attained during his breakout 2012 campaign in Tampa Bay. Bennett's initial burst makes him a constant threat to split gaps and ruin plays from the outset and he has active, strong hands to disengage from blocks even when initially contained. For all of Bennett's gifts, he's also proven prone to silly mistakes, including mistiming the snap count and drawing costly off-sides penalties in critical moments. 

While Seattle's edge rushers get most of the credit, interior run-pluggers Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin have done a nice job inside. The 6-1, 311 pound Mebane is built like a vending machine and because of his natural leverage advantage and power, he's difficult to move inside, successfully anchoring versus even double-teams. 

Like Mebane, Rubin isn't flashy but the former Cleveland Browns' defender has held up well inside, using his 6-2, 325 pound frame and relatively long arms to plug gaps inside. Rubin plays with good effort in pursuit but lacks the flexibility and closing speed to ever be much of a threat to the quarterback. He has the strength to pull running backs to the ground as he's fighting with blockers and his 21 stops on the year puts him well ahead of last year's pace (28 tackles in 13 games) in his final season in Cleveland. 

Though he's once again been limited by nagging injuries and doesn't yet have a sack on the season, Jordan Hill remains Seattle's best interior (exclusively) pass rusher. Quick and tenacious, the 6-1, 303 pounder is a classic three-technique penetrator, slipping through gaps and forcing quarterbacks to re-adjust. The Seahawks are counting on Hill to get home more often, as he did a year ago with 5.5 sacks (and four pass breakups, including an interception) in an injury-shortened sophomore campaign but Hill has improved as a run defender this season, already tying his previous career-high with 19 overall tackles over the first half. 

Though he's built nothing like Hill, the 6-4, 254 pound Cassius Marsh plays a similar role as a third down pass rush specialist for the Seahawks, except primarily on the outside at defensive end. Based on this role, his lack of a sack thus far is disappointing, but his burst, active hands and motor make Marsh one of Seattle's most disruptive front-line defenders. Marsh is highly aggressive and pursues with passion, making him effective in chasing down ball-carriers from behind. 

Rookie Frank Clark was drafted in part because of his ability to complement Hill on the inside and Marsh off the edge. Given Clark's dominating play throughout the preseason, his lack of consistent playing time and effectiveness over the first eight games of the regular season has been disappointing. Clark has enough burst upfield to generate pressure but it is his core strength and aggression that really stands out. While gifted, Clark has shown a tendency to freelance a bit, leaving the rest of Seattle's defense in jeopardy with undisciplined lane integrity. In seven regular season games, Clark has just six tackles, only slightly better than reserves Demarcus Dobbs (five tackles) and David King (3 tackles, including half a sack). 

With Mebane, Hill and Clark each battling through nagging injuries in the first half, the Seahawks can realistically expect improved play from all three down the stretch, making a solid unit potentially one of the NFL's deepest and most disruptive. 

Cliff Avril: B+

Michael Bennett: B

Brandon Mebane: B-

Ahtyba Rubin: B-

Jordan Hill: C+

Cassius Marsh: C+ 

Frank Clark: C-

Demarcus Dobbs: C

David King: C

Overall Position Grade: C+


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