Last week in Minneapolis, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll's calling card—defense—became his team's biggest weakness. The Vikings controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes, going 9-for-14 on third down attempts and putting up 453 yards of total offense on their way to a dominant 30-17 win.
As the game went along and their struggles continued, several Seahawks defenders failed to temper their frustrations. Among them was safety Quandre Diggs, who was tasked to clean up several of the team's coverage busts in Week 3. After blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead to the Titans the week prior, the defense's struggles snowballed into complete disaster and even the unit's most reserved veterans, like Diggs, could not keep a cool head—understandably so.
Their irritation, of course, would not linger into the week ahead. Instead, it fueled a mission to turn things around and play up to the standard they have set for themselves, to make the past two weeks an anomaly.
With high-end talent littered across all three levels of its defense, Seattle's struggles made little sense. Some players pointed to the absence of defensive passing game coordinator Andre Curtis, who missed the trip to Minnesota due to a non-COVID illness. Others claimed it was a schematic issue or a simple matter of lack of execution. Perhaps it was a combination of all three or more.
Curtis made his return to the sideline this week as the Seahawks began NFC West play with a trip to the 49ers' home in Santa Clara, California. Unfortunately for them, the defense picked up right where it left off and allowed an eight-play, 71-yard scoring drive with very little resistance. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo connected with tight end Ross Dwelley for a 21-yard touchdown on a one-on-one matchup against Seattle cornerback Sidney Jones, who replaced the struggling Tre Flowers in the starting lineup. Quickly, San Francisco took a 7-0 lead.
The Seahawks looked just as dysfunctional on the offensive side of the ball, going three-and-out on their first five drives of the game while putting up negative 12 yards through the first quarter. But they were able to eventually figure things out, thanks to the defense holding Garoppolo and company to just that one score through the first half.
Following the touchdown, the 49ers had five more drives before halftime. The first of which ended on an interception by Diggs, who made an excellent read on a pass up the middle to tight end George Kittle. Diggs exploded into the passing lane and reeled in the grab, notching his and the Seahawks' first pick of the year in a crucial moment.
"That was a great play for us," Carroll told reporters after the game. "And we've been waiting for that. He's been hanging hanging back there looking and finally got one."
"Just kind of film study, the coaches giving me the opportunity to do a little something different," attributed Diggs to the play. "I have to take advantage of that when I get the opportunity. That is all that it was. I saw him go off of his first look and get to his second look and I pride myself on being a smart player. I have to make those plays and I was able to make it today."
Overall, Diggs had a monster day with six combined tackles, one pass breakup and the aforementioned interception. He allowed just a single reception on the four passes that came his way, which amounted to a modest seven-yard gain. As a result, Pro Football Focus awarded him with the best defensive grade on the Seahawks (89.7).
Garoppolo missed the second half of the game with a calf injury, forcing rookie quarterback Trey Lance under center for the final 30 minutes of regulation. Seattle wasn't caught off guard, however, preparing in the week to see the 2021 No. 3 pick at some point, whether it was in a special package in goal-to-go situations or something more.
"We talked about it during the week," Diggs revealed. "So our coaches had us well prepared for that. It is up to myself, Bobby [Wagner], Jamal [Adams], 'Big Al' [Woods]. It is up to us to relay that message through the rest of the defense. Guys know that we have some different fits when [Lance] comes in the game. It is more of a college style offense when he comes in the game."
The Seahawks handled Lance well for the most part, aside from a busted coverage that let receiver Deebo Samuel slip behind the defense for an easy 76-yard touchdown. But other than that, they made life tough for the rookie by consistently getting into the backfield and forcing him off his spot. Lance completed just nine of his 18 pass attempts for 157 yards and scored his second and final touchdown well after his team's fate had been determined.
"Our job is to get off the field consistently, no matter who is in at quarterback," Diggs continued. "That is what our deal was today. We were a lot better on third down than we were than last week."
Indeed they were. The 49ers converted just two of their 14 third down attempts, though they did go 3-for-4 on fourth down. Nevertheless, as Diggs noted, it was a significant improvement from the week before.
Ironically, Seattle's defense allowed four more yards (457) than it did to Minnesota (453). But the product was far different, as evidenced by the near-even time of possession splits. The Seahawks still lost that battle, but only by three minutes and 20 seconds and the offense was certainly grateful for it.
"The defense was doing tremendous," quarterback Russell Wilson said following his 100th career regular season win. "You gotta give them credit. They were all over the field. Guys were smoking guys and hitting people. ... There was just a lot of guys making a lot of plays and that was a beautiful thing. And we're all in this thing together. We're all fighting for the same thing and that's to win and that's to perform at the highest-level and do it together. And it's such a special team. We have a special, special team, special group of guys. I wouldn't want it to be any other way."
Now back to a .500 winning percentage on the year, the 2-2 Seahawks will look to build on their momentum in just a few days time against the dangerous, new-look Rams offense led by quarterback Matthew Stafford. At the very least, they're in a much better mindset than they could have been at 1-3 with a short turnaround for Thursday night's kickoff. But now comes their biggest test of the year thus far.