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Emerging as Viable Interior Rusher, Seahawks DT Poona Ford in Midst of Third-Year Leap

After being a relative non-factor rushing the passer in his first two NFL seasons, Ford has suddenly become a reliable contributor collapsing the pocket from the interior and enjoyed one of his best all-around performances in a loss to the Rams.

RENTON, WA - Dropping their third contest in four weeks, in many ways, the Seahawks continued their season-long defensive struggles in a 23-16 loss to the Rams on Sunday.

Along with allowing three consecutive scoring drives to open the game and falling behind 17-7 early in the second quarter for the second consecutive week, Seattle surrendered nearly 300 yards of total offense before halftime. Once again sunk by poor third down efficiency, the team also allowed 93 and 88-yard touchdown drives after punter Michael Dickson pinned Los Angeles deep in its own territory.

But despite getting off to a rocky start for a second straight week, there were significant signs of progress for a maligned Seahawks defense, which gave up a season-low for points and held the Rams to just six points in the second half. At the center of an improved defensive effort both literally and figuratively, Poona Ford produced a season-high five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits, drawing praise from coach Pete Carroll on Monday.

"He was really active," Carroll said when asked about Ford's stellar outing. "He was all over the place, sideline to sideline, his quickness is showing up."

In his second season as a full-time starter, Ford has quietly put together a strong campaign as a rare bright spot for a defense that has given up historic yardage totals and nearly 30 points per game. Prior to Sunday, the ex-Texas standout had produced 17 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.

As displayed against Los Angeles, where Ford has really made strides as his third season has progressed has been in the pass rushing department, as he's evolved from an early-down nose tackle into a quality all-around defensive tackle capable of disrupting the pocket. He made his presence felt early on Sunday, hitting Goff on third and goal to coax an errant throw and forcing the Rams to take a chip-shot field goal on the game's opening drive.

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In the latter stages of the third quarter, as the Seahawks tried to mount a comeback down 10 points, Ford shed through multiple blockers to eventually corral Goff in the backfield for an eight-yard sack, his first of the 2020 season. Two plays later, the Rams were forced to punt for just the second time in the game.

Since arriving as an undrafted rookie prior to the 2018 season, Ford has always impressed as a run defender and plays the game exactly how Carroll demands with outstanding effort each and every snap he's on the field. But prior this year, he was a relative non-factor rushing the passer, producing half a sack and five quarterback hits in 26 games.

So what's been the biggest difference for Ford as of late? Taking advantage of his plus-movement skills at 300 pounds, Carroll indicated Seattle has moved him around the line more this season, which has opened up more opportunities for him to make an impact rushing the passer.

"We've been moving the front some and he's taken advantage of that," Carroll explained. "He's a really good athlete - a good, coordinated quick athlete - and it helps him to get on the move so with the movements, he's jumped out a little bit and he had a really good game yesterday."

Per Pro Football Focus, in part due to those adjustments, Ford has earned at least an 82.0 grade rushing the passer each of the past two weeks and he was credited with five pressures and three quarterback hurries during that span. For the season, he ranks 12th among qualified defensive tackles with an 81.9 overall grade and currently has the highest pass rushing grade of his career (64.4).

While they've made noticeable improvements in terms of sacks and quarterback hits, the Seahawks remain near the bottom of the NFL in pressure rate and rushing the passer remains one of Seattle's biggest Achilles heels. Even on Sunday, aside from Ford's brilliant performance and a pair of sacks by safety Jamal Adams, the team only hit Goff a grand total of four times on 40 drop backs.

After already establishing career-highs in quarterback hits and total pressures in just nine games, as he continues to develop pass rushing counters to go with his outstanding athletic traits, Ford's ascent couldn't have come at a better time. With restricted free agency looming in March, he has a chance to be a significant part of the solution to that problem and could make himself some serious cash in the final seven games.