RENTON, WA — Third-year defensive back Marquise Blair is done for the season after suffering a fractured right patella in Monday night's 13-10 loss to the Saints. As a result, Ugo Amadi will become the Seahawks' full-time nickel cornerback in his place.
This is familiar territory for Amadi. For the majority of 2020, he supplemented Blair's spot in the starting lineup after the Utah alum went down with a torn ACL—in the same knee as the one he hurt this past week—during the Seahawks' Week 2 matchup with the Patriots. Amadi finished the year with 588 snaps played, including playoffs, allowing 45 receptions for 426 yards on 60 targets (75 percent completion rate) with six pass breakups and no interceptions.
"Ugo, you know, he's been playing the spot for a year now," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Wednesday. "He's done a really nice job. ... Really, just Ugo takes over the spot."
Seattle's usage of both players this year has been situational and matchup-based. Despite Blair returning to action this summer, Amadi has actually managed to play 77 more snaps (196-119). He's been relatively quiet in that time, but he's slightly lowered his yards-per-reception mark (9.5 to 8.8) and forced his second career turnover on Monday.
With the Seahawks down 10-7 late in the third quarter, Saints quarterback Jameis Winston completed a checkdown to tight end Adam Trautman. The ball-carrier turned upfield towards the first down marker but was upended short of the line to gain by Amadi, whose shoulder jarred the football out. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks recovered the loose ball and returned it to the New Orleans 32-yard line, setting Seattle up for an eventual game-tying field goal.
It gave a stagnant Seahawks offense a chance to score. And while backup quarterback Geno Smith and company remained immobile, gaining zero yards on three plays, the turnover proved enough for kicker Jason Myers to knot things up at 10 points apiece.
"I believe that whenever you get the ball out, and give it back to the offense, that's always a momentum builder," Amadi said of the play following the game. "When I hit him, I was looking back the whole time. I knew that ball was out."
Amadi wrapped up the night with a pair of tackles and one catch allowed on a single target for 11 yards. For his efforts, he was awarded an 81.9 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus—the highest mark he's ever received in a regular season game. Now he'll look to ride that momentum into an expanded role as Blair prepares for another long stint on injured reserve.
Blair's injury could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Seahawks, who seemed to have finally found a recipe for success with their cornerback group. Rookie Tre Brown has impressed in his first two career games since his respective activation from injured reserve, and it would appear he's inching closer towards fully supplanting Sidney Jones at left cornerback. Meanwhile, D.J. Reed has looked rejuvenated since moving back to the right side following Tre Flowers' benching and subsequent release.
“The corners played well, all three guys that played in the game," Carroll reflected on his takeaways from Monday night's game. "Ugo and Marquise playing at nickel. Those guys played a good football game and played tight coverage. I think Tre [Brown] continues to show that he’s really comfortable. I can’t get him in many situations that he isn’t in command of. I’m really fired up about his play. Sidney made a couple of nice plays in the game and had a nice breakup on third down. I’m happy with those guys and the way they are playing.”
After an historically poor start to the season, Seattle's defense as a whole has played better in its last two games. In eight quarters and an overtime period, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s unit has allowed 36 points and 649 yards of total offense. Most notably, it limited New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara to just 2.6 yards per carry and held the Saints to a 2-for-11 conversion rate on third down.
Is this an indication the Seahawks have finally turned the corner on defense?
"Definitely," Amadi expressed following Seattle's fifth defeat of the year. "We take pride in that. Last year, that's where we were hurt the most. That's a point of emphasis going into this year. Getting off the field on third down."
Amadi will now be an even more crucial piece to this apparent turnaround than he already was. With Blair undergoing surgery on Wednesday, this is his show the rest of the way—to stay the course and keep the Seahawks on an upward trend defensively as the team looks to salvage a seemingly lost season.
"We have to go back to work, get ready for the next opponent," Amadi stated on Monday. "We have to move forward, get back to what we believe in, and that's winning."