Seahawks Peaking Defensively at Perfect Time
Just three weeks ago, despite winning seven of their first nine games, the Seahawks ranked among the NFL’s worst defenses in numerous metrics.
Entering a Week 10 prime time matchup against San Francisco, Seattle ranked 22nn in the league in scoring (25.6 points per game), ranked 22nd in DVOA stopping the run, and an underachieving pass rush had produced just 14 sacks.
But with the calendar swinging to November, when the Seahawks always seems to inevitably hit their stride under the direction of coach Pete Carroll, a rejuvenated defense has taken a 180 degree turn over the past two contests. In wins over the 49ers and Eagles, the unit surrendered just 26 combined points, created eight turnovers, and most importantly, racked up eight sacks and 19 quarterback hits.
“We’ve been waiting on it to see if it would show,” Carroll told reporters on Monday. “The aggressiveness and the attack at the line of scrimmage is really taking an uptake. We’re getting the kind of activity that bothers the quarterbacks and forces the quarterbacks in their mistakes and errors. That’s why the ball has been coming our way.”
An impressive defensive turnaround was jump-started in the trenches, where Seattle has seen a substantial uptick in production from the unit as a whole. Even without Jadeveon Clowney in Philadelphia, eight different defensive linemen played at least one-third of the team’s snaps, helping harass quarterback Carson Wentz all game long.
Playing by far his best game as a Seahawk, Ziggy Ansah bullied both of the Eagles starting tackles, recording 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. Quinton Jefferson and Rasheem Green each produced sacks, while Shaquem Griffin used his speed to constantly explode into the backfield as a disruptive situational edge rusher.
Citing several “flashy” plays, Carroll continues to be impressed by Griffin, whose energy has been contagious for the entire front line and helped invigorate the pass rush.
“With Griff’s addition, too, with the things that he can bring, the speed that he injects is really valuable to us. I think it’s obvious when you watch the film or watch the games that he’s a factor. They’ve got to be careful, or he’s going to get them.”
The increased pressure from Ansah, Griffin, and the rest of the defensive line has had a positive impact on the rest of Seattle’s defense. That’s been especially evident in the secondary, which has produced 14 passes defensed and three interceptions in the past two games.
At the center of this revival, safety Quandre Diggs has galvanized the group by bringing a wealth of experience and versatility to the table. In his first two starts, he’s already intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble, and delivered several bone-crunching hits against receivers.
“I think he’s raised the bar a little bit for the position in terms of experience, awareness and understanding, as well as communication and at an intensity,” Carroll commented. “It comes from being a really good pro. He’s been out there enough. He’s learned the game.”
The presence of Diggs has been especially beneficial for fellow starting safety Bradley McDougald, who now can focus solely on doing his job rather than lining up his teammates play after play. The veteran intercepted his second pass of the season in Philadelphia and looks like a different player since his new teammate entered the lineup.
“Aww man, I like Quandre,” McDougald smiled. “Quandre’s flying around out there. He’s a baller. Since the moment he got here, he’s been a true fit. We’ve got a good relationship because we’ve been in the fire together. We’ve got similar years of experience, so it’s easy to talk to him. I just throw a couple words and let him play his game.”
Even the linebackers have stepped up their game for the Seahawks. Bobby Wagner surpassed 100 tackles for the eighth straight season on Sunday, while K.J. Wright registered a season-high 12 tackles against the Eagles and is quickly approaching triple digits for tackles as well. Mychal Kendricks also turned in his best outing of the year with 11 solo tackles versus his former team.
Heading into the final month of the season with an NFC West title within reach, Wagner sees a defense gelling at a pivotal time and just scratching the surface of its potential.
“I think on the defensive side, we’re starting to see what we’re capable of [and] the offensive side has been doing amazing all year. When all those things come together, I think we can really do some amazing things. We just keep getting better every week and that’s the goal. You want to be the team that’s hot at the right time when it matters.”
McDougald echoed those thoughts, indicating this current Seahawks squad is “one of the tightest groups” he’s ever played with. He envisions the defense continuing to improve each week and peaking just in time for the playoffs, a scary proposition for other NFC contenders.
“That’s the NFL season for you. Some teams are going to incline when it comes to November and December. Some teams are going to decline. Some teams are going to stay the same… Everyone is out here playing for each other. That’s when it becomes special. I feel like if we keep this momentum, we’re going to be one of the best defenses going forward.”