Could it be that the Seahawks defense is . . . well, um, you know . . . respectable?
One game proves nothing, but it did inspire speculation after the Seahawks’ 27-24 overtime over San Francisco last week that the weak link might be made of something other than straw and duct tape.
“It was a great time for the defense to step up a level,” said coach Pete Carroll Monday afternoon as the team returned to practice following a bye Sunday. “I look forward to seeing that again. It’s kind of what we’d been looking for.”
Kind of? That’s like saying the NFL bosses kind of want to be done with Colin Kaepernick.
Over 70 minutes, the Seahawks held the 49ers to 302 yards of offense, including 87 on the ground, and one offensive touchdown. It was a major change from the previous nine games when the defense sustained numerous minor shoulder injuries from waving at opponent offenses.
“That was our best performance,” Carroll said, “against a really good club. A very determined offense in a style we really respect. We were the most active we’ve been in terms of pass rush, the run game and also in coverage.
“We had a lot of balls tipped — we could have had four interceptions. We needed it, mostly because we had such a hard time on offense taking care of the football.”
One of the tips did result in an interception, a third-quarter pick by FS Quandre Diggs, playing in, and starting, his first Seahawks game after a trade from Detroit. His 44-yard return set up a 16-yard TD drive that put Seattle up 14-10.
Perhaps more important, the arrival of Diggs appeared to have settled, in the 10th game, the most unsettled spot in the starting 22 — replacing Earl Thomas.
The Seahawks thought they had a something of an answer in Tedric Thompson, who made too many mistakes for a veteran. They drafted insurance in second-rounder Marquise Blair, who may work out eventually but was making too many rookie mistakes. So they went outside and traded small draft change for Diggs, who started 40 games over five seasons with the Lions and signed a contract extension last season.
Carroll was thrilled with Diggs, a sixth-round draft pick in 2015 from Texas.
“I thought he played well,” he said. “Missed a tackle early, then had a couple of great knocks and a pick. Played good situation football for us. He did a really nice job.
“The safeties (including SS Bradley McDougald) played well. Those guys made good hits and timely plays.”
In the locker room Monday, Diggs also demonstrated humility. He said his mistake led to the interception.
“Not good coverage, but good play,” he said. “If I had better coverage, I might not have made the play. I’ll take that. I’ll be better.”
Diggs was several yards back of 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne on a crossing route. Bourne let the well-thrown ball from QB Jimmy Garoppolo slide through his hands overhead — one of eight drops by SF receivers — and tumble into Diggs’ hands without having to move.
Right place, right time can work.
Diggs’ biggest contribution may have been ferocity at point of contact.
Perhaps Thompson’s most noteworthy liability is that he was not in the Thomas tradition of delivering hard hits in the secondary that cause wideouts to flinch before extending themselves. That’s the main reason they drafted Blair.
“First time we knocked them around the way we want to,” Carroll said of the tackling turned in by his safeties. “I’m really pleased about that.”
Coupled with similar blows struck up front by DE Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks allowed the previously undefeated 49ers only one drive of more than 50 yards and only 126 yards in their final 11 possessions.
“On Monday night, it was just play after play after play,” Carroll said of Clowney. “He had so many impact plays. Such a significant role in the night. I think he affected the guys around him, most obviously, in terms of our pass rush and just the activity. This was his best game.
“We have not been disappointed at all in his activity, his effort.”
The timing of a potential resolution on defense is critical, since the schedule continues to harden up with games at Philadelphia, Minnesota, at LA Rams, at Carolina, Arizona and San Francisco to close out the regular season.
The opponents’ cumulative record is 36-25-1, suggesting that the Seahawks are going to need more than the Russell Wilson Olympics.
The 5-5 Eagles are next up (10 a.m. Sunday, flexed by the NFL from the previous 5:20 p.m. kickoff) and offered a valiant effort against New England Sunday before losing 17-10.
The Seahawks have won their last three games in Philly — 24-14 in 2014, 28-24 in 2007 and 42-0 in 2005, and six of seven overall, including 24-10 in December 2017, after which the Eagles made their run to a Super Bowl triumph.
So neither the town not the East Coast travel figure to annoy — they are a club-record 5-0 on the road. But it may feel a bit strange to have at least the threat of a complete team on the plane.
Tyler Lockett may play Sunday
Carroll was cautiously optimistic that WR Tyler Lockett may play Sunday after a severe contusion on a shin left him unable to finish the game in Santa Clara and forced a two-day hospital stay at Stanford before flying back to Seattle.
“He’s doing better,” Carroll said. “We’ll know later in the week his status. We’re hoping and planning on him being able to play. He has to show it to us.
“They wanted to take an extra day to just ensure that he was fine. We’re very fortunate that we were at a great place. They took great care of him. We’re optimistic about it. The extra days are helping us here.”