The biggest revelation of Seattle’s 27-24 overtime victory over the 49ers on Monday night was the play of the Seahawks’ defense, holding the third-highest scoring team in the NFL to just one offensive touchdown.
In fact, after allowing 118 yards to the 49ers on their first two possessions (not including penalty yards), the Seahawks gave up just 184 on the 49ers’ 13 remaining possessions.
The performance left coach Pete Carroll positively giddy and the team feeling if it can play that way every week, anything might be possible.
“I think we made some good progress,’’ Carroll said of his defense, which had allowed 400 yards or more in four of the previous five games before holding the 49ers to 302.
But the night also left a few questions, such as Shaquem Griffin’s usage and the safety position.
So, here’s a look at three questions that arose from the game Monday about the defense and some possible answers.
1. Will Shaquem Griffin continue to play some in pass-rush situations?
It sounds like it, based on what Carroll said Tuesday.
“We’re going to find ways to utilize him,’’ Carroll said of Griffin, who is listed as a backup at strongside linebacker but had not played on defense all season until getting 14 snaps Monday. Griffin got all of them as a stand-up pass rusher, all when lined up on the left side, according to Pro Football Focus.
He did not record a stat of any kind — no tackles, and also no pressures or hurries, as detailed by Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference.
So, whether he had much of an impact was hard to measure.
But the Seahawks always have been intrigued by his speed — remember his 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine? — and they began trying to use him more as a pass rusher in the offseason. He had 17 sacks during his career at Central Florida and was at times used as an edge player.
But as Carroll noted, Griffin’s size (6 feet, 227 pounds) presents some challenges when lined up at the line of scrimmage.
“We have to work at that more so just to use his speed,” Carroll said. “He’s instinctively a good rusher. He’s just not very big. You have to do special things with him.”
Griffin’s playing time seemed to come mostly at Ziggy Ansah’s expense. Ansah played a season-low 14 snaps but also appeared to eat into second-year end Rasheem Green’s snaps. Green’s 16 also were by far a season-low, though his snaps were impacted by Quinton Jefferson’s return and Jefferson not having to play as much tackle now that Jarran Reed is back from a six-game suspension.
Ansah’s snaps obviously are the most eye-catching. In May, he signed a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $6 million, another $3 million in roster bonuses and another reported $4.25 million in incentives. He has made $1.59 million in roster bonuses so far and, unless he’s cut, will make close to the $3 million total, meaning he’ll likely earn close to $9 million total.
Ansah has delivered just 10 tackles and one sack after not recording a stat of any kind Monday other than an encroachment penalty.
2. Will Bradley McDougald and Quandre Diggs continue as the starting safety duo?
There seems no question about that after Monday, when the two got their first start together — McDougald at strong safety and Diggs at free safety. It was the fifth different safety combination of the season for Seattle. The Seahawks responded by allowing just 4.2 yards per pass attempt, by far the lowest of the season. The 49ers’ 3.9 yards per offensive play also was by far a season-low for Seattle.
That’s what Carroll wants out of his back end — limiting big plays.
McDougald and Diggs did that, especially after things settled down in the second half. Seattle gave up just two plays of longer than 10 yards out of 44 the 49ers ran in the second half and overtime.
Diggs, who was acquired last month from Detroit and was making his Seahawks debut, and McDougald also delivered some big hits, giving the Seahawks what they felt was a blend of experienced discipline and physicality that had been lacking so far this season.
“I thought that was the best game that our safeties have played,’’ Carroll said Monday. “I’m hoping that we can continue to grow and get better and feed off it.”
3. So what happens now with Marquise Blair?
Blair, a second-round draft choice, had started the previous three games at either strong or free safety before Diggs replaced him.
Blair made some splash plays, but Seattle allowed 6.7 yards or more per pass attempt in each of the three games, with just one interception, and Carroll has several times intimated Blair might need more time to develop.
Tuesday, Carroll said of Blair, “We want him involved, too.’’
The coach added, “He played in the dime situations last night, and we’ll work that out as we go forward.”
Blair actually didn’t play any snaps, but Carroll likely meant Blair would have played in dime situations if Seattle had used that package, and that he’ll be in the dime (meaning, using six defensive backs) going forward.
Blair remains a big part of the future at safety.
Diggs has two years remaining on his contract, with salary cap hits of $5.2 million and $5.5 million. But there is no dead money either year, meaning Seattle could get out of that deal at any time with no penalty. McDougald has one year left on his contact, which includes a $5.4 million cap hit but a potential savings of $4.1 million if he is released.
So, how Seattle’s safeties will look in 2020 and beyond is hardly settled. But McDougald and Diggs made a pretty strong case for themselves as the duo for the rest of 2019.