SEATTLE, Wash. – Moments after the Seahawks capped off a dominant, shocking performance limiting the Cardinals to three offensive points in a 19-9 home victory, coach Pete Carroll wasn't in the mood to disclose the specifics on how his team effectively neutralized quarterback Kyler Murray for the second time in as many games between the two rivals.
When asked by this very reporter about the importance of creating interior pressure with the defensive line against this particular dual-threat quarterback and how Seattle seems to have found a consistent recipe for success against this particular opponent, Carroll opted to pass on the question at hand with a smile on his face.
"Yeah. We've got to play him again, okay, so I'm not answering that question. Sorry," Carroll briskly responded.
Nobody should blame Carroll for not wanting to delve into anything game plan related when it comes to a divisional opponent who the Seahawks happen to play again in three weeks in Arizona. Keeping things close to the vest is always a wise move – if not the only move – this time of year, at least when it comes to specifics on scheme and Xs and Os.
But while Carroll may not have wanted to elaborate on how Seattle successfully harassed Murray to the tune of six sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 20 pressures, his players were more than willing to speak on what went right in a breakthrough performance for a defense that had struggled mightily in the first five weeks of the season.
Recording only eight sacks as a team in the first five games, veteran defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson indicated the coaching staff made adjustments to allow players to "cut loose" rather than be bogged down by reading and reacting that is a key principle of 3-4 defenses. Letting the defensive line do what they do best as disruptive, athletic penetrators, they went to work attacking gaps, creating a positive ripple effect on the rest of the defense.
"I feel like the guys we got, it benefits us. We can get off and cause havoc," Jefferson said in the locker room after the game. "I'm not really built for reading, I'm built to attack. So it was just a fun game."
Enjoying his best game of the season in his second stint with the Seahawks, Jefferson tied for the team lead with four pressures on Murray and came through in a crucial moment in the fourth quarter.
Minutes after rookie running back Ken Walker III scored from 11 yards out to extend the lead to 10 points, the Cardinals quickly advanced all the way to the opposing 23-yard line and faced 4th and 2. Choosing to roll the dice again on fourth down, coach Kliff Kingsbury kept the ball in his quarterback's hands, only for Jefferson to power through the right guard and center to devour him for a 12-yard sack and a turnover on downs.
What was the key to the pass rushing onslaught inflicted on Murray all afternoon? First and foremost, linebacker Uchenna Nwosu cited improved run defense setting up Seattle's pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on the quarterback in ideal third down situations. While Murray rushed for 100 yards himself, Arizona's running backs ineffectively rushed for 43 yards and less than 2.5 yards per carry.
“We stopped the run, that’s really what it was. The last four or five weeks, we’ve had trouble stopping the run, and that’s what the game plan was going into this game: ‘Stop the run so we can have some fun,'" Nwosu said after the game. "We did that, and guys were able to fly all over the field and get after Kyler Murray. Keeping him in the pocket was going to be a big deal in this game, and we were able to do that. Not one, not two, not three, not four, but six different guys got a sack, which is huge.”
Finding his way to Murray four times and registering his third sack of the season, Nwosu credited Jefferson and the Seahawks defensive tackle group for consistently collapsing the pocket on the 5-foot-10 Murray to spearhead the group effort. Along with Jefferson's fourth down sack, Poona Ford and Shelby Harris each registered sacks of their own in the fourth quarter and even nose tackle Bryan Mone got into the action with three pressures stepping in for an injured Al Woods.
With Nwosu and Taylor able to go into attack mode themselves and feast off the edge, the two athletic defenders combined for seven pressures, two sacks, and a forced fumble, making life miserable for the mobile quarterback and playing a critical role in limiting the Cardinals to just four third down conversions on 16 attempts as well as one fourth down conversion on five attempts.
“It’s very important," Nwosu said of the interior pressure. "You know Kyler is on the shorter side of the quarterback scale, so if you get pressure right up in his face, it’s hard for him to see, it’s hard for him to make those throws. That was really important, so shout out to Q [Quinton Jefferson], and Shelby [Harris] and Myles [Adams] and Poona [Ford] and [Bryan] Mone for getting that pressure up the middle. It helped me and D.T. get on the edge, and work the edges a lot. We all worked as one unit out there.”
Benefiting from the stellar defensive line play and feisty pass rush, safety Quandre Diggs and the secondary also reaped the rewards of Murray being under constant duress. Aside from a few long completions to receiver Hollywood Brown and tight end Zach Ertz, they kept Arizona's standout receivers on lockdown, yielding a season-low 6.0 yards per attempt and 4.0 yards per pass play. Rookie cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant also continued their historic start intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble for a pair of key second half turnovers.
Observing from center field, Diggs agreed with Nwosu that everything started up front with the interior defensive line setting the tone by winning at the line of scrimmage and making Murray uncomfortable, preventing the quarterback from ever truly finding a rhythm.
“It was definitely a group effort. Mone came in and played a hell of a game, and Shelby and Q-Jeff and Poona. Just letting those guys attack and just be who they are was just super dope to watch," Diggs remarked.
As Carroll noted, the Seahawks expect their defensive line to be a factor, particularly in home games at Lumen Field where crowd noise becomes a major problem for opponents and they hold a lead on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, even with an experienced core headlined by Harris, Jefferson, and Ford, the group had been marred by inconsistency defending the run and rushing the passer adapting to a new scheme during the early stages of the season.
But despite the disappointing start for the defense as a whole, after several strong weeks of practice, Harris sees Sunday's outstanding performance as a pivotal turning point for Seattle and not an aberration. Soaking in the positive vibes in the locker room, he's confident he and his counterparts will play a key role in fueling a sustained defensive turnaround and help the team start stacking up victories.
"You’re seeing all of the work that we put in, in practice finally starting to come out. Seeing guys get the rush, when we get the lead like this at the end of games, you get the rush. D-line gets to have some fun. Obviously, you look around the locker room and everyone is always happier after a win. You’re not as sore after a win. Always remember this feeling, and go replicate this next week.”
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