STACY ROST

Ryan Neal confident in Seahawks’ turnaround, Tariq Woolen’s play

Oct 21, 2022, 12:03 PM | Updated: 12:04 pm
Seahawks Ryan Neal...
Ryan Neal of the Seattle Seahawks and teammate Darrell Taylor celebrate a sack against the Arizona Cardinals at Lumen Field on October 16, 2022. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Seahawks safety Ryan Neal saw something.

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He needed someone to jog his memory first, which happened during an interview with The Huddle Thursday.

Host Michael Bumpus mentioned that he remembered hearing Neal saying he recognized a situation from the New Orleans Saints — down and distance, formation — and was communicating with rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen. Did he have an “I told you so moment”? Bump wanted to know.

Neal laughed.

“All that, all that,” Neal said. “I was yelling, ‘I told you it was coming!’”

Woolen, a rookie with a freakish combination of size and speed, picked off a pass from Andy Dalton. It was his third of the year and came a week before his nabbed his fourth in as many games.

Neal was given credit for communicating with Woolen, but beamed when talking about the rookie’s play.

“Even before the game, he’s so doggone silly,” Neal said. “He was like, ‘Man, next pick I wanna play hide-and-seek!’ I’m like alright. So as soon as he caught the ball I’m just running to him like, ‘Let’s go play hide-and-seek!’ It was just a fun moment, though. It’s dope when you’re playing with guys and people are seeing things and you trust each other. It’s like, hey, when I see something and I know it, it is what it is. It’s the same thing with me and Quandre (Diggs), which is why I have a great relationship with him. Like, I have a filter when his voice is on the field versus everybody. I can hear him out of everybody. So if he sees something it’s like ok he sees something…

“It was just dope to see happen, man. I’m always super excited for this kid when he makes a play.”

Neal was asked about his own post-interception celebration plan.

“Shoot, I’m gonna hold the ball like a newborn baby and walk back to that sideline and keep holding it like a newborn baby, because every time you get one you’re just grateful. But I don’t plan no celebrations, it’s just whatever I’m feeling at the time is what comes out.”

The Seahawks had seen solid play from their young players, but the defense as a whole was in trouble heading into their game against the Cardinals. They were giving up the most yards per game and among the most points per game. They were allowing far too many explosive plays and missing too many tackles.

It’s why Woolen’s performance — and the improvement of the defense last week — couldn’t come at a better time. In a season full of doubt, Seattle has found itself at .500 one third of the way into the season and and a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West.

Given the question marks and the defensive struggles preceding Week 6, there’s plenty of reason to wonder whether they’ll hover there long.

The Rams’ roster, for all its faults, feels too talented to flounder (this is despite putting up just 17 points per game, well behind Seattle’s 24 points per game). The 49ers offense isn’t as good as the league’s best with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, but its defense is stout and Kyle Shanahan just added another weapon with former Panthers star Christian McCaffrey. The Cardinals bounced back from a disappointing start with a dominant win over the Saints.

The Seahawks may very well finish above Arizona in the final standings, but they’re still a team with more question marks than answers. Can the defense limit explosive plays? Can they stop the run? Can they avoid missed tackles? Can Geno Smith, eight years removed from being a full-time starter, remain as efficient as he’s been? Can rookie Kenneth Walker III fill the void left by Rashaad Penny?

The offense has ironically been able to more effectively tackle — no pun intended — those questions than the defense has. Smith has had a stellar start to the season and rookie tackles Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross have played well. The emergence of the tight ends has complimented an efficient pass game, and Walker looked promising in his debut as starter last week. It certainly adds unexpected intrigue to the season; if the defense takes a big step forward, this suddenly feels like a team that can compete in the middle of a packed and relatively even NFC.

Key word there being “if.”

It’ll take seeing positives in more than one week, but Neal at the very least feels confident there’s a real turn coming.

“I really think it was a confidence booster for us, putting it on film, putting it on tape, knowing that this is what we’re capable of. So now it’s time to go back and do it again. It’s time to turn the page.”

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