Rost: Seahawks’ defense makes a statement against 49ers in OT thriller

Nov 12, 2019, 12:10 AM | Updated: 10:40 am
Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney...
Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney was a constant presence in the 49ers' backfield. (AP)

The Seahawks’ primetime showdown against the San Francisco 49ers was supposed to be a showcase between MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson and the league’s top-ranked defense. Instead, it was the Seahawks’ defense that made a statement in their Monday night win.

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That statement? Don’t count us out.

It might’ve been easy to do halfway through the season. The Seahawks, a team whose once-dominant defense had carried them to a Super Bowl win and nearly led them to another half a decade ago, had fallen to the bottom-third of the league against opposing passers. At 7-2, they looked out of place among the winless Bengals and struggling Dolphins, who they ranked alongside in allowing the most yards per play prior to Week 10.

In a game where the Seahawks’ defense was needed most, though, it outplayed the 49ers’ offense. To be frank, Seattle’s defenders mostly outplayed the Seahawks’ top five-ranking offense, too. And on the biggest stage, they showed that predicting they would continue that struggle against the undefeated 49ers – something this writer did last week – was far from a safe bet.

“We just wanted to prove we were the best defense on the field today,” Seahawks defensive captain and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said after the game. “It was really on our minds because we understood what everybody was thinking because of the last two weeks.”

While both of those weeks brought wins, neither was especially pretty. Against the Buccaneers, they allowed 335 yards and a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Jameis Winston. Against Atlanta, they allowed 460 yards by backup QB Matt Schaub – the highest total ever by a quarterback against a Seahawks defense under Pete Carroll. And through nine weeks, Seattle’s pass rush had recorded just 15 sacks.

They bounced back in Monday’s thriller. While the 49ers are headlined by a strong defense, they also boast the league’s top run game. Seattle held them to just 87 yards on the ground, however, and limited San Francisco to a 40% conversion rate on third down and just 3.9 yards per play.

The pass rush made up for a slow start from Seattle’s offense. The Seahawks sacked 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo five times and intercepted him once. Leading the pack was defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who had a sack, five quarterback hits, a second-half forced fumble, and a first-half fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown. Clowney wasn’t the only defensive lineman to leave an impact. Defensive tackles Al Woods and Jarran Reed also recorded sacks, and the latter forced the fumble that was recovered by Clowney for a score.

“We played big tonight on defense,” Clowney said. “Up front we’ve been getting hammered all season long about, ‘This front not playing well’… Tonight we came and made a step in the right direction, and I hope we can keep growing from this up front, the whole defense, and keep building. We’ve got a lot of season left but we started heading in the right direction.”

Those improvements will be tested in a gauntlet of a second-half schedule that includes three more consecutive primetime games. They’ll have some time to prepare, though; the team will head into their bye week and will return for a Sunday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 24.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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