With the Miami Dolphins looking to came back from a fourth-quarter deficit, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick uncorked a pass towards the right sideline, but cornerback Shaquill Griffin had the play read the whole way, stepped in front of the intended receiver and recorded his second interception in as many weeks.
That turnover, followed by a big DK Metcalf catch and run, set up a Chris Carson touchdown run that all but put the game out of reach, and it was just one of many signs that the Seahawks defense is on its way to making the improvements players and coaches know are necessary.
Three weeks into the season, the Seahawks had given up the most passing yards in the NFL, the most explosive passing plays (16-plus yards), and nearly 29 points per game. Just last week, when the Cowboys needed to dig out of a hole, they took shots down the field and completed big pass after big pass, including a couple on Griffin that caused the fourth-year cornerback to be very hard on himself after the game.
Griffin, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll all vowed that the defense would be better, and while Sunday's game wasn't a perfect performance by that unit, it was a step in the right direction.
In addition to that interception, Griffin also broke up two passes in the end zone, and according to ESPN Next Gen Stats he allowed one catch for 11 yards on five targets as the nearest defender in coverage. His play, as well as a standout performance by K.J. Wright, was just part of what was a very strong day of defense for a unit that was missing starting safety Jamal Adams, starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar, starting nickel back Marquise Blair (IR), starting strongside linebacker Bruce Irvin (IR), the player who replaced Irvin last week, Jordyn Brooks, and defensive end Rasheem Green (IR).
While the Dolphins did move the ball well, the Seahawks kept them out of the end zone until the final two minutes of the game, and most noteworthy after the last three games, the Seahawks kept the huge plays in check. A week after Dallas had four pass plays of 40 or more yards, three of them touchdowns, the Seahawks didn't allow a play longer than 26 yards, and gave up only two gains of more than 20 yards.
"We really kept them in front of us all day long and made them earn their way down," Carroll said. "… We really played well, backed up and got the job done other than the one time when (Ryan Fitzpatrick) scrambled in. That's an improvement. We played some new guys that came through and did a nice job for us. Cody (Barton) played today for the first time and got a full start for himself for the first time and guys held up well."
The Seahawks kicked off their day on defense with a takeaway that feature plays made at all three levels of the defense. On Miami's fourth play from scrimmage, Benson Mayowa pressure Fitzpatrick and got a piece of the quarterback's arm, causing a wobbly throw that was then tipped up by a leaping Barton. There to haul in the interception was safety Ryan Neal, who was making his first career start not long after being promoted from the practice squad, and who now has two intereception in as many games this season.
Said Wright, "We didn't give up those long balls that we were seeing the first three weeks, so I was tremendously happy with that. So it was a really good start to show how good this difference can be. And we've just got to come out, build off of this game, build off of this win and go do it again next week."
Holding up particularly well in particular were Griffin and Wright, as well as Bobby Wagner, who had 12 tackles and a pass defensed.
"Today I feel like we just proved that we can be that defense, that secondary, that everybody is looking forward to seeing," Griffin said. "I know the last couple of weeks, we've been giving up a lot of yards, and I felt like it came from us just playing soft. The offense has been playing an amazing job, they've been doing so amazing that we got to a point where I feel like we were getting comfortable. We started playing more soft in coverage, and I feel like that's not us as a defense. So the main thing, the main objective, was to come and show we can play from the first play all the way to the end and be as aggressive as we were in the beginning. I feel like that showed today… We're definitely not where we want to be at yet, but I feel like we're making progress."
Wright's big game could have included one or two interceptions, but despite not coming down with those balls, he had a big day with eight tackles, three passes defensed and a forced fumble, and, in what has been the signature play of his 10-year career, he blew up multiple screen passes in the open field.
"He had a really good game," Carroll said. "He really had two picks in his hands. That's what will kill him because he knew he had the ball a couple times. But he's playing really good football. He shows you what instinct and savvy is all about. It's just remarkable and obvious that he's making plays on the other side of the field because he sees it happening, and he's making plays way in the back field on the screens and things, and it's really hard to get him on any of that stuff. That's experience, and he's just a great ball player."
Yet another strong game 10 years into his career isn't something Wright will take for granted, especially not with it coming for the team that drafted him in 2011. When Wright struggled through an injury-plagued 2018 season that was also the final year of his contract, plenty of people wondered if he was playing his final games as a Seahawk. Then when he signed an extension in 2019, he and everyone else knew nothing was guaranteed beyond that season, but Wright played so well last season that it became a no-brainer to bring him back.
"I believe that when I look back at my career, I'm going to be very happy," he said. "In my 10th year to look the way I'm looking, I'm truly thankful. I look excellent, I look great. I'm thankful that I'm healthy and still balling. To play 10 years in this league, to play 10 years with the Seahawks and to look this good, I couldn't ask for a better career. I'm just getting started, we've got a long ways to go, and I've got to make sure I finish strong."