Cinderella Men: 3 Seahawks that stepped up in 2022
By Matthew Holm
Ryan Neal took the reins almost right out of the gate and never looked back.
This Seahawks defense was expected to be much more blitz-heavy and exotic than the iteration we ended up getting, and much of that had to do with Jamal Adams finally being paired with defensive coaches steeped in Vic Fangio’s 3-4, a close cousin of the system he played in as a Jet (both can be traced back to Buddy Ryan’s tenure in Houston and were each adapted for the modern game under a Harbaugh brother).
Unfortunately, Adams went down with a serious knee injury in the season opener while he was sacking Russell Wilson and was knocked out for the season. Enter Ryan Neal, a lanky, unheralded safety who had filled in adequately the last time Adams was injured but had yet to make a mark as anything beyond a serviceable backup.
This season, Neal took the bull by the horns and became one of the better coverage safeties in football, racking up an impressive PFF grade (subscription required) of 85.6. The grade matches the eye test, as well; Neal has spent most of this season shutting down the middle of the field and providing enough in the run game to land himself at fifth on the team in tackles.
Neal has played well enough that I think it’s fair to question if Seattle needs to consider running a base big nickel package, using Jamal Adams in a sort of Deonne Bucannon-esque hybrid role where the coaching staff can scheme up all kinds of blitz concepts and let him roam in that robber zone role to clamp down on all the screens and rubs that teams have had so much success against Seattle with. Additionally, it would create a larger base personnel that would make the Seahawks harder to run on.