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Quandre Diggs and Ryan Neal have become the Seahawks’ ballhawks

New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I had to write a positive article, however brief it may be, so we don’t just spend a week wallowing in our own tears and frustration over last Sunday’s tidal wave of incompetence that was the Seattle Seahawks offense.

One of the few happy moments from the loss to the New York Giants was Quandre Diggs’ career-high fourth interception. But the play was caused by a combination of bad ball placement from Colt McCoy and great anticipation from Ryan Neal, who was able to contest the throw to Evan Engram and send the deflection into Diggs’ waiting arms.

As an aside, this is a pretty lousy blitz. Not one pass rusher beat their blocker and Rasheem Green just gets pushed to the ground. You can tell how Carlos Dunlap is not all that healthy, either.

Anyway, I’m pretty happy that Neal’s hip injury is apparently just a hip pointer and nothing more serious that would’ve ended his season. Neal went from the practice squad to backup safety to now fully entrenched as part of both the Seahawks’ defensive rotation and the special teams unit. Here’s his blocked punt that gave Seattle two points (but oh so close to six).

When Neal came in for the injured Jamal Adams in Week 3 versus the Dallas Cowboys, he secured the game-sealing interception. The following week against the now 8-4 (!!) Miami Dolphins, he picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick on a tip drill. You couldn’t ask for much more from someone who wasn’t even on the active roster to start the regular season. He’s also quietly fifth in passes defensed with five, only behind Messrs Wright, Wagner, Diggs, and Griffin.

As for Diggs, John Schneider worked his midseason magic again last year by only giving up a fifth-round pick for someone who wasn’t in Matt Patricia’s plans for extended periods of losing. Ignoring that Patricia’s plans have since been cancelled by Detroit Lions ownership, Diggs has proven to be the team’s top ballhawk. Three interceptions last season and the aforementioned four this year give him seven overall in just 17 regular season games.

Diggs and Neal both have a trait that I love, which is the ability to quickly diagnose and close in on the offensive player. They are willing to deliver big hits (although in Diggs’ case they’re sometimes illegal or turn into whiffs) and turn a completed pass into a drop. As the single high safety in this formation, Diggs sees McCoy lock in on Evan Engram on the play-action rollout, and what looked like an open receiver for an easy first down turned into a ball-dislodging, clean hit for 2nd and 10.

You may recall back in October when Neal broke up a 3rd and 13 screen pass against the Miami Dolphins. He really should’ve picked this and returned it for a touchdown but a non flag-producing hit will do just fine.

Great anticipation and timing were two of the hallmarks of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defenses. We have been treated to... well not a whole lot of that in recent years. Diggs is not prime Earl Thomas but he sure functions as the working man’s replacement. I think we tend to forget that even up-and-coming Earl did some horrible shit like this...

Or this...

And frankly he occasionally still had those whiffs while eventually becoming one of the best safeties of his era.

Consider that Diggs is 27 but he’s only been a regular safety since about late 2017 and this is his first full season as a free safety. Detroit had him as a nickel corner before moving to strong safety. He is theoretically in his prime years and I’d expect Seattle to look at giving him a contract extension before the end of the 2021 season.

As for Neal, he’s just 24 years old and the 349 defensive snaps he’s had with the Seahawks are the first of his three-year NFL career. As an ERFA it should be easy for Seattle to give him another season. The only concern I have as far as his playing time is Marquise Blair, who should be ready to go next year and would be above Neal on the depth chart, but at the very least I think if we project a full season ahead we should see Neal continuing his role on special teams.

We’ve trashed this Seahawks defense since opening day and they have absolutely earned a lot of the criticism hurled at them. They have been demonstrably better for a month solid and it’s players like Diggs and Neal who may yet be a lot more important than you think down the stretch.