Heading into Sunday’s divisional matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks had yielded 577 rushing yards in their previous four games.
Struggling to stop talented running backs such as Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, and Christian McCaffrey, Seattle allowed opponents to average nearly seven yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns during that span. Due to inconsistent tackling, lack of execution with run fits, and poor edge containment, a clear weakness came to the forefront for a team with playoff aspirations.
But against the 49ers, a team that had rushed for over 100 yards in seven straight games led by second-year runner Matt Breida, the Seahawks rebounded nicely, holding Breida and company to 66 yards and a paltry 2.9 yards per carry.
At the center of Seattle’s much-improved effort stuffing the run, rookie Poona Ford made his first career NFL start and took full advantage of the opportunity.
Playing alongside rising star Jarran Reed, Ford replaced injured starter Shamar Stephen and opened the game with a bang. The undrafted rookie out of Texas recorded three tackles on the 49ers opening two possessions, including bringing down Breida on the first two plays from scrimmage.
Though official stats only credited Ford with four tackles, coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday that the Seahawks had him down for six in 28 total snaps and he raved about his excellent outing in Stephen’s place.
“Poona did a really good job, he played really well. He was sideline-to-sideline – we had him at six tackles in the game – that’s a lot of production for the nose tackle, but it’s because he was running and chasing the football so well. He’s a really instinctive football player.”
Dating back to his time with the Longhorns, Ford has always had a nose for the football. As a junior, he recorded an astounding 54 tackles in 12 games, showing an innate ability to work off of blocks and pursue opposing ball carriers. As a senior, he garnered 2017 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year honors.
Despite lacking the ideal size for a defensive tackle, Carroll says the 5-foot-11 Ford uses his unique build as a strength rather than a hindrance, which helps explain how a nose tackle made so many stops at the college level.
“We always talk about in football that the low man wins – he’s the low man.” Carroll said. “He has really long arms and he understands how to use his length to keep him clear of blockers and keep his feet clear so he can pursue.”
Carroll also spoke at length about Ford’s natural athletic ability, referencing his prior experience playing running back in high school as well as his passing and catching skills displayed regularly at Seahawks practices.
“Can you imagine those little high school kids trying to tackle him?” Carroll quipped.
While picturing the 310-pound Ford lined up in the backfield may seem comical, his play in the trenches against the 49ers certainly wasn’t a laughing matter. Using his exceptional quickness and mobility, he earned a grade of 89.7 from Pro Football Focus after recording four run stops and one quarterback pressure.
And based on his past football background, Ford told me he would've been ready to play fullback if "his number would've been called" with Tre Madden inactive due to injury.
Before I could even finish asking Ford about his assessment of his first start, teammate Nazair Jones interrupted and said, “Ask that man if he’s going to the Hall of Fame after that performance!”
Once we all shared a brief laugh, Ford replied, "I was just hungry. I'd been inactive the past two weeks and I was just ready to get after it."
Now that Ford has left a lasting impression on Carroll and his staff after feasting on the 49ers front line, both he and Jones will have a chance to make a significant impact down the stretch as the Seahawks push for one of the two wild cards in the NFC.
“He’s done well throughout, but he really made a big impression on us this week when he had this much playing time, this much focus,” Carroll said. “You could really see him as a factor. We’re excited for him.”