RENTON — In his first game as a full-time starting linebacker for the Seahawks, Cody Barton had a moment that earned him about the highest-possible praise from head coach Pete Carroll.
“That’s a K.J. Wright play,” Carroll said of a tackle Barton made in the final minutes of Monday’s 17-16 win over Denver that was as pivotal as any in the game.
To reset the situation, Denver QB Russell Wilson had just completed a pass to running back Javonte Williams for 9 yards on a third-and-2 to give the Broncos a first down at their own 49 with 1:24 remaining and all three time outs.
In other words, another Wilson Lumen Field comeback special seemed ominously in the offing.
But on the next play, Barton sniffed out another pass to Williams — a screen in the right flat — quickly racing upfield past Denver right guard Graham Glasgow and tackling Williams for a 2-yard loss. It was the kind of play Wright turned in often during his Seahawks career in which he earned the moniker “the Screen Master.”
“Unbelievable play,” said defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt.
The lost yards seemed to unnerve the Broncos — they had gained 27 yards in the previous six plays in appearing to methodically work their way into field goal range.
Wilson threw incomplete on second down and then for 9 yards to Williams on third, setting up the ill-fated decision to attempt a 64-yard-field goal that was just wide left.
But more than that, had Barton not made the tackle, Williams might have turned the play into a significant gain as there appeared to be a lot of open room behind him.
And as the Seahawks explained this week, the pivotal play was due to both a little bit of preparation and a little bit of luck.
First, the film work.
Barton said Seahawks linebackers coach John Glenn noticed that Williams had a habit of patting his feet as the ball was snapped when he was set to go out on a pass route.
Barton said he noticed Williams patting his feet on a few plays earlier in the game but hadn’t reacted quickly enough. But on the pivotal play, Barton said seeing Williams pat his feet again “was like confirming it, so I just took off on him. …. As soon as I saw that pat-pat by his feet I just shot it. I knew it was coming.”
Now, the little bit of luck.
Middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks, in his first game relaying the play calls from Hurtt to the rest of the defense, said the Seahawks were supposed to call a blitz.
Only, Brooks said, he couldn’t hear it due to the deafening Lumen Field crowd noise so he just called for a basic alignment.
“Crowd was going crazy, didn’t hear the call, so just had to get lined up and go,” Brooks said.
Screens are pretty much the perfect play against a blitz and Brooks said, “I think if we would have called the blitz we would be in misery right now. … Luckily, I didn’t hear it, and we got another call called. Cody made a great play and saved it for us.”
And to Carroll and Hurtt, the play helped confirm the decision in the offseason to go with Barton as the other inside linebacker alongside Brooks once the team released Bobby Wagner.
“He sees it and knows what it is, a screen,” Carroll said. “He’s got to beat the lineman and he can feel the lineman coming out and he dipped him and made a great tackle on a great back in a crucial time for a big loss. It was a great indicator for things to come.”
As Hurtt noted, Barton — the 88th overall pick in 2019 out of Utah — is now in his fourth year, and while he had just five starts before this season (all due to injuries to other players), that experience should be paying off.
“The recognition, identifying certain things, whether it’s recognizing a formation, a backfield set, something a guy does presnap, for him to be able to go trigger and make a play that fast, that’s really encouraging,” Hurtt said. Barton banged his knee a little on the play and had to come out, but was back for the field goal.
Carroll also cited another play as validation of why they felt confident in Barton — a sack of Wilson on Denver’s final drive of the second quarter for an 8-yard loss back to the Seattle 32 that helped force the Broncos to settle for a field goal.
Barton was supposed to through the left guard and tackle. But when the line slid that direction, he quickly reversed course and cut to the right, crashing through an opening between the center and right guard, instead.
“The sack was a great adjustment he made on the rush,” Carroll said. “It wasn’t just a typical thing that happened. He showed good savvy and confidence to go ahead and adjust the pattern he was coming with.”
Said Barton: “You’re not going to just run into a brick wall, you know what I mean? I’m going to try to go around it. They all came to me (Denver’s OL) so I just kept going around the horn.”
The sack was one of two the Seahawks got on Wilson, but Barton’s was the only one by someone who had played with him, the other coming from newcomer Uchenna Nwosu.
“It felt really good,” Barton said. “We were talking about it all week — we all wanted to get to him. And when they called that play, as soon as it came into the huddle I was like, ‘yeah, I’m going to get to him.’ You know when you have a feeling in your bones like you just know it’s going to happen? It was one of those moments.”
— Only two Seahawks were listed as not practicing Thursday — cornerback Artie Burns (groin) and defensive end Shelby Harris (back). Two others were limited — running back Kenneth Walker III (hernia) and cornerback Justin Coleman (calf). Everyone else was a full participant including safety Quandre Diggs, who sat out Wednesday listed as due to a knee.
— The 49ers listed two players as did not practice — backup center Daniel Brunskill (hamstring) and starting tight end George Kittle (groin). LB Dre Greenlaw (elbow) was limited, with everyone else practicing. Kittle also did not play last Sunday against the Bears.
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