Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead
Ultimate fighting allows a combatant to tap out. Boxing gives officials the power to end a fight if the pounding becomes too one-sided. Even professional wrestling, where the pain is faked, allows for tagging to exit a bout and escape punishment. There is no such sanctuary for Seahawks opponents right now. It is a steel cage match. Two teams enter each week. Only one team leaves with a shred of dignity. The Eagles vaunted high-tempo offense resembled a race car repeatedly running into a wall. Congress has made more progress than the Eagles offense did on Sunday. Middle East peace talks have made more progress. The Raiders certainly made more progress. A Seahawks team that was trapped by their 2013 success earlier this season has emerged from their chrysalis as fully-formed team of mass destruction.
The Seahawks have played three vastly different teams in three weeks in three cities. They have held each opposing offense to progressively fewer total yards. This is not an outcome that requires the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. It is not an outcome that requires a struggling offense or a team riddled with injuries. Seattle went into the Eagles house and not only held their offense to a season-low in yardage, but to the lowest total in Chip Kelly’s head coaching career, including his college years.
The Seahawks defense has held three straight opponents to their season lows in points and yards
Doubters will continue to poke at the accomplishment, most likely now turning to the quality of opposing quarterback they faced during this stretch. But ask Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees what it is like to play against this defense when they are on their game. This defense has proven time and again over the last three years that they dictate how an opposing offense plays more than any player or coach on the other side.
It is a level of dominance so distinct from everything else happening in this parity-constrained sport that that it will become legend. Forget teams coming after Dan Quinn next year as their head coach. Seattle may need to hire an entirely new defensive staff as teams desperately try to get some level of insight into how they might replicate what the Seahawks have captured.
But as Jacksonville can tell you, building something like this does not happen overnight.
Run defense shines
It is easy to get caught up in the Legion of Boom and the Seahawks remarkable pass defense. What may be more stunning right now is how the run defense has recovered from the loss of Brandon Mebane. An Eagles team that had averaged 210 yards rushing over the last two weeks and 176 yards rushing over the last three, was held to just 57 yards on 22 carries for a 2.6 average per carry.
LeSean McCoy had nowhere to go. This Eagles offensive line that was so highly rated and finally healthy was completely overmatched. McCoy never got to the outside. Seattle did a phenomenal job at setting the edge and funneling Eagles runners back toward the middle where a bevy of tacklers were waiting to make the play.
Darren Sproles finished with four touches for zero yards
McCoy and Sproles are undoubtedly one of the most talented backfields in the NFL. The Seahawks held them to 50 yards on 21 carries and no yards receiving. Other teams have had some luck slowing the Eagles running game at times this year, but never when the offensive line was healthy like it is now.
Boom goes sonic
The stellar run defense forced Mark Sanchez to beat the Seahawks through the air. Not going to happen.
Sanchez completed only two passes that traveled more than five yards past the line of scrimmage
Philadelphia relies heavily on their wide receivers in the passing game. Seattle excels at limiting receiver yardage. Truthfully, they excel at limiting all yardage right now. The pass rush is a big part of that. Michael Bennett helped to lead a group that finished with three sacks. That was the third straight week with three or more sacks, and it was the best pass rush performance against the Eagles all season. They have surrendered more sacks in a game, but not with so few pass attempts.
Seattle sacks Sanchez on a remarkable 15 percent of his pass attempts. Jacksonville recorded five sacks against the Eagles, but it took 45 pass attempts to do it. The Seahawks were not supposed to be able to create that kind of pressure against an Eagles line that included two terrific tackles and a terrific guard. They did. The narrative that this defense is doing it without the pass rush of last year is flat untrue. The recent resurgence coincides with the return of the pass rush as much as it does the return of Bobby Wagner or Kam Chancellor’s health.
Passing game shines
Take a moment to applaud the players who rarely get credit for the job they do to make the passing game work. Start with the offensive line. The Eagles were held to two sacks in thirty-seven Seahawks pass attempts. That is a five percent sack rate for the second-best pass rush in the NFL, and one of the sacks was Russell Wilson running out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away. Seahawks opponents had posted sack rates of 32 percent and 18 percent the last two games. This was a marked improvement.
Doug Baldwin combined with the rest of the receiving corps to have an excellent day. The group had 13 catches in 20 targets and made a number of difficult catches in big situations. Paul Richardson showed some moxie with a couple physical plays in traffic. Jermaine Kearse displayed the power and grit that was so obvious last season. Kevin Norwood caught every ball thrown to him, as has been the story all year. His only target that did not result in a catch was the flea-flicker against the Cardinals. Ricardo Lockette made a big play.
But none were better than Baldwin on day when he accounted for nearly 150 yards when totalling his receiving yards and a big pass interference penalty. He was open all game and Wilson found him regularly. There is a pretty clear pattern that when Baldwin is a central part of the passing game, the Seahawks passing game does well.
Wilson had another wonderful game. His running was lethal again, and his passes were accurate.
The seven explosive passes for Seattle was their second-best mark of the year
He managed the game nicely and avoided turnovers against a team that lives off of them. The lone blemish on his performance was his mismanagement of a couple of scoring situations. Stepping out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away on the Seahawks first drive cost the team a chance at a field goal, and holding the ball too long instead of throwing it away resulted in an intentional grounding that cost the team another field goal. Some of those things come with the package when you are a Houdini quarterback who escapes situations nobody else can.
Bring on the next challenger
The Seahawks are not just decimating opponents during their games, they are apparently crippling their ability to win the following week as well. The Cardinals left Seattle and promptly lost to the below .500 Falcons, and the 49ers took their clown act on the road to lose in the one-win (now two) Raiders. Apparently, everyone has it better than San Francisco right now.
Seattle may get Max Unger back this week, which would only make life that much more miserable for any team trying to contend with the champs. They are punching like a super heavyweight who is matched up with a flyweight. The only thing that has not happened in this stretch of dominant play is a blowout. That may be coming as they return home this week. If a loss on Thanksgiving was unacceptable, we can only guess how Jed York would feel about three straight losses punctuated with a laugher in Seattle.
San Francisco will clearly bring everything they have left in the tank, but the Seahawks only true opponent is complacency. And even that does not stand much of a chance right now given the motivation engines revving through that locker room. No longer can people wonder about whether there is a leadership void after Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Michael Robinson moved on. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin, Michael Bennett and others have proven their leadership may be as impressive as their on-field talents. There is little else that can explain a turnaround of this magnitude.
As another great pugilist once said, “I am the greatest. I said that before I even knew I was.”
Muhammad Ali may be the best embodiment of who this team is when they operate as one. They talk big. They hit hard. They show no mercy. The defining difference is that their opponents have no option to throw in the towel. Step into the ring if you dare.