I was nervous about this one. Fans tend to get caught up in transitive logic from week-to-week. The Seahawks beat the Patriots on the road. The Patriots are better than the Eagles. The Seahawks will trash the Eagles at home. It is a shame that many will feel vindicated in that logic after the Seahawks handily beat the Eagles because they will have taken for granted what was a uniquely impressive performance by the home team. This Eagles defense is one of the best in football. Some had them ranked as the toughest team in the league. The last time the Seahawks played a defense this good, it took five quarters to score six points. They were a missed field goal and extra point away from dropping 30 on this team while piling up well over 400 yards. Nobody will remember this a signature win, but they should. This was the game where the offense, and most impressively, the offensive line, earned their stripes against a powerful defense. This is where the transitive property does apply. This performance, against this team, means there are very few defenses in the NFL equipped to slow down this emerging Seahawks offense.
Thomas Rawls enters stage left, C.J. Prosise and Troymaine Pope exit stage right
Seahawks rookie running back C.J. Prosise took a handoff on the second series of the game and raced around the right side for a thrilling 72-yard run. This, from a Seahawks team that averaged about 77 yards per game on the ground. We were witnessing the birth of a star. Then, just before half, he was injured on a meaningless play. Pete Carroll announced afterwards that Prosise has a broken scapula and will miss significant time. There are folks guessing it could be anywhere from 4-8 weeks before he could return. With just six weeks remaining in the regular season, the team has a decision they need to make about his roster spot.
Should the Seahawks maintain their playoff ranking, they will get a bye, which would put Prosise on track to return for the first playoff game. He would be a great boost. Then again, the team must move on without him. They may decide to use his roster spot on a replacement. Troymaine Pope, newly activated, got hurt as well. He is said to have a high ankle sprain. My best guess is the team will put Pope on injured reserve and sign a new running back in that spot while keeping Prosise on the roster. No matter what direction they go, it is a shame to see the budding hopes of two young men come crashing down on the same night.
The news was not all gloomy in the running back room. Thomas Rawls made his bruising return. While many will point to the big run by Prosise skewing the rushing numbers, they are missing the beauty of Rawls’ hard-earned 57 yards on 4.1 yards per run. He had one big 18-yard breakout, but I was more excited by the consistent 2 and 3 yard gains he was getting right in the heart of the Eagles defense. He ran tough and found space. Those are the types of bread-and-butter plays that set up 2nd and 7 instead of the more desperate 2nd and 10 we have seen a lot of earlier in the year.
Rawls also caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 20 yard gain. That’s 88 yards of offense in his first game back. He looked far more like the player we saw last year than the one we saw earlier this year. Now comes the hard part. There is no safety net. Alex Collins is the only option behind Rawls, and has not looked ready to take on a larger role thus far. A lot is riding on the durability of a player who has yet to prove he can stay on the field.
It would be wise for the Seahawks to avoid placing the entire burden on Rawls’ shoulders. They have made it this far without a running game. Spending the next few weeks getting more efficient with their rushing attack without asking Rawls to carry the ball 20+ times per week is a worthy goal. A couple guys to keep an eye on who could be signed to the roster are George Farmer (currently on the practice squad) and Rod Smith, a bruising runner who battled with Rawls for a spot last year before the Cowboys signed him as a free agent. Smith is now available after the Cowboys released him earlier this month. Zac Brooks might be a third option.
Farmer is a guy who makes sense as a third-down back. He is a physical runner and good special teams player who also has decent hands. Seattle went from a treasure trove of running back depth to a nearly empty cupboard. There is a lot riding on how this story plays out the rest of the way.
Offensive line impresses
One could make a case for the offensive line playing the best game of any one group on the Seahawks. Fletcher Cox leads one of the more dynamic and powerful defensive lines in football. Brandon Graham has been rated as one of the best defensive ends in the league this year, per ProFootballFocus.com. Connor Barwin piles up plenty of sacks. The linebacking crew for the Eagles is fast, talented and aggressive.
All the Seahawks offensive line did was pave the way for a season-high 152 yards rushing on 5.1 yards per rush, and just a single sack for zero lost yards. Russell Wilson deserves a good chunk of the credit for getting rid of the ball on time and moving well inside and outside the pocket, but the line held up extremely well.
Wilson threw a number of deep passes, and had the time necessary to let the play develop. In fact, PFF noted that Wilson had 2.97 seconds to throw, on average, against the Eagles which was a season high. They even did that while battling their own injury issues.
George Fant left early in the game with a shoulder injury, and the Seahawks had made a curious decision to leave both Bradley Sowell and J’Marcus Webb off the active roster. That meant rookie Rees Odhiambo was the only backup tackle, and he had never played a meaningful snap in the NFL. He has now. Odhiambo was on the field for the final 34 yards of a 92 yard touchdown drive and then the entirety of a 74 yard drive that followed. That second drive included back-to-back deep passes, showing confidence that the youngster could hold up in pass protection.
Fant eventually returned. That will make for an interesting set of decisions this week. Sowell really should be active on game day. He is the former starter, and should be the first guy off the bench in most cases. Odhiambo may be challenging that notion. The fact that Webb was a healthy scratch from the roster makes one wonder if he is going to last much longer. The team would eat some dead money on the cap if they cut him, but they may also choose to gamble on Pope by keeping him around and using Webb’s roster spot to bring in another runner. Webb has been awful his whole career, and nothing has changed in Seattle. It was a rare personnel mistake by John Schneider bringing him aboard, but you have to put much of it at the feet of Tom Cable who most likely made the case for him.
Cable believes he can salvage anybody who is willing to work and learn and play with an edge. It is both admirable and one of his greatest failings. He can rightly point to the progress of this group as evidence that his method can work. It can. There just tends to be a lot of pain associated with the process. It is okay to start with a good player and make him great instead of always starting with a terrible player and making him passable.
Setting aside this philosophical quibbles, this line was dominated just a couple weeks ago by the Bills. They could not gain an inch, let alone a yard. Creases are becoming more common for runners to slip through. The line of scrimmage is being pushed forward after the snap of the ball instead of getting blown back. It was one thing to do that against an overrated Patriots defense. This was something else.
The end result was facing the second and third-ranked scoring defenses the past two weeks and averaging 28.5 points and 429.5 yards. Promising.
Wilson and his playmakers prove special again
This may have been Wilson’s most impressive performance of the season. He was stellar last week in New England and put up gaudier numbers. This week had him making some vintage Wilson improvisational plays that are hard to measure. His touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham was unreal. He scrambled to his left to create some space and extra time after his initial reads were not there, and then made one of the more improbable throws you will ever see with a man in his face.
He is throwing off the wrong foot, while running laterally and manages to throw a dart vertically. He does that because he has an ability to square his shoulders as he throws while running. Most players cannot do that and wind up throwing the ball out of bounds or way off target. Look at the picture again. His shoulders are parallel to that blue line, representing the line of scrimmage. Remarkable.
Then, Graham does his thing and turns what should have been a nice gain into a touchdown. Everyone took a turn tonight. Doug Baldwin was marvelous once again, looking like he is going to earn every dollar the Seahawks invested in him this offseason. Tyler Lockett caught another big pass, and would have had one more if not for a penalty that brought the play back. Even Paul Richardson, who only had one catch for six yards gained more respect by taking another big hit.
This is such a good group. It is not clear they even fully realize just how good they are. Even with all that Graham and Baldwin have done in their careers, the whole group is still in the process of establishing their identity and threat level. The exciting part is there is room to grow.
Defense holds up despite more injuries
The Eagles offense came into the game ranked 10th in points scored. They relied heavily on a running attack that features Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Both wound up leaving this game due to injury. Seattle had their own injury issues as DeShawn Shead left early, then Earl Thomas, and eventually even Shead’s replacement, Neiko Thorpe. Brock Coyle even left for a while. This was an insane game when it came to injuries.
Thorpe was pressed into duty for much of the game and Steven Terrell took over for Thomas. The numbers were relatively solid for Seattle, and they took over the NFL lead for points allowed, but it was not as dominating as I had expected.
The Seahawks had a lot of trouble generating a pass rush. Damontre Moore, who I have been hyping endlessly, got a lot more run in this game and was mostly a non-factor. Frank Clark was not his usual disruptive self, and Cassius Marsh was largely contained. A few timely penalties and dropped passes saved the Seahawks defense from a far less flattering result.
Michael Bennett cannot return soon enough. The team could use his energy and mayhem. The prognosis for Shead and Thomas will be important. Were these minor pulls or Kam Chancellor-like tears that could sideline them for a while? Initial indications were the Shead injury was of the minor variety. We can only hope.
No matter the outcome there, the defense could definitely use some help from the offense. They have carried the load the whole year, and could use some breathing room to heal up and replenish their energy heading into the stretch run.
Special teams were terrific
The average fan will point to the blocked extra point and the missed field goal and say the Seahawks special teams was not good against the Eagles. Don’t be an average fan. Philadelphia has the top-rated special teams group in the league. They have the #1 and #3 ranked kick and punt return teams in the NFL. Jon Ryan, Stephen Hauschka and the coverage units were superb on Sunday. They held the Eagles to just 15 return yards, total. This coverage group is starting to become a new strength on this Seahawks team. Seattle is at their best when opponents struggle to get yards in any way, whether it is against the defense or against the special teams. We are pretty darn close to that place.
The placekicking is a problem. One can only hope those guys work their tails off and find the reliability they have been lacking.
Seahawks have run the gauntlet
Seattle has played an insanely difficult schedule the past six weeks. They have faced the top three scoring offenses (Atlanta, New Orleans, New England), two of the top three scoring defenses (Philadelphia, New England), the top overall yardage defense (Arizona), the top pass rushing defense and rushing offense (Buffalo), played half of the games on the road, and lost just one time. It used to be that the 49ers were the measuring stick for Seattle. No team was tougher to beat. Seattle has established their place atop the league this year by staring down the toughest stretch any team will face this year and beating nearly all of them. Oh, and they did it all with an array of serious injuries to their best players.
There is nothing left to prove in the regular season for the Seahawks. They can beat anyone, anywhere. The job now is to oil the squeaky gears and replace some of the broken down parts. It is time to tune up for another championship run. Tighten the run defense. Get sharper on third downs, offensively and defensively. Find a rhythm in the red zone. Eek out a few more yards per carry. Find your most ferocious pass-rushing combination.
No teams left on the schedule have won more games than they have lost. It is not about them. Seattle must use their sparring partners the rest of the way become the unstoppable force they were always meant to be.