The NFL season is a series of questions posed and answered. Some of these questions can be answered by a single performance. Some require the player, the coach, the team to sustain a level of play against multiple and varied opponents. Seattle is in the midst of a midterm exam. Can they beat a dominant team? Yes. Is their defense capable of playing a great game? Yes. Are they capable of doing it two games in a row? Yes. How about without Jadeveon Clowney? Affirmative. The questions will not stop. They just get more interesting the rest of the way as the Seahawks dispatched of the Eagles on their way to a gleaming 9-2 record.
Any review of this game has to start with the suddenly surging Seahawks defense. A crew that appeared to be a millstone around the neck of Russell Wilson and this offense, has now taken the role of propellant. Not only have they played better the past two games, but they have been the primary reason for victory.
The degree of difficulty was increased this week without the tumbling ball of butcher’s knives known as Clowney terrorizing the opposing offensive line. It was fair to wonder whether this Seahawks pass rush could even be a little effective without the only player who has created problems for the opposition throughout the year. They made an emphatic case that there is more to this pass rush than one player.
Shaquem Griffin was terrific off the edge, creating chaos with his speed. Ziggy Ansah flashed for the first time all season with 1.5 sacks, that would have been 2.5 if not for a penalty in the secondary. Rasheem Green had a sack and forced fumble. Jarran Reed and Poona Ford and Al Woods also pushed the pocket.
Carson Wentz looked uncomfortable all afternoon. The pocket was rarely clean or large. He was operating in tight quarters and it contributed to him throwing two interceptions in this game after throwing just four in the previous 10 games.
You may point out that the Eagles were missing right tackle Lane Johnson, but the Seahawks have struggled to create pass rush against far less qualified offensive lines.
This was a team that went back-to-back weeks without a sack not so long ago. Two weeks of encouraging play does not mean all the woes are behind them. It does indicate they are capable of producing a championship level pass rush. Evidence also suggests they could continue to get better.
Griffin has played exactly two games in this role. Reed left this game with an ankle injury. Clowney was out. Ansah had his best game. The status of Reed and Clowney are huge, but let’s dream a little and hope they can participate the rest of the way. That front line might wind up being what we all hoped it would be when the season started.
Pair that with a delightfully disciplined secondary that looks like it went through an extreme makeover since the addition of Quandre Diggs and the exit of Jamar Taylor, and you have something that resembles a Pete Carroll defense.
This defense was 30th in the NFL allowing 6.2 yards per play over the first eight games of the season. They are allowing 4.8 yards per play over their past three games, and 4.3 yards per play over their past two. The Patriots lead the NFL allowing 4.3 yards per play this year. In other words, the Seahawks defense is playing as well as any in the NFL over the past two weeks.
They have created 8 turnovers in the past two games, and could have easily had more. They have created 12 turnovers in the past four games. Only the Steelers (13) have more during that time, and they played one extra game.
Diggs has been a revelation at free safety. He has started two games and had two takeaways. He is allowing Bradley McDougald to simply do his job instead of needing to try and make up for deficiencies of his safety partner. Seattle has gone from the worst safety play in the NFL to at least adequate. That is huge. We may find that they are better than adequate, but let’s give it some time.
Shaquill Griffin has been good all year. Now we had the chance to witness Tre Flowers best game as a pro. He had three passes defensed and an interception after never having more than a single pass defensed in a game to this point in his career.
He appeared to make some of those plays in zone coverage where the defender needs to play with some anticipation and break on the ball from behind the receiver. This is significant because Flowers has been struggling to be tight enough in zone coverage much of the year. He has been so focused on keeping players in front of him that he has given up easy yards.
It has to be a balance. Carroll prioritizes limiting big plays, but that doesn’t mean he wants his secondary to give receivers so much cushion that offenses can comfortably complete passes. Flowers toed that line beautifully on Sunday.
The Ugo Amadi move to nickel corner was delayed at least a week. Akeem King took the snaps there, but I believe that was matchup related. The Eagles had no receivers to speak of and are very tight end heavy in their pass game. King is larger and has had some success against TEs. Last year against Travis Kelce and the Chiefs was one example.
I continue to believe Amadi will get his chance to be the primary nickel back.
Seattle’s veteran linebacking crew did their part as well. K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks had a whopping 20 solo tackles in this game. It is usually a great sign when your linebackers are leading the team in tackles. When your safeties or corners are leading, it tends to indicate a lot of passes were completed or players were getting past the linebackers.
Wright flashed some of his classic read and react prowess to blow up a screen pass. Kendricks was all over the field tracking down tight ends and did not seem to miss a single tackle.
It was a shame to see the Eagles be gifted the final touchdown when the Seahawks switched to a prevent defense. They deserved a shutout yesterday. The only true points the Eagles scored came after Michael Dickson shanked a 27-yard punt and gifted Philly the ball at the Seahawks 43-yard line.
Even after Chris Carson had his 4,534,232,343,663,112 fumble of the season, the Seahawks defense stuffed the Eagles offense to keep them from scoring.
So let’s talk about running backs for a sec. I remain a huge Carson fan, but here have to be consequences at some point. He has seven official fumbles on the season, but two that have been attributed to Wilson could have been given to him. Fumbling does not mean you are a bad back.
Adrian Peterson, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris and many more of the best runners ever have had fumbling issues. A couple things though:
- Carson is not quite in their class
- Rashaad Penny is earning more snaps
Penny was the best player on offense in this game. He finished with a career high 129 yards rushing and sealed the game with a 58-yard touchdown.
He has had remarkably few carries in his career. The 14 carries he had in Philadelphia were the most he has ever received. There have only been four games where he had even 10 carries. He is averaging an eye-popping 7.2 yards per carry in those games.
The evidence is mounting that he should at least be splitting time with Carson. There is a lot more to the position than simply rushing performance. Carson is a good blocker in blitz pickup and a very good receiver.
Penny came into the league with a reputation as a bad pass blocker. One missed assignment could mean a big hit on Wilson. It matters.
That said, Carson is opening the door and he is busting through it. He has far more big play potential than Carson and has shown significant improvement in running tough between the tackles for the less sexy gains for 2-3 yards.
The Eagles defense is very good, and their run defense is fantastic. Seattle put up 174 yards rushing against them. They will get another test this week, and plenty of others the rest of the way. The success for Penny is nothing but good news.
Wilson had one of his less impressive games of the season. He missed a chance to either run in a touchdown or hit a wide open Jacob Hollister. He threw his third pick of the year. More troublesome were the hits he took when there was time to throw the ball away and avoid the lost yardage or toll on his body.
Some of that is attributed to Brian Schottenheimer who seemed to have a game plan heavily dependent on deep passing. There were a lot of five-to-seven step drops and long-developing routes. I would have hoped for some more quick passing and misdirection in the form of screens.
Tyler Lockett was clearly not himself, which put a lot more pressure on Metcalf who is not ready to handle that load. Josh Gordon got more snaps but he was not a factor.
Malik Turner had a great touchdown catch, and has made the most of his chances with 10 catches in 12 targets. As much as I am cheering for the guy, he is not a game-changer.
The offense shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with penalties. They cannot play behind the sticks (e.g., 1st and 15, 1st and 20) and hope to have success against elite defenses like the 49ers, the Eagles, and the Vikings.
Ironically, the team heavily leaned on passing in this game as all the analytics experts have wanted them to do, but it was the return to the run that keyed the victory. That is not to say the team should go back to huge emphasis on the run like last season, but they do best when there is a mix.
Mostly, they need to stop the silly penalties and Wilson needs to step forward again.
The defense is looking like it could be a component of a championship team. Wilson was playing at an MVP level to start the season, but has fallen off a bit the past few games. Seattle will not navigate through this crucible of quality opponents with Wilson being just okay. If he can finish his season playing his best football, Seattle should be in position to win 13 or even 14 games.
The competition around the NFC is crazy. New Orleans looks like the most complete and consistent team and has a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. They are facing some serious injuries on their offensive line, however, and nearly lost to the Panthers.
The 49ers are 10-1 and are absolutely in the conversation for best team in football regardless of what some Seahawks fans will tell you. They have a killer end of the season.
Green Bay just showed their true colors in getting whooped in San Francisco. Minnesota could very well be the class of that division, and are coming to Seattle next Monday with bad intentions.
There would have been legitimate reasons to doubt Seattle’s ability to hang with this group a few weeks back. Their defense was one of the worst in football. That is no longer the case. The offense was rising to be one of the most dynamic in the NFL. That progress has stalled. The special teams was a blight on humanity. They have found their footing.
It feels like this team is coming in and out of focus. We can see what looks like a championship-caliber group, with glimpses of greatness, but then it gets fuzzy and we wonder if it is all a mirage. These victories, against these opponents, led by the defense, have provided more certainty that great things are possible. Nobody in the NFL wants to see this offense, defense, and special teams come into focus at the same time or for a sustained period, but that time could be coming and there will be no force that can stand against it when it arrives.