The Morning After: Seahawks Control League’s Top Team from Start to Finish, Beat Eagles 24-10
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The thin line between confidence and arrogance trips many into pratfalls. The bloviations of the masses on social media are like helium filling a balloon that can lift the unsuspecting off the ground and away from reality. Eagles fans floated into Seattle this week certain that their one-loss team was going to easily beat the Seahawks. Sports talk in Philadelphia was not about whether the Eagles would win, but by how much and whether it would be better if they had a tough fight or just blew Seattle out. Their team had feasted on a row of cupcakes headed into this game, and had started to blow a little hot air of their own about a Seahawks defense that was, “nothing special.” Their pain this morning is severe. The Seahawks came equipped with needles, popping Philadelphia’s inflated expectations and sense of self. The fall was precipitous. They may tell themselves stories of unfair laterals and questionable coaching decisions to soothe their aching egos, but reality pierces their illusions. They are not the toughest team. They are not invincible. They are not safe. No team, no city, no fan can rest easy when this Seahawks team has their backs against the wall. They are the thing that goes bump in the night, and they just cracked the door to NFL bedrooms across the league.
Whether you woke this morning a traumatized Eagles fan or delighted Seahawks fan, you likely have the same two questions: how and why did this happen? As I mentioned in my game preview, there were some intangible factors that pointed to the potential for this outcome.
The Seahawks were getting healthy at some key positions
Luke Joeckel played his first game last week against the 49ers, and teamed with Duane Brown on the left side of the offensive line to help shore up the Seahawks pass protection and improve their run game. Brown was now also three weeks removed from an ankle injury suffered in Arizona that has hampered him severely. Mike Davis was returning at running back and had shown a glimpse of the spark plug he could be in the Falcons game. Finally, Shaquill Griffin was returning from a concussion at cornerback. Each of these players had a hand in the victory.
Philadelphia had feasted on the weak
You play the schedule the league gives you and should never apologize for winning. The Eagles were not just winning, they were demolishing teams. There is an undeniable and unavoidable challenge, though, that comes with rolling over the meek for long periods of time. Playing talented and tough teams becomes an adjustment. Similar to shifting gears on a bike or increasing the incline on your treadmill, the same amount of effort gets lesser results.
Seattle thrives on disrespect
Michael Gervais, the Seahawks team performance psychologist, has helped John Schneider and Pete Carroll assemble a team with a nearly uniform psychological profile of gritty underdog. They are at their best when overlooked or doubted. It is if they run on nuclear fusion. Extreme pressure causes them to unite and release remarkable bursts of energy. Schneider gathers the particles. Carroll knows how to harness them. It can be difficult to sustain, and sometimes destructive, but there are few that can withstand its force when properly directed.
The Eagles thrive on turnovers and the Seahawks protect the rock
Russell Wilson had some unsightly interceptions the past two weeks, but has made a career of making wise choices with the football. Only one team had gone an entire game without giving the Eagles a turnover. That was the one game they had lost.
All of these factors played out in the game. Some of them are temporal and would not have the same effect in a rematch or even in the Seahawks next game. Others are specific to this matchup, and would not apply to other opponents the Seahawks play. That is why each week in the NFL is unique. The variables shift. Constants are what you are searching for; things that you can rely on regardless of opponent. Seattle may have found a few in this game that could bode well for the rest of the year and beyond.
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Davis appears to be part of the answer at running back. Eddie Lacy was announced as the starter when they did introductions, but it was Davis who got nearly all the snaps. Thank goodness. Davis’ willingness to run physically and definitively helped lead to just two negative rushes in his 16 attempts. The team does not need a lot from the run game to be effective. They mainly need to avoid losing yardage. Davis finished with 64 yards on the ground. Hardly a total that will get fantasy football players excited, but it was the most by a Seahawks running back since Chris Carson had 93 yards against the 49ers in the second week of the season.
Davis is extremely effective as a receiver out of the backfield as well. He had four catches for 37 yards, giving him 101 yards total from scrimmage. That was the most from a Seahawks runner all year, and he did it against the top-ranked rush defense in the league. His superb cuts on the 22-yard scamper along the sideline and his instant chemistry with Wilson hinted at greater upside. This offense looks far more reliable and dangerous when he is on the field.
The offensive line continues to take steps forward. There was just one false start and no holding calls. They have had just three false starts and no holding calls in the two weeks this line has been on the field. That has a massive impact on the offense. Instead of fighting back from 1st and 15 or 2nd and 20, the team is able to succeed or fail based on the execution of the play. That helped the Seahawks to commit a season-low five penalties in the game after setting a season-low in penalty yards last week.
Philadelphia has a powerful and fierce defensive line. Seattle held up pretty darn well. The Eagles finished with just two sacks, and one came late when Wilson willingly went down to keep the clock running instead of throwing the ball away. They had eight hits on the quarterback. Nobody should be saying this line is dominant, but to deny their progress and contributions to victory is just pig-headed. Tom Cable has earned heavy criticism at times, but deserves praise for the work he has done to transform this group outside of Brown.
Darrell Bevell deserves a ton of praise for his game plan and play-calling last night. He appeared to have the Eagles guessing wrong throughout the game. Seattle had players running open into space, and Wilson was finding them within the framework of the offense. Third down was a thing of beauty. Take your pick from the 47-yard strike to Doug Baldwin on 3rd and 10, the 1-yard touchdown to a wide open Tyler Lockett on 3rd and goal, or the myriad of other conversions on 3rd and long. Seattle finished 6/12 on 3rd downs against an Eagles defense that came into the game ranked second in the NFL in getting off the field on that down.
My favorite part of Bevell’s night was his breaking from typical patterns. We saw passes on 2nd and 10, and consecutive runs even when the first one was unproductive. The plays do not always need to result in big gains to be successful. Shifting tactics make it harder for the defense to play with confident aggression, and can lead to better results later.
Bevell has helped to develop another constant. Jimmy Graham scored another touchdown. He now has 9 touchdowns in the past 8 games. He has at least one in four straight. He is tied with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara for the most touchdowns in the NFL since week five, and is tied for third overall for the full season. The play call to get Graham his latest touchdown was nice in that it happened from further out in the red zone. Graham was in the slot and looped around the outside receiver to set up basically the same fade route they have been running, but from a different set and distance. That was the first touchdown the Eagles had surrendered in the first quarter all season.
Meanwhile, Kris Richard was calling perhaps his best game as a Seahawks defensive coordinator. He chose perfect moments to send pressure from unlikely sources. K.J. Wright blitzed Carson Wentz on a crucial fourth down that led to an incompletion. Justin Coleman blitzed from his nickel spot and pulled down Wentz for one of the team’s three sacks on the day. They finished with 12 hits on Wentz, and got contributions all across the defense.
Bobby Wagner had another terrific game, making tackles everywhere on the field. Frank Clark was a beast and had a couple of sacks. Sheldon Richardson made one of the games great plays when he stripped Wentz at the goal line. Griffin and Byron Maxwell both had multiple pass breakups. Bradley McDougald is looking every bit the starting safety the Seahawks thought they were getting when they signed him late in free agency. Earl Thomas was his normal badass self.
In all, this defense held the top scoring offense to just 10 points. That makes the second time they have faced the top scoring offense in the league and held them to 10 points. The first was against the Rams in Los Angeles. They did this without Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman. In the three games they have played without those two All-Pros, they have allowed 19 points per game. They were allowing 18.3 points per game prior to their injuries. That is far less of a dropoff than I was anticipating. Consider that 7 of those points came on a Wilson fumble returned for touchdown, and another 7 came on the final play against the 49ers when starters like Thomas were sitting.
Remember when the Seahawks run defense was of grave concern? The Eagles were averaging 197 yards rushing over the past three games, and had only been held under 100 yards on the ground once this season. Make that twice. Their three-headed monster at running back was held below 4.0 yards per carry. Their only explosive run was 12 yards by Wentz. Seattle has now held opponents below 100 yards rushing in five straight games, and six of the past seven. That bodes well for the trials that remain.
All of these players and coaches are deserving of the accolades. The game we saw from Wilson, though, was on another plane of existence. He came out in full command of the offense and decisive in his reads. He was accurate from the first snap, and mixed his off-script splendor with on-script precision. That is when he is at his most lethal. That is when he is the most valuable player in football. This team can beat the best teams in football when he plays to that level because they are the best team in football in those moments.
You could see the exasperation of Eagles defenders as he extended plays. They were exhausted. His lateral to Davis may very well have been a forward pass. It was also so brilliant that nobody in the stadium, including Eagles coaches, could see clearly for a few moments. He was a lethal weapon Sunday night, and has a very real shot at being the Seahawks second league MVP if he sustains this level of play the rest of the way.
The season does not get any easier from here. Jacksonville has the best defense in football. The Rams are arguably the most balanced team across all three phases of any team in the league. Dallas will have Ezekiel Elliott back just in time to face Seattle. The Seahawks used up all their extra lives earlier in the season. They are on their last quarter, and must play with supreme focus the rest of the way to realize their goals. This victory simply cancels out one of the Seahawks disappointing losses. They have proven they are capable of beating the unbeatable. Their new challenge is to prove this was not the peak of their season, but simply basecamp for a new ascent. Grab your oxygen masks and take a deep breath. Here we go.