8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Seahawks -6, Over/Under: 50.5
It’s a post-Thanksgiving matchup doubling as rematch from last year’s Playoffs as the Seattle Seahawks head across country to meet the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Of the two teams that met on this very field last January, both may find themselves within the Playoff picture but only the Seahawks (7-3, 2nd in NFC West) appear like a legitimate threat to make their stay a prolonged one. However, fortunes can change fast in the NFC, particularly in the West where just a week ago this team found themselves sliding into third place; Seattle had lost three out of four games following their franchise-best 5-0 start largely due to inexplicably poor play on Defense and some uncharacteristically sloppy performances from their MVP-candidate Quarterback, Russell Wilson (70.7%, 2,986 YDS, 7.06 NY/A, 30 TD, 10 INT, 72.8 QBR). We’ll get into those issues and how they managed to turn things around shortly, but the margin for error within the division is paper thin; by far and away the toughest division in the National Football League this year, the four teams that call the NFC West home are a combined 24-16 (.600), with three of their number currently holding onto a spot in the NFC Playoffs. However, there is a feeling that following their 28-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that this group may have turned the corner, and with a remaining schedule that appears rather easy to say the least (only one of their final five opponents own a winning record), Pete Carroll’s charges have a golden opportunity to cement their place for the Playoffs.
Coming into that meeting with the Cardinals, the Seahawks were fading fast for a variety of reasons. The Defense looked like the worst in the league on a number of fronts, relinquishing the most total yards in the NFL (434.9) through ten games, which is by far and away the most during the Carroll era, a period long defined by dominance on the side of the football. After finishing tops in points allowed for a record four consecutive years (2012-2015) and appearing in back-to-back Super Bowls (XLVIII and XLIX), Seattle gradually began the transition from a defensive juggernaut to an offensive circus built around the unique talents of Wilson, whom they inked to a lucrative four-year, $140 million contract extension two summers ago. Of course, allocating that much money to one player makes it exceedingly difficult to add premium Free Agents, and for a variety of reasons the many figures that made up the famed Legion of Boom fled the Pacific Northwest, some gracefully and others not so much. While Wilson has flourished into one of the elite at his position, the Defense has traveled in the opposite direction, short on both talent and depth with two position groups suffering the most: the Defensive Line and Secondary. The success that these two enjoy often go hand in hand, and when one struggles it’s not uncommon to both suffer together. Simply put, the Pass-Rush is the key to this mess, and Carroll and his Coaching Staff haven’t been able to coax much pressure out of this group, whether by blitzing or using a standard four-man rush. The problems when blitzing are particularly troubling, for the Seahawks have blitzed on 34.2% of their defensive snaps (10th Overall), but have seen very little returns with a middling hurry percentage of 9.6% (15th Overall), a meager pressure percentage of 21.6% (18th Overall), and twenty-five sacks (13th Overall). Even though they’ve slowly begun to get to the Quarterback more frequently it oftentimes leaves them exposed on the back end, where the Secondary has been riddled with injuries. Even adding the likes of All-Pro Safety, Jamal Adams (38 TKL, 6 TFL, 10 QBH, 5.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 PD), and former Pro Bowl Edge-Rusher, Carlos Dunlap (10 TKL, 5 TFL, 7 QBH, 3.5 SK in three games since the trade), the former acquired via trade with the New York Jets shortly before the season and the latter added at the Trade Deadline in a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, hasn’t provided this unit with the necessary shot in the arm, though the feeling coming out of Seattle is that these players will eventually settle in and reveal their quality with more reps. And speaking of eventually revealing quality, they really needed Wilson to snap out of the relative malaise that he found himself in following the Bye Week. One of the most efficient passers in NFL History, the 32-year old fell into a turnover-laden funk during that aforementioned four-game stretch, committing as many turnovers as touchdowns (10), which is something that this team simply overcome anymore. Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks have developed a habit of living dangerously as they’ve found themselves all-too frequently in close games, with Wilson often proving to be deciding factor in victory. Dating back to the 2019 campaign, they’ve played in twenty-two games (including the Playoffs) decided by one possession, and their record in such affairs is an impressive 17-5 with the six-time Pro-Bowler sporting a staggering touchdown/interception ratio of FIFTY-THREE/NINE. Needless to say, that’s an overwhelming disparity, folks, but not a sustainable one, and when he goes through a stretch like he just did, you can see how his team as a whole fairs. However, as we saw two Thursdays ago it appears that the diminutive Superman shook off those struggles and got back to his old ways.
When we last saw the Seahawks, they snapped out of their month-long funk and avenged their earlier defeat to the Cardinals, fending their young division rivals off in a 28-21 victory. In many ways this was the team that we expected to see from Seattle, particularly on the defensive side of the football where they put together what was clearly their fines performance of the campaign, and hopefully one that can be built upon. By the end of the night, Carroll’s troops yielded season-lows in points (21), total yards (314), and passing yards (257), as they managed to contain an Offense that torched them for thirty-seven points and 519 total yards back on October 25th. But it was the big plays that they made in the Fourth Quarter that ultimately stand out, with veteran Linebacker, K.J. Wright (54 TKL, 5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 INT, 6 PD), and Defensive End, L.J. Collier (13 TKL, 3 TFL, 5 QBH, 2.0 SK, 1 PD), forcing a Holding Penalty in the end zone for a safety that extended the lead to 25-21, followed shortly by a 41-yard field goal courtesy of Jason Meyers to push it even further to 28-21 with just 2:24 left to play. Arizona’s Kyler Murray would drive the visitors downfield, though his two shots into the end zone would be batted away in succession by Defensive Backs, Quandre Diggs (41 TKL, 2 INT, 5 PD) and D.J. Reed (33 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD). Lastly, on 4th & 10 from the 27-yard line, the aforementioned Dunlap fought his way towards the elusive Sophomore Quarterback, dragging him down to the turf to end the affair in victory. The -year old may finally be reaching his comfort zone with Seattle, for he was a terror throughout the night with four tackles, three hits and a pair of sacks. As we touched upon earlier, the schedule sets up rather nicely for them to build some momentum defensively, for their next four opponents, including the Eagles, Giants, Jets, and Washington Football Team are some of the weakest offensive sides in the NFL this season, which should serve as a favorable buildup to their rematch with the division-leading Rams, who manhandled them in 23-16 meeting three weeks ago.
Meanwhile, as their opponent breaks out of their recent funk the entire City of Brotherly Love has been waiting all season for their Eagles (3-6-1, 1st in NFC East) to do the same, though there don’t appear to be any signs of that happening anytime soon. In many ways, these birds can be looked at as the dark reflection of the Seahawks; Philadelphia has up to this point failed in maintaining a championship-level roster following their triumph in Super Bowl LII, utterly faceplanted in retooling around Franchise Quarterback, Carson Wentz (58.4%, 2,326 YDS, 4.95 NY/A, 14 TD, 14 INT, 48.2 QBR), who has yet to live up to his own hefty contract extension, and struggled to persevere through a litany of injuries on both sides of the ball. Sure, both teams have remained in the Playoff picture, but between the two it’s Doug Pederson’s charges who don’t pass the eye test. Furthermore, their own division, the NFC East has been the absolute opposite of it’s western counterpart; the four teams housed within the East are a laughable 12-27-1 (.300), with all three teams remarkably still in contention despite none owning a winning record. In fact, the only thing that sets Philly apart from the other three is that they’ve actually TIED a game, which has proven to be decisive at this point. Even with the NFL granting an extra team in the Postseason to each conference the East doesn’t even have a second team vying for a Wild Card, which just further proves how embarrassingly bad this quartet of teams really is. And somehow, someway, the Eagles continue to find themselves ahead of the pack and on track to host a Playoff Game. But can they cross the finish line?
It certainly sounds ridiculous to say now, but coming into the season this team was considered as one of the legitimate contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLX. General Manager, Howie Roseman, bolstered both sides of the football through Free Agency and the NFL Draft, addressing many of the weaknesses that had plagued them in 2019, particularly the Secondary and the Receiving Corps, which were decimated due to injury and exposed due to their lack of depth. The Eagles traded for Pro-Bowl Cornerback, Darius Slay (38 TKL, 2 TFL, 4 PD), and drafted Jalen Reagor (16 REC, 211 YDS, 13.2 Y/R, 1 TD) in the First Round of the Draft to remedy these weaknesses, but now that we’re ten games in the books, it’s become clear that it simply wasn’t enough to stop this car from breaking down. While Slay has been solid in improving the Pass Defense, which has yielded just 209.3 yards (6th Overall) on 5.8 net yards per attempt (5th Overall), and the third-fewest passing scores in the league (13), the Run Defense has been a different story altogether, giving up 133.4 yards (25th Overall), due in large part to one of the weakest Linebacking Corps in the NFL, an position of need that was outright ignored by Roseman during the Offseason. But these ills effecting the Defense pale in comparison to that of the Offense, which has been downright DREADFUL in 2020. Sure, injuries have ravaged the entire unit, but nobody thought that the aforementioned Wentz would perform so poorly. Now in his fifth season and clearly the undisputed starter, Wentz has struggled immensely thus far, leaving many in Philadelphia wondering if it’s indeed time to bench the 28-year old. While Pederson has been staunch in his support of his signal-caller, it’s difficult to defend the play of the former No. Two Overall Pick. Yes, the Offensive Line has spent much of the season without four starters, and the Receiving Corps is once again a hot mess with veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson (13 REC, 155 YDS, 11.9 Y/R, 0 TD) languishing on the injury report, alongside Pro-Bowl Tight End, Zach Ertz (24 REC, 178 YDS, 7.4 Y/R, 1 TD), who was dropped down the depth chart following a disagreement over a contract extension before ultimately succumbing to a injury of his own. These are all viable excuses for any Quarterback who is struggling, but in Wentz’s case it goes deeper than that. Despite persevering under similar conditions a year ago, he’s regressed greatly in 2020, exhibiting statistical decline across the board in a slew of categories, including completion percentage (58.4%), interception percentage (3.7%), yards per attempt (5.2), passer rating (73.3), and QBR (48.2), all of which represent career-worsts. He’s often struggled to progress through his reads, while needlessly trying to extend plays and force the football into crowded areas when he would be far better suited to just throw it away, putting him into conflict with Pederson and the Coaching Staff. However, it’s not like he’s enjoyed much protection either, having suffered FORTY sacks already, which is by far and away the most in the league at this point. One would have to think that this constant pressure has adversely effected his mechanics, which if were being honest, were never the most refined to begin with; he’s been pressured on 27.0% of his dropbacks thus far (up from 23.4% in 2019), causing his percentage of poor throws to increase from 17.8% a year ago to 20.6% which has of course played a role in his NFL-high fourteen interceptions. Whether they end up winning the division or not, Roseman and Pederson are going to have to sit down and really think about how they’re going to move forward, for with Wentz virtually untradeable and uncuttable over the next two years due to that mammoth four-year, $128 million contract extension rebuilding the framework of this roster around is going to be exceedingly difficult without sacrificing some of the proven veterans around him, which could very well lead to more problems than answers.
When we last saw the Eagles, it was more of the same problems that they’ve been dealing with all season in a 22-17 loss at the Cleveland Browns, an affair that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would lead you to believe. With most of the contest being played during a downpour, the visitors had nobody to blame but themselves for this latest defeat, with Wentz in particular playing some of his poorest football of the year. After a scoreless First Quarter, the Browns got on the board first after they returned a Wentz Interception fifty yards to the house, to take a 7-0 lead into Halftime. It was more of the same in the Second Half, with the Quarterback sacked by Cleveland’s Olivier Vernon in the end zone for a safety to extend the deficit to 12-7. A Jake Elliott Field Goal would cut the lead to 12-10, but the hosts would run off ten unanswered points to make it 22-10 in the latter stages of the Fourth Quarter, though Wentz would lead his side downfield and pull Philadelphia within five on the strength of a 4-yard touchdown to Tight End, Dallas Goedert (23 REC, 263 YDS, 11.4 Y/R, 2 TD), but with just thirty seconds left to play it was a case of too little too late as they failed to recover the onside kick, ending the contest. Simply put, this was a mess for the Eagles, who could muster just 315 total yards, turned the football over three times, and converted on a miserable 2-of-12 third downs, which continues to be a year-long problem. As for Wentz, he wears the blame for the loss, completing 21-of-35 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off twice and sacked five times, all the while directly responsible for nine Browns’ points, which in a game decided by five is damning.