The Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks are set to play each other this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. In order to preview the Eagles’ Week 13 game against Seattle, I reached out to our friends over at Field Gulls. The great Kenneth Arthur (@KennethArthuRS) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers. (Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at FG.)
1) To what extent do you see similarities to the 2013 Seahawks Super Bowl team in the 2017 Eagles? Both started 10-1 with second-year quarterbacks, strong defenses …
The first difference that jumps out to me is the defenses, not just in how dominant they were, but in which ways they were dominant. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks had an elite free safety in Earl Thomas going into his fourth NFL season, an elite strong safety in Kam Chancellor going into his fourth NFL season, and an elite cornerback in Richard Sherman going into his third NFL season. The Eagles defense has its strength, but I wouldn't say that it emanates from having three elite secondary players. That's not trash talk, it's just a reality that Malcolm Jenkins, Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod don't compare favorably to Thomas-Chancellor-Sherman, all in the early prime of their careers in 2013. I'm sure with Ronald Darby, Philly's secondary gets even better, and I'm not saying it's not good, it's just not what Seattle was boasting from 2012-2015. That resulted in the Seahawks finishing first against the pass with a DVOA against of -34.2%, which is an insanely good number. (The Jags this season have a pass defense DVOA of -36.6%, while the Eagles are at -12.8%, which is still good for fourth. Seattle is at -0.6% this season and that was mostly with Sherman and Chancellor, both now on IR.)
The Seahawks overall defensive DVOA in 2013 was -25.9% and they had a weighted defensive DVOA (more emphasis on the last 10 games of the year) of -30%. The Eagles are currently at -18.7% and their weighted DVOA is -19.4%. So I'd say that Philadelphia has a great defense, but the 2013 Seattle Seahawks had a greater defense, going down in history as one of the top five units ever, in my admittedly biased opinion. The numbers and their dominance over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl help support that argument however. If the Eagles win the Super Bowl, will history classify their team as a "defense-first, all-time defense" type of champion? I don't think it would. The focus is probably more on how balanced they are and that their second-year quarterback is leading the NFL in touchdown passes.
The other thing about the 2013 Seahawks is that Marshawn Lynch was so integral to what they were doing on offense. He led the NFL in touchdown rushes in 2013 and 2014 and was the ultimate broken-tackle runner. LeGarrette Blount has drawn Lynch comparisons over small moments in his career, but we all know that he's miles and miles behind what Lynch was doing in the prime of his career. Again, I'm not saying this as a dig on Philly overall; I think it's fair to say that the Eagles offense is better than the 2013 Seahawks offense, it's also just different. Wentz has 28 touchdown passes and he'll probably finish the season with 35+. Russell Wilson had 26 touchdown passes in all of 2013 and the use of the zone read option was a major part of what they wanted to do on offense. They had reliable receivers but they didn't lean heavily on a tight end like Zach Ertz (because Zach Miller was a bit of a free agent bust) and they didn't have a single player with more than five touchdown receptions; the Eagles already have three players with at least six touchdown receptions.
So I would not say that the two teams are very much alike outside of the commonalities that you mention. The Eagles offense is better than what the Seahawks had in 2013, and they're scoring points in a much different fashion. The Seahawks defense in 2013 is better than what Philadelphia has now, and also seemed to start from the back to the front rather than going from the front (Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, etc) to the back. I would have to say that the 2013 Seahawks are a better team, but only because this season isn't even close to being over yet. With five regular season games and the playoffs yet to go, the Eagles could surpass the 2013 Seahawks as a football team; but only if they win the Super Bowl, in my opinion. And they could.
2) The Seahawks are usually really good at home, but they’ve lost their last two games there. The Seattle-Houston game came down to the last minute as well. Why are the Seahawks suddenly vulnerable at home? Is it just the injuries or is it more than that?
It's pretty hard to encapsulate why something might be different, if that "something" is sort of intangible and unexplainable, while the sample size is all of two games. They lost to Washington at home by three points while missing three field goals, two of which inside 50 yards. So if Blair Walsh makes his field goals and the Seahawks win by 3-6 points (let's say that is true, though we won't ever know for sure) then suddenly they aren't having as many "problems" at home. And if Blair Walsh makes a 52-yard field goal against the Falcons and sends the game to OT, as most NFL kickers would be able to do, then maybe they beat Atlanta and suddenly they're undefeated at home. As it stands, the Seahawks could still go 6-2 at home. They needed fourth quarter comebacks to beat the 49ers and Texans at home too, so I'm not saying they're as dominant as usual there either. I do think it's all based on a ton of perspective and lack of context though to say that they're now vulnerable at home though given that we have nothing to base the struggle on outside of things we can't measure or even acknowledge without actually being a part of the team.
If that doesn't make sense (and I'm sure that I've done a horrible job of conveying my point but I'm fighting to get the right words together), I guess I'm just saying that homefield advantage itself is still a bit of a mystery. When the lines on the field are the same at all 32 stadiums, what makes teams so much better when those lines are drawn in the cities or states in which they reside? The home crowd? Sure. The advantage of not having to travel? Absolutely. The familiarity with all the intricacies and nuances of your field? Yeah, why not. But then what about when there is a change in your performance at home? None of those advantages are now un-true, right? The Seahawks still don't have to travel this weekend. They still have the home crowd. They're still familiar with CenturyLink. So why would they be playing worse at home? Locker room tensions? Complacency? Maybe the Rams have secretly been moving CenturyLink by one foot per day every day for years and then one day you look up and the stadium is in Sacramento and it's like "How did we miss this?" I don't know and that's the hard part of answering this question: Are the Seahawks less dominant at home this season? Seems so. What is the cause? Impossible to know, if there is even something causing anything. Could they be just as dominant at home from now until indefinite? Yeah, they could. It probably does just have to do with the fact that the Seahawks are not as good this year as they were from 2012-2015.
3) If you were game-planning for the Seahawks, what’s your strategy to beat the Eagles? And vice versa?
I don't know about game planning so much, but here's what I'm sort of seeing as advantages/disadvantages and how Seattle can take advantage of those things:
The Eagles are eighth in rushing by DVOA, which is good, not great. It's borderline great. I know they're 2nd in rushing yards and 3rd in yards per carry, but they carry some advantages there because they're a good team that gets out to early leads and then can continue to run it with Blount, Corey Clement, Jay Ajayi, etc. Seattle used to operate that way but they can't build early leads and then they abandon the run and before you know it Russell leads the NFL in pass attempts. How quickly the world changes. But it should be interesting to see what happens if the Eagles can't put the game away by running it, because I think the Seahawks could be featuring an elite run defense right now at this moment -- they're only 11th in run defense DVOA, but right now when they're putting Jarran Reed and Sheldon Richardson on the field at the same time, they're almost impossible to get through. And even outside runs are often stopped by Bobby Wagner, the best linebacker in the NFL (again, my opinion, but defensible), or K.J. Wright. I have utmost confidence in Seattle's run defense and they've been as good as ever since Week 5, the lone exception being how Deshaun Watson ran on them in Week 8; I don't think Wentz is going to do what Watson did, even if he is a better passer. He's just not going to personally get Philly's run game going, I don't think. So I expect the Seahawks to actually win the ground game on that side of the ball, and "force" Wentz to beat them (force in quotes because I don't think Doug Pederson has a problem relying on his soon-to-be Pro Bowl QB, tight end, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor) in the air. The Seahawks are now running a defense without Sherman or Chancellor though, so it could be a struggle for them against an offense that's fifth in passing DVOA. I think in watching Seattle every week that I'm comfortable in saying that I think their defense is still great, even without Sherman and Kam, but they have one or two extra "lapses" per game; something they rarely had in the prime of their franchise. Against an offense like Philly's that could turn into 3-4 extra lapses though, so that's something that could be a problem for them. Overall, I think the Seahawks will shut down the Eagles on like 70% of their drives. It's just a matter of two things: Can Wilson avoid turnovers and giving the ball to the Eagles with great field position? And two, can Wilson score 30 points against the Philly defense?
I say "Can Wilson" because he's 80% of the offense, the team's leading rusher, and I don't know if the Seahawks should ever hand the ball off to a running back even once all game. The Eagles should only rush three though because they have an elite defensive line and even with Duane Brown and Luke Joeckel finally playing together (the Seahawks just had their best pass protection game of the season, by far, and it was the first game with Brown and Joeckel together) I think they'll have a difficult time slowing down Cox and Graham. Put pressure on Wilson early and then drop 7-8 and get as many coverage sacks/coverage force Wilson into a short gain on the ground, and maybe spy Wilson and give yourself a shot to not get beat by him on the ground. We already know that Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls almost certainly won't be factors, so if you can take Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin out of the offense, there's not as many other areas to go to. Paul Richardson is another player to watch for, a rising star that could get a $40-$50 million deal next year (really) but drive-in, drive-out, take Baldwin out of the middle-field offense and Jimmy out of the red zone offense, and the Eagles could end up winning by 20. Let Wilson run all around you, pick up first downs through his legs/scramble passes, lose track of Baldwin in the middle of the field, and I think we've got a close shootout. Wilson is typically at his best at home in primetime too, so I'm giving myself a little hope in that regard as well.
4) Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said one of the biggest challenges of playing Seattle is facing Russell Wilson’s ability to run backwards and extend plays in that matter. Based on the times you’ve seen his worst games, what’s the best way to limit him?
Basically more of what I was just talking about, but in the times I've been frustrated with Wilson I've yelled at him (through the TV) for not giving up on plays that he should have given up on. He holds onto the ball for 2.5 seconds in a pocket that's bound to collapse in 2.4. And we all know that the pocket can't usually withstand a pass rush for longer than a couple of seconds in this offense. That's different now with Duane Brown, but it's still a common theme that Wilson holds onto the ball too long, or misses wide open receivers and tight ends because he couldn't see them, either physically or because he was just locked onto the wrong target. There's a version of Russell Wilson that is the best player in the NFL. Any position. Any person. There's a version of Wilson (see: the end of 2015) that's the best football player in the world. And it's when he sees the entire field. Then there's the version that leaves points on the field, runs into sacks, misses open targets, overthrows his receivers, and doesn't quit when he should quit so that he can live to play on the next drive.
However, that same Wilson player who won't give up on a play has also made some of the most incredible plays in NFL history based on the fact that he held onto the ball for too long. The guy who scrambles and picks up a first down. The guys who avoids a sack or three within the pocket to throw a pass that seemed impossible for a first down or a touchdown. The guy who nobody has ever seen before on a football field. Pressuring Wilson is the best way to stop him, but it is also how we somehow manage to get the best out of Wilson. It's when he shines in doing what makes him unique. Because beyond just being a tough guy to tackle, he also has one of the best deep balls in the NFL. He leads the league in total yards per game. He could finish the season as 2017's leading passer while also rushing for 600+ yards. He'll go three quarters with an ugly stat line but almost always seems to add two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and he's almost impossible to put away. Only two times in the last six years have the Seahawks not been within a touchdown of their opponent in the fourth quarter. That's wild stuff. And it's almost all because of Wilson.
5) Which one Eagles player would you steal if you could have them on the Seahawks? If you were FORCED to help Philly, which best Seahawks player would you put on the Eagles?
Part of me wants to say Jake Elliott. The Seahawks are really struggling at the kicking position over the last two years and honestly last season one missed field goal cost them a top-two seed and hosting the Falcons in the divisional round instead of the other way around, while this season they could be 9-2 if they had a decent kicker. The other reason to choose Elliott is that he's a cheap, young kicker and it seems like Philly can forget worrying about the kicking position, at least for a couple more years; of course, the nature of any kicker is that they could implode at any shank, and Elliott has missed three PATs and two kicks under 40, but he's clearly got a special leg. Blair Walsh really doesn't. He missed three kicks in a three-point loss to Washington and couldn't get the ball past 50 yards in a three-point loss to the Falcons. So I'd really like to snag some team's star kicker to put that concern behind the Seahawks for a little while, but ... anyone who could steal any player from a team and chooses a kicker is a damn fool.
If it's for one game or just the rest this season, I'm taking Brandon Graham. Defensive end isn't a huge weakness for Seattle, but depth is an issue there and I don't think that Frank Clark has played up to expectations as a starter since losing Cliff Avril in Week 4. The Seahawks need to do a much better job of pressuring and getting to the quarterback and I think if you line up Graham next to Sheldon Richardson, Jarran Reed, and Michael Bennett, they'll be unblockable and you'd never gain a rushing yard against them. Clark moving back to the depth would maybe be good for him again and it would take a ton of pressure off of the depleted secondary.
If we're talking about taking on any player, long-term, current contract and everything, my very literal answer is Carson Wentz. And no, I wouldn't start him over Russell Wilson, but you'd be stupid to not see the advantages of having Wentz on his rookie deal for the next 2-3 years. But my answer in the interest of the spirit of the question could be Lane Johnson, for obvious reasons. You put Johnson at right tackle over Germain Ifedi, their biggest weakness on the line, and Seattle suddenly has a top-five pass blocking offensive line. Since acquiring Duane Brown, the Seahawks rank eighth in pass blocking efficiency. So if you added Lane to the right side, you'd be taking them that much further towards having an elite line, and much like in the Jason Peters' situation, he could take over at left tackle when Duane Brown leaves.
I think the Seattle player you'd want for the Eagles is the same answer as it's been for the last 6-7 years: Earl Thomas. He's still young, elite, and really not an injury concern. He broke his leg, that healed, and he has had some hamstring troubles in the last year, but that's it. However, you may want Bobby Wagner because he's the best middle linebacker in the NFL and I know Philly lost their inside linebacker. So that's a fit too. I also think Doug Baldwin is a sensible steal for most offenses. A reliable receiving weapon who likely has a lot more good seasons left in him.
Bonus: Who wins this game and why? Score prediction?
I know everyone's picking the Eagles and that my prediction will be dismissed as a homer pick, and maybe it is, but the Seahawks are at home on Sunday Night Football with Russell Wilson. I'm just not going to pick against Wilson at home on primetime, and yes, I realize that they recently lost to the Falcons on Monday Night Football at home. That's my pick, 26-25. (Probably scorigami too!)