The Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1) and the Seattle Seahawks (7-3) are set to play each other this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview this Week 12 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Field Gulls. The magnanimous Mookie Alexander kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at his answers. (Don’t forget to also check out my side of the exchange over at FG.)
1 - What are some of the biggest differences about the Seahawks since they last beat the Eagles in the playoffs earlier this year?
Well the run defense has improved, special teams has substantially improved, the pass defense has gotten worse, but philosophically the offense has changed into something unlike anything we’ve seen from Pete Carroll. This is a pass-first offense that is almost everything that the “Let Russ Cook” contingent wanted it to be. They are #1 in the NFL in early down pass frequency (in neutral game script situations), which means those dreaded 2nd and 10 runs are now few and far between. Despite Wilson’s high sack totals, the offensive line has genuinely been playing much better than we’ve really ever seen in the Wilson era. A lot of his sacks have either been coverage sacks or blitzes. With Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde back from injury, the running game should bounce back again and it’ll create a truly dangerous dual-threat attack.
If I could sum it up better: The 2019 team had an elite offense, a bad defense, bad special teams, and spent too much time trailing in games. The 2020 team has an elite offense, a bad defense, great special teams, but they’ve led for the overwhelming majority of their games.
2 - Russell Wilson was looking like the MVP favorite before experiencing some struggles. What caused those?
Well I think the schedule certainly got tougher. The Rams have a terrific defense, the Cardinals have a pretty solid defense but injuries will certainly make them worse as the season progresses, and the Bills game... I don’t like to talk about that. But Wilson also has to take a lot of the blame because he was forcing some awful throws, including that first pick against Los Angeles when he could’ve run for a first down, and this season he has been less effective against the blitz compared to years past. In all likelihood he’ll end the season as one of the most blitzed QBs if not the most. Just like many of the other top QBs, when they get off-rhythm they get frazzled and it leads to bad decisions. In Wilson’s case, he was uncharacteristically out of rhythm and panicked in ways I’ve not seen him panic since he was a rookie. To be fair, he did an excellent job countering Arizona’s blitz last week, and this week he may feel more comfortable knowing Jim Schwartz is not a mega-blitzer until he does it at the worst possible time. Now that the offense is getting some key pieces back (C Ethan Pocic, RBs Carson and Hyde) I think Wilson will settle down and OC Brian Schottenheimer also won’t be forced into extreme pass-heaviness because the team is either trailing or the run game is not working to their liking.
3 - Seattle’s defense has been pretty terrible but it seems like they’ve been better over their last two games. Is there hope for that unit?
There’s some hope. I don’t think they’ll improve into some feared top-10 defense because it’s far too late for that, but facing four bad offenses over the next month should be a major chance for the Seahawks players to gain confidence and look like at least a league average unit. Carlos Dunlap may ultimately prove to be a bigger addition than Jamal Adams for one simple reason: Defensive line pass rush. Adams has been as good as advertised at getting to the QB and leads the team with 5.5 sacks, but it’s much better if the Seahawks have someone on the line who can beat their man 1-on-1 consistently and cause chaos in the backfield. Dunlap has 3.5 sacks in three games and he can line up on either side of the formation.
The secondary has also looked better now that Quinton Dunbar is on IR instead of hobbling around with one functioning knee. DJ Reed has been a quality addition to the depth chart and he’s started in his place. I imagine he’ll be a reserve again once Shaquill Griffin comes back on Monday, as Griffin has had his ups and downs but is clearly the team’s best corner. Ultimately though I believe the success of the Seahawks defense will be dependent on the pass rush and the ability to get pressure with four man fronts more often. If they blitz less then hopefully it takes a load off of a secondary that struggles with man coverage even at its healthiest.
4 - What is the Seahawks’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
It’s clearly the pass offense, and more specifically the deep passing game. Wilson didn’t use it much last time out against the Cardinals but they didn’t have to. When you have Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf (and a vastly improved David Moore) as your receiving options, you’re spoiled for choice as far as those shot plays, and Wilson is among the best in the business when he decides to launch one. When I saw the Eagles ranked 20th in pass defense DVOA, I figured they were getting torched over the top. Researching further, the Eagles have given up the 3rd fewest 20+ yard pass plays in the NFL, so we may see Schottenheimer attack Philadelphia at a short and intermediate level, but with a little more of a downfield push against the Eagles than the Cards. Getting DK Metcalf in space on crossers could be another way to land an explosive play but with Metcalf getting yards after the catch. Lockett just has superpowers that allow him to always find an open spot in a zone defense or in a scramble drill whenever Wilson is out of the pocket,
Wilson needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly when the rush is coming and also look to attack Philly’s secondary whenever Metcalf or Lockett is 1-on-1 with an Eagles cornerback. Darius Slay is pretty good (...right? He’s still good, right?) so I think there will be a lot of emphasis on attacking Avonte Maddox.
5 - What is the Seahawks’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
If I just said “pass defense” I could end the question there but lemme expand. They’ve still given up the 2nd most 20+ yard pass plays in the NFL and even with this improved play over the past two games they are still last in punts/drive rate. That ain’t a product of teams running the ball, as the Seahawks seem to have a high-level run defense again, but they have faced the most pass attempts in the league for a reason. Throughout the year there have been coverage busts, too many soft cushions, and an inability to generate a pass rush when it’s needed most. That may be rectified soon as I mentioned earlier with Dunlap’s presence and Griffin returning from injury, but it’s still their weakness. Not wanting to give up the big play has at times led to just conceding underneath routes.
The Eagles should try targeting Tre Flowers, who has admittedly played better in recent weeks but is still the biggest liability on the defense. His lack of quick feet and fear of getting beaten over the top means a lot of cushion and easy throws are possible against him. Pro Football Reference has him giving up 50/65 for 563 yards and amazingly just the one touchdown against the Cowboys. And until I see otherwise, Jamal Adams may be an excellent blitzer and a sound tackler but his coverage skills have underwhelmed. He was responsible for a massive blown coverage on a Cardinals touchdown last week and he had a rough outing against the Patriots.
On the offensive side of the ball, Seattle has been better on 3rd downs as of late but Russell Wilson has been bizarrely terrible for much of the year on this particular down. Passer rating is usually a useless stat these days but his 3rd down passer rating is 57.4. He has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and has lost a couple of fumbles thrown in there too. If the Eagles can slow the Seahawks offense down on 1st and 2nd, then they have the advantage on 3rd downs.
6 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Seahawks season?
It should be a Seahawks win but these days a comfortable win is by ten points, so I’ll go with 27-17 but the Eagles’ 17 comes with a late touchdown after the game is clearly decided. I think the Eagles defense will actually have some success against the Seahawks offense because of their pass rush, but the propensity to turn the ball over will be the Eagles’ undoing as the game progresses.
As for the rest of this season I really think they should at least finish 12-4, because anything less than that means not winning the NFC West and probably another divisional round exit. Seattle should be able to capitalize on this soft part of the schedule and I believe now that they can take this division. From there, unless there are some absolutely crucial and team-changing injuries, I expect the Seahawks to at least make the NFC Championship Game. I’m not really sold on them actually winning the Super Bowl unless there is total upheaval in the AFC, but this is a fairly weak NFC this year so Seattle has to be a serious contender.
Bonus - Do the Seahawks regret not trading up ahead of the Eagles to draft J.J. Arcega-Whiteside instead of settling for D.K. Metcalf?
I’m sure they are crushed because usually they have a good track record with Stanford guys. Instead they had to settle for some dude who apparently can’t run routes and took 10 minutes to run the three-cone drill. I personally do regret tweeting my interest in the Seahawks drafting JJAW at the time. And no, I don’t want JJAW now.