Remember the last time the Eagles beat the Seahawks? Me neither! (2008.)
17 - That’s how many points the Eagles allowed to the Seahawks in both of their games last season. They only scored less two times in all of 2019.
Maybe that’s just a coincidence — the Eagles only scored 9 in both games they played against the Seahawks as well, which is pretty weird. But the story of those two games is interesting.
In the first game, the Eagles pressured Russ on 37% of his dropbacks — that’s 12 times, with a sack on a resounding 6 of them. That’s a pretty big deal against a quarterback like Russ, who’s typically an adept escapist. For example: in the wild card round, they would pressure him 16 times, on 44% of his dropbacks, but only sack him once. From that Week 12 matchup to the wild card game, Wilson’s time in pocket dropped from 3.25s to 2.94s — three-tenths of a second is a solid difference from one game to the next.
Of course, in 2019, the Seahawks were still a run-first team — in 2020, they’re committed to the passing game. Wilson still spends the same amount of time in the pocket, takes a lot of pressure, but avoids a lot of sacks — but now he’s dropping back at an exorbitant rate, and as one of the best passers in the league, the Seahawks’ passing game is all the more dangerous.
As such, the name of the game is converting pressures into sacks. The Eagles have the second-highest pressure rate and third-highest sack rate in the league this year, as is expected from their deep and talented defensive line. Wilson will allow pressures with his shaky offensive line, long dropbacks, and perceived immortality — but the Eagles only have one functional cornerback in Darius Slay, and will give up tons of separation in the passing game if Wilson has time to work through his reads.
Pressure won’t be enough on this one, even for the disruption it causes. The Eagles need to sack Wilson outright. And even then, holding Seattle to 17 points feels like a pipe dream.
0 - That’s how many snaps the Eagles played against the Browns with anything other than 11 or 12 personnel on the field
This is about as basic as the Eagles’ offense has ever gotten. They barely took Travis Fulgham (96% of the snaps) or Jalen Reagor (93%) off the field, occasionally dropped Greg Ward in the slot (68%), and barely used anyone else (Alshon Jeffery at 7%, John Hightower at 1%).
When Ward wasn’t on the field, Richard Rodgers was (32% of the snaps). Dallas Goedert (100%) never left. Caleb Wilson (7%) mattered as much as Jeffery did.
Miles Sanders was the lead back (60%); Scott was the third-down back (40%).
When the Eagles talk about simplifying the offense, we consume that idea and extrapolate it onto the play designs — and appropriately so. Their designs are white bread and their play calling is unimaginative.
But if you don’t trust your quarterback such that you’re going to water down the offense, and least use creative personnel deployment to help create mismatches in your building block offense. That’d be good in theory, but your quarterback also doesn’t seem to trust anyone who’s starting, let alone any of your rotational players. Poor drafting and injuries leaves you with a fifth-round rookie in John Hightower that you’re actively avoiding playing; your sixth TE taking snaps this season in Wilson. Sure, you want to use a variety of personnel groupings to disguise your tendencies and create matchup opportunities — but you don’t have the depth, or the trust in the locker room, to do that.
23rd - That’s where Seattle ranks in explosive play rate in the last five weeks of the season
This, compared to 8th through the first five weeks of their season. Their gross totals have dropped from 18 to 15, and their explosive passing rate has gone from 10% to 7%.
Some of this has to do with volume and game script. The Seahawks have 42.2 dropbacks a game over the last five weeks, as they’ve endured three losses and played another tight divisional game — rarely in the last month have they had the cushion to become a clock-eating running team. In their first five games, Seattle had 36.8 dropbacks per game, and were largely enjoying comfortable leads in the fourth quarter.
But defenses have also oriented themselves at taking away Seattle’s deep ball. The Seahawks saw a ton of split-field coverages from the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals over the last five weeks, allowing lighter boxes and wider underneath zones in a dare to Wilson and OC Brian Schottenheimer to become a more patient offense. This is reflected in Wilson’s success rate as a deep passer: on the same splits, his adjusted completion percentage on passes over 20 yards in the air has dropped from 63.6% to 25.0%, and his TD:INT ratio from 8:0 to 3:3.
The Eagles have succeeded in defending the explosive pass this year. They aren’t playing too much split field, but are third-best in the league at limiting explosive passes, allowing one on only 7% of their dropbacks. This circles back to the pass-rush point made in the first bullet: that the longer your dropback, the more likely it is the Eagles’ front four gets home.
The Eagles are predominately a man coverage team this year with Darius Slay on the outside, but if they want to keep their explosive play rate pristine against Russell Wilson, they must be willing to play two-man with deep safety help over both outside vertical routes. With Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills, and Will Parks all healthy, the Eagles have been willing to play more two-high than earlier in the season, when Parks was unavailable — but recently, the Eagles have been phasing Parks out of the defensive gameplan to integrate third-round rookie LB Davion Taylor.
How they play the Seahawks remains to be seen. If Schwartz remembers the success he had in zone last year, and sees the success that split-field teams have had this season against Seattle, 2-man and 2-high zones should be on the menu. If the Eagles remain obstinate and stick in man coverage, it could be a long night on the deep ball.