This Seattle Seahawks team showed they were capable of being dominant two weeks ago. They solidified that notion last week. Today, they shoved the fact down the country's throats. How can you say that? you might ask, had you not watched the game. They only won by 10. Here's how: the Seahawks held the ball for 70% of the game, ran 66% of the plays, and gained 76% of the yards.
In doing so, they snapped an incredible 86 plays and held the Eagles to the lowest yardage output (139) of any game in Chip Kelly's career at any level. For every play the Eagles ran, the Seahawks ran two. For every yard Philadelphia gained, Seattle gained three. It was a boxing match that made it to the judges cards but it was the kind of fight that the crowd didn't have to wait on for the official announcement. And while the Seahawks failed to land the knockout blow, they never gave the Eagles even a glimpse of weakness. Well, maybe one.
The biggest mistake the Seahawks would make all day came early enough to throw the outcome of the game into far more doubt than the remainder of the matchup would suggest. Punting deep in his own territory, Jon Ryan, his brilliant orange plume hidden by his helmet, dropped a snap that hit him right in his hands. The resulting buffoonery concluded with Philadelphia starting a drive on Seattle's 14 yard line. Six plays including a fourth down conversion later, Mark Sanchez was hitting Jeremy Maclin on an unrecognized sweep pass for the game's initial score.
The turnover was Seattle's first in 37 possessions, a remarkable number that I have to think is at or near the top of the list of such streaks in the NFL. It was also the last major mistake the team would make for the next 50 minutes. Unfazed, Seattle took the ball back and marched a deliberate 82 yards on a business-like 10 plays, racking up a couple of long third down conversions. After nine powerful offensive thrusts, the Seahawks culminated all over the Eagles when Russell Wilson kept a read-option and sprinted 26 yards for an easy touchdown. That tied the game at seven and would be the last score in which Philadelphia didn't trail.
Russell Wilson, who I swear is a quarterback, now ranks 15th in the NFL in rushing yards, 14th in rushing TDs, and 1st in yards per carry. He became just the sixth QB in modern NFL history to rush for 700 yards in a season. His ability to run the football has always been a weapon but this year it's one he has a more complete feel of. It's one of the main reasons that he's literally never played a pro game in which the Seahawks didn't have the lead at some point.
In addition to Wilson's rushing prowess, he had a great deal of success in the longed-for vertical passing game. The Seahawks hit on five explosive (20+ yard) plays in the first half and would finish with eight, a huge number for a team that has gone long stretches without them this season and not even including two long defensive penalties against the Eagles caused by the downfield attack. It was the type of passing game that gives you hope in the team's ability to score quickly if necessary.
The rushing game got off to a slow start and while it never fully clicked, Seattle was able to rush the ball a staggering 46 times for 188 yards and was a major reason that they held the ball for just under 42 minutes. The team failed to rip off any big chunks with Marshawn Lynch in the first half, but they hardly ever went backwards, getting consistent forward pushes from the offensive line, enough to keep the Philly D honest and open up passing lines for the receivers.
As the game slogged along, it became clear that Seattle was playing on a downwardly tilted field. Even though the score stayed 7-7 until the last play of the first half (a 44-yard Steven Hauschka field goal), it was a decidedly one-sided affair. Seattle out-gained the #4 offense in the NFL 242-67 in the first half, holding the Eagles to a flaccid 2.9 yards per play.
If I'm being completely honest,* I fully expected Chip Kelly to make some significant adjustments that would even out the flow of the game but I was brutally incorrect. On the first play of the second half, K.J. Wright beat his man on the backside (of the play) and chased down LeSean McCoy, who was waiting for a hole that never appeared. Wright stripped McCoy and Earl Thomas dove through the wriggling pile of linemen like the last puppy to mama's teat and somehow resurfaced with the ball held high for all to see. The Seahawks magnified the Eagles' mistake shortly thereafter, with a slow-developing 15-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Lynch. The TD extended Seattle's lead to 17-7 and when Jeron Johnson appeared to strip Josh Huff on the ensuing kick return, Pete Carroll went for the throat with a challenge flag. The call stood but I loved that Pete wanted to make it three huge wins in a four-play stretch.
*And when wouldn't I be, dear friends?
In a vacuum, the decision to challenge was a net loss for Seattle, especially considering how the drive would end, but it signaled an aggression that this team had last year. The Seahawks defense broke down one time all game and it happened on this drive, a 35-yard wheel route to Zach Ertz who beat a linebacker (Wright, I think) down the left sideline for the score. It was the same play that Peyton Manning and the Broncos ran four times in their game-tying drive vs the 'Hawks in week three and the same one that Philip Rivers hit Antonio Gates on for a TD in Week 2. It's a play that requires time to develop and when the pass rush doesn't throw the timing off, a linebacker is left covering a receiver far from home and with no safety help over the top.
The play closed the gap to three but would be the last points that Philly would score. In fact, it was the last time their offense would even have a heartbeat, as they failed to gain even the 67 yards they mustered in the first half, making their two halves today the two lowest single-half yardage outputs in Chip Kelly's career. To make matters worse for the home team, Seattle answered their second touchdown the same way they responded to the first, with a long touchdown drive of their own. This one covered 91 yards but only took five plays, ending in style when Wilson went over the top to Doug Baldwin on a 23-yard loft down the right seam for a pretty little touchdown that capped the day's scoring.
The Seahawks continued to move the ball for the remainder of the game and snuffed out the Eagles offense with the same consistency. The only moment of hesitation the game's outcome ever had after Baldwin's TD was when Lynch took a swing pass into field goal range on a third down, only to fumble when he was hit from behind. The Eagles recovered the ball but the hope in their collective breast was crushed underfoot like when Tharold Simon leaped high in the wet Philly wind to steal a Sanchez pass on the very next play. Wilson gave them one more murmur of excitement when an ill-advised throw was nearly intercepted but Russell's passes are reserved only for the worthy and the ball deflected harmlessly to the turf. The rest of the game was a series of consequence-free formalities and Seattle left the field with a double-digit victory over a nine-win team for the second time in 15 days.
Some other stuff
-Over the last three weeks, the Seahawks' opponents' combined record at the time of their matchup is 25-8 (.758 winning percentage). The Seahawks have outscored those teams 62-20 and have held them to an I-can't-believe-it's-really-that-low 3.8 yards per play.
-That incredible stretch has coincided with the return of Bobby Wagner, who had some thoughts on the Eagles' tempo after the game and finished with team-leading (surprise!) seven tackles. In the seven full games the Seahawks have had Wagner for, they've allowed 14.1 points per game. In the other six? 22 PPG.
-All told, the Seattle defense racked up three sacks (Michael Bennett, Jordan Hill, and Marcus Burley), five tackles for loss, broke up four passes, forced two turnovers, and held an offense averaging 286 passing yards to 82 of them. They play like eleven individuals stingers on the same jellyfish, expanding and contracting in unison like they shared some inhuman exoskeleton.
-Entering this game, opposing QBs had a 12.5 passer efficiency when targeting Richard Sherman over the last four games. For context, if a quarterback went 0-20 with an interception, his rating would be 50% higher than all QBs throwing at Sherman for the past month. I only saw him targeted twice this afternoon with the results being a near-interception and a deleted deep route. Richard Sherman essentially forces opposing offenses to beat the other 91% of the Seahawks defense with only 67% of the field. Good luck with that down the stretch fellas*.
*Looks at Colin Kaepernick, Drew Stanton, and Shaun Hill. Maintains eye contact. Stanton pretends to tie his shoe. Hill coughs. Kaepernick shudders and adjusts his snapback.
-Byron Maxwell, for his part, had only allowed a 45.8 rating in November and stuck to the guys he was covering today like spiderwebs to your hair when you go looking for something in the attic. He gave up a couple of catches but they were inconsequential to the outcome and he broke up two passes while he was at it.
-Kam Chancellor, who looks like some type of super soldier you unlock in Halo, continued to provide the Legion's boom with a couple of monster hits and who knows how many routes adjusted. Running routes against the Seahawks secondary is like playing in traffic on the highway; you probably won't die. Probably.
-Wilson hit 10 different receivers in this game. Ten. The Seahawks had as many receivers with a catch as the Eagles had catches. Wilson got some big plays from his wide receivers today, especially on third downs (7/16), and threw the ball with supreme conviction as a result. It was the most I've seen Wilson trust his receivers all season.
-Lynch finished with 113 yards on 28 touches, a fumble, and a touchdown. Despite all expectations and a concerted effort to get Robert Turbin and Christine Michael more involved of late, Lynch continues to see an enormous workload. He's showing no signs of slowing, but with a potential seven games left on the schedule, there better be a lot more mileage left in him.
-Turbin and Michael continued to be somewhere between very good and not terrible, which is all i ask of them. Turbin was bottled up on the ground (four carries, seven yards) but added a 14-yard reception for a 4.2 yards per touch. Michael got six carries and registered 32 yards for a 5.3 YPT. On the season,
Turbin: 359 yards on 63 touches (5.7 yards per)
Michael: 156 yards on 25 touches (6.3 yards per)
Compare those numbers to Lynch's 5.1 yards per touch (albeit in an obviously heavier workload) and you can't help but begin to feel better about the Seahawks' running back depth.
-Doug Baldwin had his best game of the season, turning his seven targets into a 5/97/1 line and personally converted three first downs. He may never put up WR1 fantasy numbers but if he plays like this, he won't need to. He has Wilson's trust when it matters most and that's comforting.
-The penalty disparity regressed to the mean a bit for Seattle in this one. After garnering an obscene percentage of the calls and penalty yardage over the last month, they were flagged for "only" two-thirds of the fouls and about half of the yards.
-The 'Hawks dominated on third down, going 7/16 (43.8%) while holding the Eagles to 2/11 (18.2%). Great to see.
-The Seahawks also continued their season-long ownership of the rushing game, out-gaining Philly on the ground by a 188-57 margin. Their advantage in rushing yards (+131) was almost more than Philadelphia's total yardage (139).
You've heard me say it the last couple of weeks but it's ever the more true today: a Seahawks team that plays like this can beat anybody. Since falling to 3-3, Seattle has gone 6-1 (tied for best in the NFL) and have outscored their opponents 163-94. They've allowed the fewest yards in the league, the second-fewest points, and have the fourth-best turnover margin. They are executing their offense with care and efficiency. They are winning on third downs and ball control. I'd say they're peaking at the right time but I'm not sure they've peaked yet. They turned Chip Kelly's revolutionary offense inside out like a their favorite t-shirt on laundry day and nothing about the offenses they face the rest of the reason give me any reason to doubt their dominance will fade.
There are still things that can be improved on this team -- there always will be -- but the entire cohesive defensive unit is playing as well as they did at any point last year. They've outscored their opponents by 10 per game since the start of November and have already rushed for over 2,200 yards at a 5.2 per-carry rate, both league-leading numbers. This team is poised for greatness. onward and upward.