I think in many ways, the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles have been intrinsically tied to one another over the last five or six seasons. The only difference is that the Seahawks have been much more successful during that period of time, but those results might only be the product of a few very key decisions during those years.
Both teams hired new GMs in 2010 — John Schneider (and Pete Carroll) in Seattle, Howie Roseman in Philadelphia.
Both teams hired college head coaches from the Pac-12 — Carroll for the Seahawks and Chip Kelly for the Eagles.
Both teams drafted quarterbacks in the third round in 2012 — Russell Wilson for Seattle, Nick Foles for Philly.
And they’ve had their exchanges of players, like trading Darryl Tapp for Chris Clemons, and basically swapping Byron Maxwell for Cary Williams.
It’s hard to argue that any of those moves didn’t benefit the Seahawks moreso than they did the Eagles, but what’s the difference in success and failure if not one or two core philosophies and 70% luck? All that being said, Philadelphia comes to Seattle as the number one team in DVOA on Sunday to face the Seahawks, the number two team in DVOA. It sets up a midseason “DVOA Championship” of sorts, and should be a fascinating battle to watch between two great defenses, an elite now-veteran QB, and a thriving rookie QB. To get more info on the opponent, I sent five Qs to Adam Hermann of Bleeding Green Nation, and in return, he sent back five As that related to them.
Q: It's not often that a rookie quarterback performs to the level of Carson Wentz and yet he still doesn't seem to have much of a shot of winning Offensive Rookie of the Year; nothing against Wentz, but writers and voters have clearly already cast their ballots in favor of either Ezekiel Elliott or Dak Prescott. No shame in that. (I mean, it's going to be Elliott, right?) But the results haven't been ideal recently, with Wentz posting a passer rating of 75.3 over his last five games, two touchdowns, five interceptions, 6.3 Y/A ... How much of that has to do with Wentz, how much with his offensive weapons, how much with Doug Pederson's game plan?
A: It’s going to sound like excuse-making, which is totally fine, but Wentz has very little control over his statistics this season. Watching him week in and week out, he makes every throw you need your quarterback to make. Occasionally, some of those throws are off-target — Wentz likes to miss his targets high instead of low. Usually, though, they’re dropped by a wide receiving corps that might be the worst in the league.
As a reaction to the minimal level of talent surrounding Wentz, Pederson has decided to reign his rookie quarterback in and guided his game towards a more conservative approach over the last few weeks. There are very few deep shots because the Eagles just don’t have a player who consistently scares secondaries at the next level. There aren’t even many intermediate throws, except for a handful each game towards Jordan Matthews.
Take his game against Atlanta as the perfect example. Wentz completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 231 yards. If not for two drops and a helmet-to-helmet hit, he would have completed more than 75 percent of his passes for more yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown because his players couldn’t find separation anywhere near the end zone. He missed one throw in the red zone that may have resulted in six, but the throw he chose wasn’t a bad one, and it led to three points.
Right now, Wentz is very good at avoiding mistakes and being efficient. Which, when the people he’s working with are as inept as his wide receivers, is the best-case scenario.
Q: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood ... Smallwood carried it 13 times for 70 yards last week against the Falcons, Sproles is averaging over 60 total yards per game, Mathews is coming off of his best game of the season and has scored eight touchdowns in nine games. Which of these players do you think is most integral to Philadelphia's success and which of them is the biggest source of frustration?
A: Doug Pederson proclaimed very early in the season that the Eagles would be operating as running back-by-committee team this year. I doubted him. I was wrong. While a big portion of Sproles’ action has come in relief of the oft-injured Ryan Mathews — seriously, he was hampered for two games this year because of a TOOTH injury — there is validity in saying the RB situation is entirely unpredictable week-to-week, which works to the Eagles’ advantage.
Against the Falcons in Week 10, as you said, Mathews had his best game of the season. It helps he was facing at Atlanta front that doesn’t exactly terrify opposing offensive lines, but he also looked substantially more explosive with his first step.
I’d call Mathews the most integral part of the Eagles’ success on the ground, and also list him high up on the integral parts of the entire offense. It’s not breaking news, but offenses operate when they can lean on the run game. Carson Wentz, for everything he’s shown us this year, should not be asked to throw it 40 times per game. His interception rate is a delightfully low 1.6%, but when Mathews has it going on the ground, he’s a back who can handle a good 20-25 carries per game and take the pressure of the rookie QB.
Q: Russell Wilson appears to be mobile again and he's turned in a couple of classic Wilson games over the last two weeks; how is the Eagles' pass rush this season? Where does Fletcher Cox usually line up on the defensive line and how has this season compared to his previous ones?
A: You’ll never believe it: despite the fact that the team ranks sixth in the league in sacks with 25 through nine games, and the fact that they’ve held Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan to a combined one touchdown pass, Eagles fans have taken shots at the team’s pass rush all year long. (Okay, you believe it.)
Ignoring the legions of fans expecting six sacks each game, the pass rush has been exactly as good as advertised, especially when healthy. They obliterated the Vikings’ Swiss cheese offensive line, which certainly padded their stats and the general feeling around the unit. But defensive end Brandon Graham is having a career year: he leads the Eagles in sacks (five), TFLs (nine), QB Hurries (22) and forced fumbles (2).
On the inside is where you’ll find Fletcher Cox alongside Bennie Logan, a combination which I would venture to call the best defensive tackle duo in the league, although I’ll readily admit my green-tinted tunnel vision. Cox is having another excellent year, although the contract he signed this offseason might warrant a little bit more production. But when the rest of the defensive line is doing its job, with Cox commanding double-teams more often than not, it doesn’t matter what his stat lines look like: he’s still having a gigantic impact.
Q: Philly gave up 230 rushing yards to the Washington Redskins, a team that I don't particularly find to be very proficient at running the football. Seattle's had struggles in the rushing attack this season but should be getting Thomas Rawls back, so I'm wondering what went wrong in that game and if run defense is something that worries you about the Eagles defense, because outside of the Washington and Dallas games, Philadelphia's been really good against the run.
A: Yeah, don’t let those two outliers fool you: the Eagles’ run defense is pretty darn legit.
In the Dallas game, truth was truth and Ezekiel Elliot was an absolute stud. They kept him under 80 yards during regulation before getting worn down in overtime. No shame in getting beat by possibly the best running back in the league, although they could’ve done better.
Against Washington, the aforementioned Bennie Logan went down with a groin injury in the first half, leaving the D-line scrambling. They were short one defensive lineman they normally carry for depth that game because of an offensive line injury, and while backup defensive tackle Beau Allen certainly isn’t a bad player, he’s not Logan. Logan excels in run defense. That game fell apart on both sides of the ball, but especially on the defensive side. It wasn’t indicative of the way the Eagles’ run defense normally plays, but rather of the way the entire team played that day.
Now, none of this is to say Rawls and Seattle won’t be able to make inroads. In fact, I’m sure after I’ve said all of this, they’ll go get shredded on the West Coast. But the Eagles’ run defense is one of the strength’s of Jim Schwartz’s unit, not one of the weaknesses.
Q: Let's say that Richard Sherman and company are able to completely take Jordan Matthews out of the game. Where do the Eagles turn next? Obviously Zach Ertz is an excellent, productive tight end, but are any of the other wide receivers and TEs making you hopeful, excited about the future at those positions?
A: If the Seahawks shut Matthews down completely, the Eagles are probably screwed. He’s Wentz’s favorite target, and is on pace for the most targets in his (admittedly brief) career. Ertz has had a few good games in a row now, but he’s still very much prone to disappearing for long, inexplicable stretches.
One player Eagles fans are mildly excited about is Trey Burton, the young tight end out of Florida who has shown he’s a reliable pass-catcher, a great special teams contributor and run blocker, and an all-around weapon on offense. He can run the ball if asked, is the team’s emergency quarterback, and is surprisingly effective for being the third tight end. Wentz has found Burton 13 times for 141 yards and a touchdown this year, by far the most productive season of the 25-year-old’s career.
And, of course, Darren Sproles is always a weapon, whether he lines up behind Wentz or is split out wide. He’ll be dangerous until he’s 64 years old. I love Darren Sproles.
But as far as the future of the wide receiver position is concerned? Yeah, the Eagles have lots of work to do. It starts this offseason.
BONUS: What are the purveying thoughts of Eagles fans about the other rookie QB in the division, Dak Prescott? Any second-guessing about the trade for Carson Wentz, in general?
A: Eagles fans are finally, begrudgingly coming around to the reality that Prescott is good. He’s not incredible, but he’s very good. He’s a smart quarterback who, like Wentz, typically avoids killer mistakes and gets his best players the ball. Fans are starting to accept it, and they’re getting excited about the next however many years of battles between Prescott and Wentz.
And, no. Eagles fans are still firmly of the mind that moving up for Wentz was the correct decision. I tend to agree. Good quarterbacking changes everything; I think if the Eagles don’t make the Sam Bradford trade, they’re 3-6 right now. He’s been better than anyone could’ve hoped this year, and it’s just Year 1.