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Cigar Thoughts, Game 10: Seahawks score three rad touchdowns, beat Eagles 26-15

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Seattle improves to 7-2-1 with “all systems go” performance against Philadelphia

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks
Have fun tackling this dude for the next two and a half months.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

When I look around the NFL landscape, I see a number of valleys and a ton of plains, but very few mountains. Now, I may eat my words in a couple of months, but as it stands after 11 weeks, there aren’t many teams that stand out as true contenders. There are plenty of good teams but not a lot of great ones, and while the Eagles came into this one with a winning record, they seemed a far better fit for the former category than they do for the latter. And yet here they were, entering this game with one of the top defenses, a startling +55 point-differential, and were even ranked #1 in DVOA*.

*DVOA is an ambitious attempt by Football Outsiders to provide an over-reaching metric for the overall value of a football team. The result is a pretty impressive, highly-predictive measure of a team’s quality that acknowledges the unique leverage of each play.** Here’s a helpful explanation.

**The Seahawks have finished each of the last four seasons ranked first in DVOA, the only team in NFL history to do do. nbd

Alas, the crown once again proved too heavy for a pretender’s brow and the Eagles wilted beneath the steady heat applied by the Seahawks. And while this game featured two of the top three scoring defenses in the NFL, only one of them played like it. Seattle’s offense gobbled up yards like hungry hippos, with five different players recording gains of 20+ yards and three different players scoring righteous TDs.

It didn’t take long for Seattle to start digging into that big tub of offensive ice cream, with CJ Prosise(!) taking a greedy first scoop. On the Seahawks’ fifth snap, the electric rookie took a handoff and aimed to the left of the center. Before hitting his gap, however, Prosise teleported to his right, darting through a backside gap before accelerating down the right sideline for a 72-yard score. How a 22 year-old can score untouched down the right boundary on a dive play to the left is beyond me and yet there he was, coasting into the endzone with Seattle’s longest play of the season. Stephen Hauschka’s extra point was blocked because of course it was and the Seahawks had themselves a 6-0 lead.

That score held for a few more drives, until first-year QB Carson Wentz orchestrated an impressive 13-play, 68 yard drive. Like a terrible song that finds its way onto every radio station, Seattle allowed the Eagles to convert three straight third downs on that possession before Wentz found Zach Ertz for a short score. Seattle’s response was an “anything you can do, I can do better” drive that went 92 yards on 10 plays, including three third down conversions of their own.

The possession itself was a sparkling necklace of well-executed plays, including Jimmy Graham’s drive-extending snag on 3rd & 3, a Thomas Rawls 18-yard gallop, and Tyler Lockett’s nifty 27-yard catch-and-run. The shiniest bauble of them all was the type of play we all envisioned when the Seahawks traded Max Unger and a first round pick for Graham two seasons ago. On 3rd & no way, Wilson found himself escaping a crumbling pocket and wiggling to his left. Wilson dodged oncoming tacklers, buying time with shimmies and feints, until Graham could come to his aid. Before, running out of bounds, Russ slung the ball down the field, where Jimmy snagged it in front of a defender. Graham shrugged the would-be tackler off like an old coat, spinning to the center of the field and winning the race to the endzone.

I’ve watched that play at least 10 times now and I’m still not quite sure how Wilson did it. Go back and watch the highlight, if you haven’t already. Wilson’s whole body is angled more than 45 degrees towards the left sideline and he somehow manages to fling the ball downfield without his momentum sending the pass out of bounds. He’d do it again later on a long gain to Doug Baldwin and I just don’t get it. It’s like a glitch in a video game.

That touchdown, and a Hauschka field goal, sent Seattle to the locker room with a 16-7 lead that didn’t feel nearly that close. Seattle gained 300 yards at a savage 10.3 yards per play. The game wasn’t over at the half, but it felt about as over as a 16-7 game could. Philadelphia’s offense seemed to have given all they had on the one drive, looking completely out of sorts after an illegal formation penalty wiped out a long second quarter TD. Aside from their scoring possession, the Eagles managed just 78 first half yards, with Kam Chancellor picking off Wentz for good measure.

Seattle’s third touchdown came a couple of drives later, after Richard Sherman fair-caught Wentz’ arm punt for his 4th interception of the season. Seattle took the ball back with Wilson continuing to look as calm, elusive, accurate, and in control as he ever has. After hitting Baldwin on a deep post route, Wilson took a shotgun snap and flipped to Baldwin on the reverse. OR SO YOU THOUGHT, SUCKER. After giving up the rock, Wilson slipped out of the backfield to the left. Baldwin pulled up and lobbed a beautiful throw back to Russ inside the pylon for the score. As many of you know, I love the touchdown play but the only play I like more is the F*** You TD.

Seattle had Philly backpedalling towards the ropes and, instead of giving them a chance to get their legs beneath them, Darrell Bevell flipped to the back of the playbook for the knockout. The Eagles were having trouble blocking simple jabs and hooks at that point, but that didn’t stop the ‘Hawks from unleashing a lethal combination and finishing with an uppercut to the chin. That touchdown effectively ended whatever slim chance the Eagles still had, and completed the cool-touchdown hat trick. Being outplayed in every phase, a 16-point deficit seemed insurmountable for Philadelphia and ultimately proved to be exactly that.

From there, all that was left was for The Seahawks to make a field goal, miss a field goal, and watch the Eagles rack up some meaningless yards and points against a defense that was missing Earl Thomas (more on that later). Seattle hasn’t played a perfect game yet this year but they’re starting to look like the type of team that can.

Some other observations:

-CJ Prosise continued to shine before a shoulder injury cut his day short in the third quarter. After 153 yards in his first start last week, Prosise gained 81 more on just six touches today. He is now averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 12.2 yards per catch in his young career. Unfortunately, it’s sounding like the injury might be serious which would be a tremendous shame. Prosise’s talent absolutely belongs in the NFL but one can’t help but wonder if his body does. Now, I believe injuries, taken as a whole, are largely random but there’s no denying it takes a special physical fortitude to withstand an NFL workload. This is CJP’s third potentially significant injury in his first year. Hopefully it’s just bad luck, because he has the opportunity to be a special part of a special offense.

-Fortunately, Thomas Rawls was there to pick up the torch. Rawls was the Seahawk I was most excited about this season and I’ve been dying to see him at full-go. After just one touch in the first four drives, Rawls re-emerged as the workhorse type of back he was before his ankle injury last year. He has, if you recall, seen limited action during the first two games of the season, but was only able to turn 19 carries into 25 yards on his mending foot. That wasn’t really Thomas Rawls though, this is. And so is this.

Rawls would carry the ball 14 times, netting 57 yards and adding 31 more on three catches. 88 yards on 17 touches in seven drives as the lead back. The release of Christine Michael looks a little scarier in the harsh light of Prosise’s injury (especially since preseason-crush Troymaine Pope sprained his ankle after one carry today), but a healthy Thomas Rawls gives Seattle’s run game the chance to be elite again and that is a massive net positive.

-Rawls and Procise combined for for 169 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches behind an offensive line that was sometimes great, sometimes lousy, but mostly good which hey alright!

-Russell Wilson is alllll the way back. He is playing with a mastery that’s unreachable for 80% of the QBs in the NFL and unsustainable for almost all of ‘em. 272 yards passing, 19 yards rushing, and 15 yards receiving for Seattle’s Pro Bowl QB. It was a continuation of his annual midseason bloom. In the Seahawks’ three straight wins since Wilson’s been deemed healthy, RW is 63-94 (67%), for 902 yards (9.6 Y/A), 8 TDs, and 0 INTs for a stellar rating of 126.3.

And it’s not just what he’s doing, it’s how he’s doing it. Not only is he back to darting around the backfield like a randy squirrel, he’s making every throw on the route tree with an accuracy reserved for Hall of Famers. I think, in some ways, the injuries he sustained this season have made him a better quarterback in the long term. Without the option of fleeing the pocket, Wilson was forced to stand in and go through his reads, and to get rid of the ball in a hurry.

He is now a highly capable pocket passer- statistically among the very best, in fact- a transformation made all the more impressive when you consider that Wilson has the longest snap-to-throw rate in the entire NFL. The entire realm of possibility is available to the Seahawks offense when Wilson is playing like this.

-Doug Baldwin keeps kicking ass. He accounted for 104 more yards on four catches today, adding the TD pass just for fun. His play this season is showing that last year’s explosion was no joke. He’s beating guys short, deep, across the field, and towards the sideline. His routes are exquisite, run with no wasted movement, and he catches everything he touches. He’s the most potent WR the Seahawks have had since shit... I don’t know. Long time. Russell Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Doug Baldwin this season is 131.8, which is almost as good as Baldwin’s rating when targeting Wilson.

-The defense was sensational today. After Thomas pulled up short with a hamstring injury on Sherman’s pick, the Eagles moved the ball with some success but prior to that they were hardly getting anything at all on offense. Philly’s WRs were targeted 21 times in this one and were only able to convert them into 10 catches for 113 yards. Wentz was harassed all day, finishing with a lowly passer rating of 61.2.

Having Kam back goes a long ways towards this, as his presence has a massive effect on the power and flow of the secondary. It remains to be seen how long Earl is out (and DeShawn Shead, for that matter), but with Michael Bennett returning soon, this defense is primed to explode.

-Bobby Wagner’s 15 tackles give him an NFL-leading 108 on the season.

-With Philly allowing 26 points and the Vikings giving up 24, the Seahawks retake the league lead in points allowed at 17.3. As you’re undoubtedly aware, this would be an unprecedented 5th straight season in which Seattle would lead the NFL in scoring defense.

-Cliff Avril got a strip sack, giving him 10 sacks in 10 games and keeping him in the running for Seattle’s franchise record of 16.5 sacks in a season.

-Jeremy Lane looked really good today, posting his second straight solid performance after spending the entire Bills game on roller skates. It’s a good thing that Lane’s best self showed up today, cuz he was pressed into extended duty when Shead’s hammy acted up.

-Jermaine Kearse was targeted six times today. He had two catches for 29 yards. Russell Wilson’s passer rating when targeting Kearse today was 50.0. When targeting absolutely everybody else, it was 109.3. If that discrepancy sounds familiar, it’s because there was a similarly massive gap in those stat lines last week as well.

Kearse did manage to contribute another offensive pass interference penalty, giving him more than most teams will get called for all year. Kearse was as guilty on this particular call as he has been on just about all of them, as he drew the flag despite not even touching the guy he was penalized for interfering with. The flag negated a big play for Tyler Lockett (who looked great), which sucks.

-Perhaps most importantly, we get a week off from listening to people (on both sides) argue over penalties*.

*There are about 25 of you that are like “Oh yeah? Watch me.”

This team is locked in right now. Russell Wilson’s 2016 arc has merged with the stratospheric trajectory he was on during the second half of last season. Thomas Rawls is all the way back, as likely to run someone over as he is to make them miss completely. Jimmy Graham is not only healthy, he’s dominating. He entered this game as the second leading receiver among TEs and notched another impressive performance today. Tyler Lockett looks like he’s full speed, which opens up Seattle’s offense and gives the return game some much needed teeth. Kam Chancellor has reclaimed his spot at the head of the Dark Army. The offensive line is melding, Doug Baldwin is still uncoverable, Jermaine Kearse is still super coverable, the defense is playing as well as it ever has, and they mostly don’t suck on special teams. The ceiling on this team has been removed to make room for an elevator.

The Seahawks are 7-2-1. Their win keeps them, effectively, two games behind the Cowboys and launches them three games ahead of the Cardinals and Rams. The division isn’t locked up, but it’s as close as one can reasonably hope for after ten games. You won’t hear the team say this until the NFC West is clinched, but in terms of probability variance, the target switches from the division to the conference. The NFC, at least as far as it concerns Seattle, is a race between them and the NFC East.

The Seahawks have a clear path to a first round bye and are still well within range of the surprising Cowboys. They have, per all appearances, advanced from the yearly diagnostic phase and are aggressively searching for what the team is capable of. They might not track down the #1 seed in the NFC but I doubt there’s anyone that other teams want to face less than a Seahawks squad that’s rolling like this.

Up next is some other poor collection of lambs. I’d look it up but I don’t think it’ll matter. May God bless their nearly-departed souls. Onward, upward, cheers.

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