If I’m being totally honest about the big Seahawks-Eagles Sunday night matchup, my first gut instinct is that Seattle should win. The reason for this stems, I believe, from the fact that the Seahawks have won five of their last six games against Philadelphia, including going 3-0 under Pete Carroll, all three victories coming by double-digits. The last win came barely more than a year ago, with much of the same personnel on both teams, and yet the Eagles are a heavy favorite to beat Carroll and Russell Wilson at home.
That’s because these aren’t the same Eagles as past seasons.
At 10-1, Philly boasts the best record in football, including nine straight wins, ranking first in points scored, third in points allowed, first in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed, first in touchdown passes, second in interceptions, third in takeaways, second in rushing yards, third in yards per carry, and second in DVOA. And then suddenly that gut feeling that the Seahawks are going to win has faded.
To give more insight on what makes Philadelphia so good, I sent five Qs over to Brandon Gowton at Bleeding Green Nation and in kind he sent me five As that responded to those Qs. If you’re looking for flaws in the Eagles’ 10-1 record, you may have to keep looking ... they are good.
Q: We all know how good Carson Wentz is doing this season, especially for a second year player, but in what areas of the game does he struggle in? How much credit do you give to Doug Pederson and the offensive staff for Wentz' success, in terms of, if the backup QB had to come in the Eagles would still be able to move the ball because of the system? Or is it mostly reliant upon Wentz?
A: One issue that’s plagued Wentz is his accuracy. He’s always had a tendency to overthrow his targets at times. Anecdotally, at least, this tends to be more of an issue on throws going toward the sideline. But it can happen over the middle of the field, too, which can be very dangerous. His deep ball accuracy was especially lacking early on in the season.
Now, I don’t want to paint the picture that he’s inaccurate all the time. I just think this is an area he can stand to improve moving forward in his career.
When the Eagles made the trade for Wentz, the big selling point was that they had three good quarterback mentors on the staff: former NFL quarterback and head coach Doug Pederson, former NFL quarterback and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and former college quarterback and quarterback coach John DeFilippo. They’ve all played a role in Wentz’s development.
I do think Pederson has done a great job with play-calling and scheming this year. I do have some level of confidence this team wouldn’t be a total disaster with Nick Foles at quarterback.
But I don’t think they’re be nearly THIS good. Not unlike Russell Wilson, Wentz can simply make a lot of plays that not many others can. His performance in the second Eagles-Redskins game this season is a great example.
In addition to his play-making ability, I think Wentz doesn’t get enough credit for his pre-snap ability. That’s something that’s hard to perfectly measure since there are no direct statistics for it. And there’s a lot of information missing with respect to what plays are being called and how Wentz is making adjustments. But Wentz’s pre-snap ability was a big selling point coming out of North Dakota State. There’s a story Cris Collinsworth has told about the Eagles drawing up plays on the white board, erasing them, and having Wentz immediately draw them up and explain them back to the coaching staff. Apparently he passed that test with flying colors. That lends to why NFL scouts were calling him a “genius” leading up to the draft.
Wentz seems to have total mastery of an Eagles offense that uses complex verbiage and features a lot of different concepts and plays. I don’t think that’s something so easily replaced.
Q: Who are Philly's starters in the secondary and how would you grade their 2017 seasons? And could you give a quick update on Sidney Jones for all the Huskies fans of the blog?
A: Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are the starting outside corners. Patrick Robinson works in the slot. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the starting safeties. Veteran defensive back Corey Graham gets some playing time on the back end if/when the Eagles move Jenkins into the slot or a quasi-linebacker role.
As a unit, I’d say this Eagles secondary has certainly exceeded expectations. Many thought Philly’s cornerbacks were an obvious weakness that would be exposed all season long. That hasn’t been the case.
Now, it’s clear that the Eagles’ defensive backs have benefited from a front seven that ranks first in the NFL in pressures generated, per Pro Football Focus. But to their credit, they’ve stepped up when counted upon.
In his second year, Mills has developed into a solid starter at worst. Darby is the Eagles’ most talented corner. He only returned to the team in Week 11 after suffering a dislocated ankle in Week 1. Philly doesn’t have a ton of raw speed at corner but he’s the exception to that. He also has a knack for making plays on the ball.
In the slot, Robinson is having a Pro Bowl-worthy season. Pretty crazy to think that’s the case considering he looked awful in training camp. A number of Philly media members thought he was having the worst camp of any player on the team. He’s somehow really managed to turn it around, however, and become a key contributor to this defense.
Jenkins and McLeod are good starting safeties. I wouldn’t say they’re having their best seasons, but they’re far from being major liabilities.
Overall, I’d give this unit an A-.
It seems like the Eagles are in no rush to get Sidney Jones back on the field, which makes sense given how well Philly’s secondary has performed. Jones is still on the non-football injury list. The feeling here is they should keep him on the NFI list until later in the season, when they can have him practice in a 21-day window before either putting him on the 53-man roster or shutting him for the year. From there, it’d probably make sense to just keep him on NFI. By not playing him this year, he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of his rookie contract instead of unrestricted. For the Eagles, that’s a silver lining to Jones not playing in 2017.
Q: Though he has seven touchdowns, Alshon Jeffery's catch rate of 48.3% is really low, especially for an offense that has a quarterback who may be leading the MVP race. What would you say is the main cause for Wentz having so many throws towards Jeffery that go incomplete? Drops, route running, effort, ball placement, scheme? Given that Jeffery leads the teams in targets, it seems like it could be an area of frustration.
A: Definitely a good point. Jeffery hasn’t been the most efficient target for Wentz this season.
I’d say it’s combination of those reasons you listed. In Week 1, for example, Jeffery dropped a few contested catches. They weren’t easy plays to make, for sure, but that’s why the Eagles gave him a one-year contract worth up to $14 million.
In Week 3, Wentz overthrew a wide open Jeffery deep for a potential touchdown. He also overthrew the receiver for a potential red zone touchdown in the Eagles-49ers game. The throws just weren’t good enough.
Other times it’s just looked like they’re not on the same page. This shouldn’t come as a total surprise since Jeffery is new to the team and he missed a good portion of training camp. Continuity might seem like an overrated factor, but it might not be when you consider Wentz’s most efficient targets are the players he’s spent more than one season with: Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor.
The good news for the Eagles is that Jeffery-Wentz connection is starting to heat up. In the last four games, Jeffery has logged 17 receptions for 265 yards (15.6 yards per reception) and five touchdowns. Plus he’s converted two 2-point conversions. We’ll see how this progresses, but there’s more room for optimism than ever in this regard.
Q: The Seahawks would really like to get the ball going on the ground, but that seems like something they're more intent to do against a bad run defense than a good run defense. Well, the Eagles have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league. Would you say we should just forget about Seattle trying to run the ball? Is there an area of run defense or a certain type of back that gives Philly more fits than others? Could a quarterback like Russell Wilson be the type to help put the Seahawks over 100 rushing yards on the day against the Eagles?
A: This Eagles run defense is incredibly stout. The defensive line is so strong. I don’t think a Seattle offensive line that ranks 28th in run blocking by Football Outsiders stands a great chance. I’d say it’s not really worth trying. Just look at this list.
Here is what the Eagles are doing to opposing RBs. They're holding them to 2.85 YPC. pic.twitter.com/1rLGtzjIkA— Kyle (@IgglesNest) November 27, 2017
As you can see, Morris and Hunt have had the most success against the Eagles so far. Morris runs hard and benefits from a strong run-blocking Cowboys offensive line. I think the Eagles were also willing to sacrifice some yards to him in order to keep Dak Prescott in check. As for Hunt, he was having a pretty crappy day against Philly until he busted a 53-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs created a huge hole for him to run through and from there he got matched up one-on-one against Corey Graham.
The veteran safety, who was only playing at that point because McLeod got hurt, whiffed badly on the play.
If there was a “type” that could hurt the Eagles, it might be a smaller/shiftier guy such as a Chris Thompson or an Austin Ekeler. But even then, their impact would be limited.
I’ve got to admit, Wilson’s mobility is a major concern heading into this game. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz talked about his ability to run backwards and the challenge that provides.
It’s not like the Eagles have let quarterbacks run completely wild on their defense. But some passers have used their mobility to keep drives alive on third down and thwart the Eagles’ pass rush. Cam Newton had 71 rushing yards against the Eagles. Kirk Cousins had four runs for 30 yards to extend some drives. Eagles starting defensive end Vinny Curry whiffed on a potential sack on Alex Smith in Week 2, which allowed the quarterback to get a game-sealing first down.
I’d be a little surprised if the Seahawks hit the century mark against this Philadelphia. But I don’t take the impact of Wilson’s mobility lightly. Neither should the Eagles.
Q: If the Eagles win one of their next two games (@SEA, @LARM) then there's little stopping them from finishing 14-2. They could go 15-1. Does the prospect of a 15-1 season and all the expectations that brings worry you or do you think, "Win 'em all"? What would be the main thing keeping Philadelphia from going to the Super Bowl this year?
A: There’s a little worry in the sense that this has been such a magical season, one can only wonder if the Eagles can get back to this form any time soon. Having a franchise quarterback in place and a seemingly good head coach provides optimism for the future. But I don’t even wanna think about future seasons right now. It’s all about this year.
If I had to highlight the Eagles’ biggest weakness, it could be the middle linebacker spot. Jordan Hicks is out for the season and Joe Walker is a 2016 seventh-round rookie starting in his place. And now he’s hurt! It’s unclear how much time he’ll miss, but it looks like he’ll be out this week at the very least. The Eagles could be counting on Najee Goode (career special teams guy) and/or Dannell Ellerbe (signed by Philly only a few weeks ago) to start in the middle of their base defense. But even that doesn’t seem like a season-sinking issue.
I guess I don’t have a ton of concerns right now, which is crazy to say. The Eagles have just looked so dominant recently. It feels like everything is great.
Now, flaws will easily reveal themselves if this Eagles team starts to lose. But I think Eagles fans deserve to take some time and appreciate how well things have gone. Enjoy the ride and hope it continues all the way to a Super Bowl title.