Russell Wilson declared his MVP candidacy to the nation on Sunday night, as the Seattle Seahawks played their best game of the season, defeating Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles 24-10. It was going to take Seattle’s best game to defeat the red-hot Eagles, and the Seahawks delivered exactly that. Wilson was the best player on the field for four quarters, while Defensive Player of the Year favorite Bobby Wagner was a close second.
The win moves Seattle to 8-4 and into the first wildcard spot, while they remain just a game back of the L.A. Rams, who travel to the Seahawks in two weeks time. With yet another prime-time thriller in the books, let’s get to the observations:
Returning from injury on Sunday night, Mike Davis grabbed the starting running back job immediately. All 16 of his carries came on inside runs and Davis totaled 64 yards, including a phenomenal 22-yard run that left several Philadelphia defenders in devastated heaps. In both the run and pass game, Davis was incredibly decisive and explosive, putting his foot in the ground and getting up field. Dynamic play at running back is something Seattle clearly missed when Chris Carson was lost to a broken leg, but it appears they have it again in Davis. He offers a similar outlet to Carson in the passing game — able to take short dump offs for positive gains when the play breaks down. Almost as importantly, Davis had two key blocks in pass protection against the Eagles, a trait that will help him stay on the field on every down, and make Eddie Lacy much less likely to see the field.
There’s a concept Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah often talk about on the Move the Sticks podcast called, you guessed it, ‘finding waldo.’ Essentially, it’s moving ‘backs and tight ends around a formation finding the ideal matchup; usually leaving a linebacker to work against a tight end or running back in space. The New England Patriots do this to perfection with Rex Burkhead, Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis. It’s a concept the Seahawks and Darrell Bevell haven’t done nearly enough, with the exception of Jimmy Graham’s red zone revival.
Against Seattle, Philadelphia focused on not allowing it to happen, lining up in dime packages (six defensive backs) repeatedly. The two instances that the Seahawks caught the Eagles with a linebacker in coverage, they paid dearly. The first was a 48-yard strike from Wilson to Doug Baldwin: linebacker Mychal Kendricks was lined up across from Graham, the safety shaded over, leaving Baldwin and Wilson to work against zero safety help. The second was J.D. McKissic’s touchdown reception: Graham split out wide on the right side, McKissic split out wide on the other. That formation forced the Eagles to make a decision, and it (again) left Kendricks on an island versus McKissic, and it was no contest.
Favorable matchups like that result in easy yardage for offenses, and despite possessing three difficult mismatches, Seattle hasn’t worked to get them nearly enough. The Seahawks rarely got the matchup they wanted against Philadelphia, but when they did, it paid off massively.
Returning from a concussion to play in Seattle’s most difficult game of the season, Shaquill Griffin answered the bell in a huge way. Physically, he didn’t shy away from a tough matchup against Alshon Jeffery. In the first half, Wentz didn’t target Jeffery a single time, often looking away from Jeffery/Griffin as his first read. In the second half, Griffin was targeted three times: he allowed two completions, and broke up a pass intended for Jeffery on the third. Early in his career, Griffin’s displayed a penchant for meeting the football at its highest point - often at the same time as the receiver - and has registered several really impressive pass breakups as a result. With Richard Sherman out for the season, Griffin is the team’s clear number-one corner, and he played like it against the Eagles.
Just like Griffin, Bradley McDougald answered the Seahawks’ toughest game of the year with his best game of the year. In the run game, he was outstanding, filling lanes inside and setting the edge with physicality that would make Kam Chancellor proud. In the pass game he was excellent, effectively shutting down one of the league’s best tight ends in Zach Ertz. His two glaring mistakes on Sunday night - an early unnecessary roughness penalty and getting caught flat footed in coverage - were outweighed by plus-play on nearly every other down. His best moment came on a crucial third down, when Ertz got inside position on a slant route, only to have McDougald play it perfectly and knock the ball loose. Since Chancellor was lost for the season, McDougald’s play has improved every single week as he grows into an incredibly unique role.
Bobby Wagner is your DPOY
In the lead up to Sunday night’s game, the national media seemed to finally be taking notice of the incredible season Wagner has been having. That’s a legitimate boost to his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy, and a big showing in prime-time would only serve to help it. Wagner responded with yet another incredible game. By the end of the game he had totaled nine tackles, but that doesn’t even begin to measure the number of times he got to the ball. It takes a small army to bring down Blount and Ajayi, and seemingly every time a Seattle defensive lineman would meet one of the two ‘backs, K.J. Wright and Wagner were not far behind.
For as impressive as his play recognition was against Philadelphia, his closing speed was even better. One play in particular - a draw to Corey Clement - left Cris Collinsworth cackling to himself, as Wagner exploded through a gap and met Clement almost immediately. Wagner has dominated every single game this season, the best player on a defense filled with great players. Sunday night was the latest in a season of Defensive Player of the Year-type performances.
Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark
Two more best-game-of-the-season performances on the Seahawks’ defense, this time up front. Frank Clark dominated the Eagles’ left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai all game long, seemingly turning the corner on him on every Wentz drop back. During the Philadelphia’s final two possessions, the payoff for the early game dominance showed up, as Clark turned to speed-to-power and inside moves and having several free rushs as a result. He ended the game with two sacks and five hurries, and that doesn’t do his effectiveness justice.
Sheldon Richardson meanwhile, had another complete game. Eight pressures, two run stops and the biggest play of the game, forcing a Wentz fumble on an outstanding strip. Richardson has been Seattle’s best defensive lineman all season long, but in the past month he’s cranked his level of play up another level. It’s only increasing his eventual price tag, but with games like this one against the Eagles, it’s going to be worth every cent.