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05 Dec 2017

Any Given Sunday: Seahawks Over Eagles

by Rivers McCown

Carson Wentz finished this game with 348 passing yards, but entered halftime with just 45 of them. That goes a long way in explaining how Philadelphia lost this game. The Eagles were able to run effectively on the Seahawks early, particularly with Wentz functioning as a scrambler on broken plays to buoy the yardage up. But the short passing game was off. This is something that is not common in Eagles games. Let's talk about it.

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When you think of Seattle's defense, you think of a unit that plays a lot of Cover-3, giving up the sidelines. This has been their traditional ethos in this decade. In this game, the Eagles saw a lot of single-high safety looks like the one above. Instead of zone coverage, however, there's man coverage all over the place, and Wentz is asked to lead someone to win one-on-one. On this play, he didn't, eating a sack as nobody was clearly open.

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This shot to Torrey Smith that was basically a throw-away wound up the same way. Run-pass option rules are in effect. Wentz saw one-on-one coverage. Seattle challenged Wentz to do something with it, and he didn't.

This is not to turn this column into a Wentz shame-show. He played well as the night went on, and has clearly developed into a good quarterback -- one who wins with his feet and has some Andrew Luck-style sorcery on the run. I point these early issues out because it is something that goes against Seattle tendency, and they found some success that mattered with it.

On deep passes this year, Philadelphia's offense has a 129.5% DVOA (sixth in the NFL), and this week, they managed a 132.2% DVOA on 13 of them. Seattle was giving that up if it happened. But on short passes, here's what Philadelphia did:

Short Passing Game DVOA -- Eagles In Check

Short Pass DVOA Short Throws
Weeks 1-12 52.2% (2nd) 108
Week 13 41.2% (15th) 32
Week 13, 1H 1.9% (21nd) 10

At halftime, the Eagles adjusted and started going over the middle more. On short passes over the middle, Wentz went 9-for-11 for 83 yards. Only two of those throws came before halftime.

Though Wentz has some history of accuracy issues, especially in his rookie season, he can still make single-high defensive schemes look silly. That's why you don't see many coaches dare quarterbacks like this to beat them on the outside. Most coaches are scared to play like that, because successful burns over players like Byron Maxwell are lightning-rod plays. "Why was he in that position in the first place?" revs the talk on the Sports Jock and Chad.

But for one half, Seattle was able to stymie the vaunted Philadelphia pass offense. That turned out to be enough to win the game.

Where the Game Swung

It has become a common Twitter crusade this year to lament the fumble out of the end zone. It was involved in the high-profile Austin Seferian-Jenkins overturn against New England, a result that felt aesthetically stupid no matter what the rulebook says. It also just seems like a weird punishment to take the ball away from the offense for fumbling it out of bounds there as opposed to any other spot on the field, where they retain possession if the ball leaves the field of play.

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This rule played a big turning point in this game, as the Seahawks forced Wentz to cough it up on a run towards the goal line. The ball rolled out of bounds. Seahawks ball. The huge +22.4 percent bump you see in the chart above is exactly how much this swung the game, taking a drive that could have tied the game or put Philadelphia within four and instead giving the Eagles a goose egg. Russell Wilson's huge downfield pass to Doug Baldwin, running the corner on safety Rodney McLeod, set Seattle up with first-and-goal and moved the win chances about 14 percent on its own.

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On Philadelphia's ensuing drive, they went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Seattle 25, a well-considered gamble. But the dumpoff to Kenjon Barner was snuffed out after his man, K.J. Wright, came on a blitz and forced Wentz to commit to the throw under duress.

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And after that play, Philadelphia never again seriously threatened, cutting the score to seven on a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor but getting snuffed out with a touchdown on the ensuing Seahawks drive.

I'm more of an agnostic on the fumble rule. I think it's quirky if not fair, and adds some hope in late-game situations. But if you are an advocate that the rule should be scrapped, this is the sort of game you'd use to build that case. The Eagles and Seahawks stalemated each other for a half and then Wentz fumbled the game right out of the back of the end zone.

By the VOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
PHI 16.8% 9.0% 4.8% 12.6%
SEA 34.6% -3.5% 5.5% 43.7%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
PHI 13.6% 11.7% 4.8% 6.6%
SEA 18.7% 6.4% 5.5% 17.9%

Philadelphia comes out of this game looking good. They didn't play a bad game so much as Seattle played at their best. When you consider the implications of playing at CenturyLink, in prime time, on the road, the Eagles weren't so bad. Some of the games we cover in this column are lost; this game was won.

How Seattle Sets Up in the NFC

Seattle has kind of a fascinating scenario in front of them, so I think we owe it to ourselves to talk about it. They have three main problems this season, two of which have potential solutions unfolding:

1) Richard Sherman is done for the season. (No help coming here.)
2) They couldn't protect Russell Wilson. (Duane Brown is now on the team.)
3) They can't run at all. (Chris Carson is on his way back, possibly available for Week 15, and Seattle used Wilson more on designed runs last week.)

The change between the Seahawks with and without Brown has been noticeable. Here's how the pass offense has changed: Seattle's deep pass DVOA has nearly doubled with Brown on the team.

Seattle With And Without Duane Brown

Deep Pass DVOA
Weeks 1-7 68.1% (20th)
Weeks 8-13 121.3% (8th)

As we pointed out the last time that Seattle made this column, in the games where Wilson looks bad, he almost seems to pretend he has more pressure than he does. I'm not sure if this move gives him more comfort in general, even though the pressure numbers aren't all that different. (Seattle is 30th on the season, ahead of just Indianapolis and Houston.) But a confident Wilson throwing deep is a huge pain for opposing defenses, because the way he is able to run around and buy time is peerless in the NFL.

Then there's the run offense. If you include Wilson's runs, Seattle's rushing offense DVOA is a pedestrian -12.9%, 20th in the league. If you do not, they are horrendous: a -33.8% DVOA that would rank dead last in the NFL. Sunday's results again reinforced that, with Seattle managing 70 yards on 19 non-Wilson carries, 22 of which came on one run where Mike Davis broke two tackles in the open-field.

However, a return for Carson offers hope for Seattle because he was incredible in the early going. He had a positive rushing DVOA in a situation in which every other "lead back" has been way into the double-digit negatives. He was a terrific receiver before he went down, with a 36.8% DVOA. Carson broke 21 tackles in just 56 touches. To put that in to context, Houston's Lamar Miller has 23 broken tackles ... on 206 touches.

Seattle isn't in the clear. The Seahawks aren't even a division favorite. But if you squint your eyes and see how things are trending, it's clear that they're looking like a playoff favorite. And if they make the dance, they'll be a tough out.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 05 Dec 2017

20 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2017, 9:36am by RobotBoy

Comments

1
by ClavisRa :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 3:51pm

Not a surprising result. The Seahawks seemed the stronger team heading into the game excepting their injuries; if the replacement players didn't prove to be large negatives, I expect the Seahawks to have the edge in this match up every Sunday.

The Eagles have been 'lucky' in that they have had a very clear and effective offensive design that opposing defenses haven't been trying to take away; the defenses were just matching up to the players, not the scheme. The Chiefs enjoyed a similar, and more dynamic, success earlier in the season until defenses caught on. The Seahawks are the first team to really try to take away what the Eagles want to do (and finally make Wentz throw open receivers, not just throw to ones already schemed wide open). Barring a couple exceptionally heroic plays, Wentz looked like most good sophomore QBs.

How Wentz and the coaching staff respond next week against the Rams defense will be very telling about their capacity to make a playoff run. Right now the Vikings are clearly the deepest and most complete team in the NFC, with Saints a few holes on defense behind them.

5
by horn :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 5:32pm

Nobody but you thought the Hawks looked stronger than the Eagles who hadn't lost since week 2 and don't have as many defensive injuries as SEA. PHL was a 7-4 favorite to win in Vegas, those guys know what they're doing.

Seattle is still a good team.

9
by Pen :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 8:44pm

Not true. I pretty much expected Seattle to win this one as well. So he wasn't alone. Vegas had Denver by 2.5 over Seattle in SB 48 and when I posted on this very website that Seattle was going to crush Denver, I got ridiculed.

This year New Orleans and Minnesota are the teams to beat. Philly has had a cake walk of historic proportions so far, but the Rams will handle them next week.

And the Seahawks will handle the Rams when they come to Seattle just like they did on the road earlier this season. Rivers is wrong, right now Seattle is in the driver's seat for the division. It's the playoff win in NO or Minn that will be their challenge. They will need to improve if they are to have a chance. Philly, however, isn't going this year. Maybe next year, with some more experience under Wentz belt, but not this year.

People get all starry eyed by high scores. Defense wins championships.

11
by Hextall_27 :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 9:01pm

The Eagles clearly lost this game, even though Wilson was brilliant and anyone who designs offensive plays where Bobby Wagner is unblocked should be publicly shamed.

The way Seattle allowed Agholor to roam free for a potential 238 yards and 3 TDs was clear dominance. Wentz missed a wide open throw and he brought him to the ground on a 32 yard throw that would have been an easy TD.

Add in an Eagles drive to the 1 where Wentz fumbled and an Eagles drive to the 2 where Jefferey committed a bonehead hold that had zero effect on the play and you can see how Seattle really shut down Philly on their own.

Wilson getting an extra 25 yards on a forward lateral because Doug Pederson does not understand that throwing something sideways while moving forward makes the object go forward, and the epic fail is complete for Philly.

But you can stick to your 'Seattle is clearly superior' because we all know that the Jags and Bears are superior to the Steelers, the Panthers are superior to the Patriots, and the Redskins and Titans are superior to the Seahawks.

Comparing the 2013 Seahawks D as equivalent or similar to the 2017 'No Sherman or Chancellor' Seahawks is an interesting opinion. I also expected the 2013 Seahawks to beat '12 net points per game in Super Bowls' Manning. They were a special unit. This D is clearly not.

14
by Pen :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 5:32am

yeah, cuz teams never look like they're beating themselves when the opposing defense is disrupting their execution.
And don't put words in my mouth. I didn't compare the 2013 D to this one. I simply said great defenses win championships. Minnesota has one. Philly does not. Philly has a middling secondary and has stopped the run really well. But Philly hasn't really been tested in their run defense.
But since you brought up comparisons, this Seattle defense is much better than people realize. McDougald is playing nearly as well as Chancellor, Avril is out, but Reed is more than an upgrade. Maxwell is still on one side and Shaquille Griffin is likely to be the next Sherman. With the upgrades to the front seven, this is probably an even better defense than 2013, despite a rusty Maxwell and young Griffin. The stats won't show it because the league has had four years to adjust to Carroll's defense. Seattle is unlikely to go to the SB because they are one dimensional on offense. If their slowly gelling offensive line suddenly learns how to run block, they might make a go of it. But they're going to find themselves in Minnesota or New Orleans sooner or later in the playoffs and that will probably spell the end of them.
I favor the Saints over Minnesota. Brees over Keenum. But Goff isn't taking the Rams and Wentz isn't taking the Eagles further than Wilson can take the Hawks.

20
by RobotBoy :: Fri, 12/08/2017 - 9:36am

No dog in this fight but I am inclined to agree that the gods of home field and fumble luck (along with some good game planning) allowed the less-talented team steal a W. Seattle's man coverage on the outside in the first half allowed them to stay in the game through the first half and even after they got the luckiest of all bounces, Philly was still about to get right back in it. If this game is in Philly, Seattle loses, and if Seattle is on the road in the playoffs, they lose.

16
by ChrisS :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:59am

They were pretty big favorites according to the Vegas money line and DVOA (depending somewhat on the adjustment you give for HFA). But my exceedingly scientific subjective feeling was that Seattle had chance for the upset (I gave Seattle a 2 in the ranking pool I participate in).

2
by Eddo :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 4:22pm

Regarding the fumble through the end zone - I'm actually OK with fumbles that go out the back of the end zone going to the defense. This fits in with the fact that when the ball crosses another "horizontal" line - the goal line - special rules apply.

But I would be completely on board with a rule change that the offense keeps the ball if the ball goes out the side of the end zone (like the Sefarian-Jenkins play).

7
by comfect :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 6:26pm

I think that distinction makes sense. After all, this ball was in fact recovered by a Seahawks player out of the back of the end zone; the fact that it was out of bounds is a result of the unique end of the field, rather than the kind of out of bounds that is available all the way down the field on the sides. If this fumble had happened midfield, it would still have been a turnover (assuming everyone was in the same relative positions, which of course would not be the case, but still), unlike the ASJ fumble or some of the Earl Thomas tomahawk chop fumbles the Seahawks have gotten against the Rams.

18
by ClavisRa :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 1:12am

In most sports, when you lose the ball out of bounds, anywhere in the field, the other team gets it. Football is very strange in letting the fumbling team keep the ball. But the end zone is the opposing team's home base. At least losing the ball there should be a change of possession. So, the rules as is seem quite fair, and quite good.

If anything, I'd change losing the ball out of bounds to hurt the offense, making football more like most other ball sports in that regard, not loss of possession, but perhaps an additional loss of down (Which on third down would indeed result in a loss of possession).

3
by ChrisS :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 5:00pm

A fumble out of bounds in the field of play is marked where it goes O-O-B. Where do you spot the ball on a fumble through the end-zone, there is no logical/consistent spot? The end zone is not like the rest of the field. If the offense gets the ball into the end-zone the play is dead so no possibility of a fumble, a big advantage for the offense, so I think giving a huge advantage to the defense on a fumble through the end zone is not crazy. Additionally adding a little risk to the reward of getting a TD is fine.

4
by Joe Pancake :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 5:14pm

Well said. I was going to post a similar comment, but I don't need to now.

The worst part of the fumble out of the back of the end zone rule is that everybody complains about it as if it's totally unfair to the offense. The way I see it: If you put the ball on the ground, you can't get mad if you lose it!

6
by horn :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 5:33pm

It should be the Offense ball, at the 20, so typically losing a ton of yards for the O.

Defense did not recover it, so there should not be a turnover.

Although I don't feel strongly either way.

8
by Rich A :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 7:25pm

yes, but the offense lost control of it, which I think is nearly as bad.

I like that it's a turnover. It's not like they give the opposing team the ball at mid-field or something.

I could get behind touchbacks on normal defensive plays giving the defending team the ball at the 5 or 10. I think that's a fair compromise to people that don't like gifting the ball back to the defending team. It still gives them the ball but in a fairly tough spot.

10
by Hextall_27 :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 8:56pm

I prefer Bill Belichick's view on fumbles that go out of the end zone.

"Don't fumble the ball!"

The rule is funky, but so is everything about the end zone. You have to capture every other inch of the field but a slight wave to any part of the end zone or pylon is a TD.

I'd be fine with reworking all the end zone rules, and the ground causing a fumble, and reviews on penalties, but everyone plays by the same 2017 rules.

17
by Jimmy Oz :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:48pm

I too like the rule. Giving the ball back to the offense at the 20 feels like you're given them a 'participation trophy' for a terrible play

12
by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/05/2017 - 9:56pm

I really dislike blitzing Wilson as a defensive strategy, because I think he extends against 5-6 rushers almost as easily as he does 4, and blitzing means none of the coverage personnel have their eyes on him, and he rips off huge plays, pass or run. That isn't to say handling him with a 4 rush is an easy path, especially if you don't have depth in pass rushers, but that would be my picked poison

13
by Pen :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 5:16am

Brock Huard has an excellent analysis of how the Seahawks had planned for the Eagles to blitz them on the 51 yd toss to Baldwin. Eagles had shown a tendency on 3rd and 10 and the Seahawks were waiting to take advantage of it. Play worked to perfection.
Wentz will be special, but he's still young and blitzing young QB's pays off, as the Eagles learned to their misfortune. But Wilson is not the QB you blitz without realizing he can make you pay for it, which the Eagles learned to their misfortune as well.

15
by gomer_rs :: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:40am

Blitzing 5 against Wilson can work very well. It's not so many that blitz dictates the coverage, and you fore Seattle's line into 1 on 1 blocks they often lose.

Blitzing more is very dangerous against Wilson, and sending the house and playing cover 0 sent the Seahawks to the SB against GB in NFC title game.
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

19
by gomer_rs :: Thu, 12/07/2017 - 2:23pm

For fun, the good folks at Field Gulls have done a little montage of Russel Wilson v. Cover 0 clips.

https://www.fieldgulls.com/2017/12/6/16734454/nfl-defenses-cover-0-blitz...

_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.