It feels like only yesterday that the Eagles marched into CenturyLink Field with the hopes of causing an upset against a surging Seattle team. A defense with its ears to the ground and a quarterback who wasn’t afraid to mix things up with trick plays and the like eventually burst the Eagles bubble and played a huge part in the swift swirl that the 2016 campaign took. Carson Wentz hit the “rookie wall” so to speak as the defense ran riot, reading his eyes all too easily as the NDSU product honed in on his receivers. One year later, it’s payback time…but that’s the last thing on the mind of the Eagles.
“Last week they were struggling to throw the ball a little bit, but they were really, really good running the ball.” Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said when meeting the media on Tuesday. “Seattle has transitioned a little bit, five odd years ago it was the [Raiders RB] Marshawn Lynch run defense, and that kind of stuff. Now they’re one of the top passing attacks in the NFL. They’ve got good receivers. They’ve got a great tight end, and they’ve got a quarterback that can throw it on time, but then he can also create something off schedule.”
The Seahawks may have ran the ball a little more confidently against the Niners, but Russell Wilson tossed two touchdown passes and rushed for a third score in the 24-13 win. Seattle’s 7th win of the season was Wilson’s 23rd of his career in games following a loss. It could be argued that the Seahawks backfield has never been the same since Marshawn Lynch decided to hang up his cleats (or so it seemed). Wilson leads the team in rushing this year with a staggering 401 yards and 3 touchdowns. Putting a wounded offensive line on his back, the former Super Bowl winner has done an incredible job of making things happen outside of the pocket…and that’s something Schwartz refuses to take for granted.
“I mean, we faced a similar quarterback this year in [Panthers QB] Cam Newton, but Russell Wilson is unique in his own ways.” Schwartz explained before going on to compare him against an NFL legend. “He can run the designed quarterback runs, the zone reads, the keepers and things like that. And then he can also just create something off schedule. I’ve compared him in the past to [former NFL QB] Fran Tarkenton, and the only thing I really know about Fran Tarkenton was watching NFL Films stuff. But he can threaten inside the pocket. He can threaten outside the pocket. But probably the thing he’s most dangerous in is threatening by running backwards because it’s easy to keep contain. Well, it’s not easy, but you can keep contain and you can prevent step-ups, but it’s hard to get somebody directly behind the quarterback. And that’s where he can just turn and run and escape, and then once he does, he can create some problems for your defense.
While one quarterback is being compared to Tankerton, the one he’s facing has had a flurry of comparisons this year. Carson Wentz leads the NFL in touchdowns after tossing three against the Bears to bring his total to 28. The Eagles have gone 10-1 for just the fourth time in franchise history…and that all starts with a young gun-slinger who is thriving on confidence.
The Eagles have done an incredible job at home this season and the amount of penalties drawn by the impressive hard-count that Carson Wentz masks so beautifully is ridiculous. The Eagles The Birds are red hot at home too, winning eight consecutive games dating back to week 16 of last season. Wentz won’t have that luxury in Seattle. The twelfth man will pose an intimidating threat as it always does. Drowning out everything but cries from the die hard fans which will be heard for miles, the Seahawks are very much alive in this playoff race…and the environment the Eagles are walking into may be more even hostile than it was last year.
“I think at this time of year, you never take anything for granted.” Frank Reich said on using the hard count and the challenge that CenturyLink Field provides.. “I think we’ve gotten into a good rhythm. I think we feel comfortable. The real key is on the quarterback and the O-line to be able to continue to mix up — it’s sometimes easier to mix a count when you’re using your voice, but you have to be just as committed to mixing up the count when you’re using silent count. It’s easy to get into a rut when you’re in the silent count of kind of falling into the same count all the time, so you’ve really got to have a commitment and a discipline to mix it up.”
It’s going to fall down to instincts for the pride of North Dakota State…but luckily for the Eagles, those are something he has in abundance. Wentz has tapped into some Houdini-like skill sets this year, turning completely dead plays into something out of a Super Hero movie. Most recently, his stunning spin off of a blindside tackle that led to a ridiculous 16-yard rush.
“I think it’s pretty rare.” Frank Reich mentioned when ask about his quarterbacks incredible elusiveness. “I think everybody has that instinct and you can feel it, you can definitely feel it. But it’s one thing to be able to feel it and know it’s coming, and it’s another thing to just escape from it a very high percentage of the time. I’m not going to say he’s going to get away from every one of those, but what you see over the film, consistency — and this is what we talk about all the time, it’s the consistency of his evadability, [it] just continues to show up again and again and again and again. And so there’s obviously something — a special quality that he has not only physically, but kind of that sixth sense to know where it’s coming from. It’s that combination, I think, that is working so well for him.”
Wentz has come on leaps and bounds since that fateful game. The Eagles have put up 30+ points in their last three games and are blowing opponents out with ease. There hasn’t been a dog-fight involving the Eagles in quite sometime, but that doesn’t mean that the team are coasting. Winning in the NFL isn’t easy, dominating is even harder. Doing that on a weekly basis is something very few teams can do.
Last year, the Eagles walked into Seattle and kept it close. They didn’t give up absurd penalties or fall victim to the noise. They ultimately failed to win the matchup, but the game acted as a learning curve for Carson Wentz and the team around him. The Eagles return with a very different looking offense and in a completely contrasting situation to the one they endured one year ago.
Wentz vs Wilson has the potential to be a big-time NFC playoff matchup for years to come. The Seahawks may have won the opening battle, but the Eagles are set on winning the war…and that’s a battle that will rage on Sunday night.
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports