Jim Schwartz’s Eagles defense played well enough Sunday to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots, had the offense supplied even a reasonable amount of help, but it could not.
So this week, as a reward, the defense gets to face Russell Wilson and the 8-2 Seahawks. Wilson is 3-0 against the Eagles and was the author of the most decisive loss the 2017 Super Bowl LII champions suffered, 24-10, at Seattle in the game before Carson Wentz suffered his Dec. 10 knee injury against the Rams.
Wilson threw three touchdown passes that evening, and he also ran six times for 31 yards. He made the Super Bowl-bound Eagles look just like the Eagles of the previous season, whom he defeated, 26-15, on Nov. 20, 2016, also in Seattle. (In the 2016 game, by the way, Wilson caught a touchdown pass on a razzle-dazzle play.)
Schwartz remembers these moments. He also has been watching Wilson this season, as the Seahawks QB has turned the NFL MVP discussion into a competition between Wilson and the quarterback who might as well be his understudy, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Wilson has never registered even one MVP vote in his eight-year NFL career, but that seems likely to change.
“Well, there's scrambling quarterbacks, there's running quarterbacks, there's drop-back quarterbacks, there's quarterbacks that are good from the pocket, there's quarterbacks that are good outside of the pocket, there's quarterbacks that can throw on schedule, there's quarterbacks that can create on their own,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “And he's all of the above. So I think that you layer all those things together, and it makes it a tough challenge. You have to defend perimeter plays, like boots and play actions. You have to defend RPOs and zone reads. You have to defend off-schedule plays.”
Wilson leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes this season, and has thrown just two interceptions. He also has run 50 times for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
“But he can also be as good as anybody in the league when it comes to just dropping back and throwing it,” Schwartz said. Wilson’s 114.9 passer rating also leads the league. “He's very talented that way, and he can scramble not just for first downs, but he can scramble for big plays down the field. Just an excellent competitor, and it's a great challenge this week for us.”
Wilson’s ascendance is interesting in light of the controversy Wentz is weathering this season, with the Eagles plodding along at 5-5 and the offense struggling. Wilson won a Super Bowl early in his career, but many observers thought that Lombardi Trophy belonged to Seattle’s defense; the most vocal bunch with that opinion might have been the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defensive backs, led by Richard Sherman.
After Wilson threw the infamous goal-line interception that kept Seattle from winning the next Super Bowl, Wilson faced strong criticism inside and outside the Seahawks’ locker room. But he persevered, and his in-house critics eventually moved on. Sherman, now with the 49ers, lost to his former quarterback in the Week 10 Monday night game.
This game also was supposed to be a prime-time matchup, but was moved to 1 p.m. – 10 a.m. in Seattle – because NBC wanted the Packers vs. the 49ers for Sunday night. The Eagles might be fortunate there; the victory over San Francisco made Wilson 8-2 in prime time.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said of Wilson: "He can do anything he wants. A play is never a bad play with him in there, even if everyone is covered. That’s usually when the play starts.”
The Eagles’ Nigel Bradham, who hopes to return from a four-game ankle injury absence this week, also is familiar with the ways of Wilson; Bradham was the linebacker who hustled over in vain to Wilson as the QB hauled in that 15-yard third-quarter TD pass from wideout Doug Baldwin three years ago.
“Obviously, we’ve got to keep him contained, but we can’t just let him sit in the pocket, either, because he’s really good at both,” Bradham said.
Most opponents have decided that pressure is the way to go, though it could result in Wilson scrambling for a first down, or buying time for a long completion. The thinking there is that Seattle’s offensive line isn’t great; Wilson has been sacked 27 times.
“It’s obviously a different challenge this week as opposed to [facing 42-year-old Tom Brady],” Schwartz said. “Our previous game plan, we were trying to get the quarterback moving. I think that this is a little different story with Russell Wilson, because he is very dangerous outside. But he also has some big-play receivers, and he has a really good running game behind him, so it’s not just all about stopping him.”
Wilson’s top receiver, Tyler Lockett (62 catches, 793 yards, 6 touchdowns), was hospitalized for two days with a scary, fast-swelling leg contusion after the Seahawks’ most recent outing, on Nov. 11, when they handed the 49ers their first loss of the season.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Monday that the team is “hoping, planning on [Lockett] being able to play,” but that nothing is certain.