Something is familiar about the Philadelphia Eagles, and it has nothing to do with being the team that lost to the Seahawks 26-15 a year ago. It has to do with them looking a lot like the 2013 Seahawks. Not necessarily in player-for-player talent, but in efficiency, power, swagger and good fortune.
Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright has noticed. He watched film of the Eagles’ latest dismantling, 31-3 over Chicago Sunday, and saw running back Jay Ajayi break away on a 30-yard run, only to fumble into the end zone. Teammate wide receiver Nelson Agholor was there to fall on it for a touchdown.
“The ball just bounces your way,” Wright said. “Getting those lucky plays, at the same time you’re playing really good. It looked like (us in 2013).”
In fact, the Seahawks started that season 10-1, just as the Eagles have in 2017, when they have become the 39th team in the Super Bowl era to win 10 of their first 11. The first 38 all made the playoffs, seventeen went to the Super Bowl and eight won it. That includes the Seahawks.
“Yeah, that was a long time ago,” said linebacker Bobby Wagner, who was speaking of the calendar but it easily could have been a commentary about the current disparity between the teams. “I just remember a lot of winning and a lot of laughter. It feels like you understand you are going to get everybody’s best game.
“Teams would put in plays that they hadn’t practiced, hadn’t put on film. We had to prepare for a lot of things because when you’re that top dog, everybody wants to take you down. They will do whatever they can to take you down.”
The 7-4 Seahawks desperately want to take down the Eagles. Seattle’s biggest game of the season has two advantages: Home field and prime time, where historically the Seahawks have done well.
Just not right now.
The Seahawks have lost two in a row at home, including a Monday night defeat to Atlanta. Injuries and dubious personnel decisions have robbed them of the ability to trick up the offense for a top foe.
To beat the Eagles, who are now a six-point favorite (up from four), the Seahawks may have to depend on luck, or the diabolical.
Wagner noticed something about the Eagles’ second-year quarterback prodigy, Carson Wentz.
“He does not like to slide,” he said. “I’ve seen a couple times him try and run somebody over, which I think not too many quarterbacks do that. So I’m hoping he gives me an opportunity. That would be great.”
Wagner wasn’t threatening Wentz, exactly, but when a leading candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year puts a foe in the crosshairs, it is noteworthy. And perhaps Seattle’s only hope.
The Seahawks have a three-game run of opponents, including the Jaguars and Rams, that easily could leave Seattle 7-7, rendering the final two games at Dallas and home against Arizona as afterthoughts regarding playoffs.
Lost for the season to injuries are three defensive stalwarts (cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril). The Seahawks have started six offensive-line combinations, helping produce a running game that has a single touchdown by a running back, none of whom can be identified at the moment as the starter for the Sunday night game. They have a kicker who has missed five of his past 10 field-goal attempts, and the club leads the NFL in penalties.
Inauspicious, to say the least.
It is more than injuries. The Seahawks’ top three free-agent signees, left guard Luke Joeckel, running back Eddie Lacy and kicker Blair Walsh, have had less than expected contributions.
The 2017 draft has yielded modest immediate help. The 10 picks produced one solid starter, cornerback Shaquill Griffin, a starter-by-default, right guard Ethan Pocic, and a D-line contributor in Nazair Jones. Running back Chris Carson looked to be a draft-day steal, but was injured in the fourth game and has yet to return.
Coach Pete Carroll Monday surprised many when he said defensive tackle Malik McDowell, the top draft pick who had a severe concussion from an accident involving an ATV and has neither played nor practiced this season, is no longer making progress Carroll previously described. Asked Wednesday to explain further what happened, Carroll said, “No, at this point, it’s really that he is just out for the season. That is basically what it is. He is out.”
Then there was the business with defensive end Dwight Freeney, the 37-year-old Hall of Fame candidate who was an emergency hire to help fill the void created by Avril’s injury. A popular figure in the locker room who had three sacks in his first two games, Freeney was cut last week, a shock felt around the league, including by Freeney, who was picked up by the Lions.
“Oh, completely surprised. Completely surprised. Jaw on the ground,” he told reporters in Detroit. “I’m like, what the heck had just happened? It would be one thing if I wasn’t producing and all that, but I was producing, and that was the decision that they had to make based on their situation. Like I said, I’m not a general manager, I’m not a head coach, so I don’t know those types of things.
“Maybe it had something to do with salary cap or maybe it had to do with the fact that they couldn’t line up at linebacker, so they had to go to the deepest position that they had. I was, I guess, the low guy on the totem pole because I was the newest guy, which was probably a little bit easier for them to do that.”
Freeney said general manager John Schneider told him he was “embarrassed” to have to let him go, which was probably true. According to OverTheCap.com, the Seahawks have the second-least room under the salary cap, particularly after the unplanned return of cornerback Jeremy Lane, who was traded to Houston for left tackle Duane Brown for about 24 hours until Lane failed his physical exam.
Taking back Lane’s salary put the Seahawks in a corner with little room for more emergency hires in case of injuries. Whether it was mismanagement or bad luck or a combination, Freeney was the fall guy in an episode that looked bad for all involved.
Just like the McDowell accident.
The scramble makes all the more poignant the admiration offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had for what he’s seen of Philly’s defense.
“They are tenacious, they run hard, they run fast, and it’s not a crazy scheme,” he said. “They can crush the pocket, because all four (linemen) can rush. The linebackers can pressure and cover. They do a nice job pressuring the quarterback by rushing four guys. It’s like us.”
Does it look like the vintage Seahawks?
“For sure. You start putting wins together, you get confidence. You can definitely see a swagger. There’s a little extra curricular you see on the defense, the excitement and demonstrations. They’re backing it up.”
Age. Injuries. Big contracts for premier players, not enough left for others. It’s a familiar litany for Super Bowl champions. The Seahawks are on the decline. It’s the Eagles’ turn now.
That isn’t necessarily what will happen Sunday night. But only if Wentz forgets to slide when he sees Wagner.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.