Philadelphia Eagles News

Defense Prepares For Mobile QB Wilson

Seattle's offense is, first and foremost, run-focused. Often, that means the running back is the star of the show. Pair that with the fact that the Seahawks have attempted the fewest passes of any team in the league this season, and the blind observer could surmise that Seattle's quarterback is nothing special.

With Russell Wilson, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Seahawks run a rush-centric offense, and Wilson is at the very heart of its execution. They run a scheme that leans heavily on read-option concepts, where the quarterback decides whether to hand the ball off to his running back - in this case, a more than capable Marshawn Lynch - or keep it himself.

Wilson, a keen decision maker, has found a balance that's worked for him, and the rest of the Seattle offense, all season long. He's already set a career high in rushing yards with 679 through 12 games.

This Sunday, the Eagles won't see an abundance of pass attempts from Wilson, but they know they can't take him lightly. Not even for a second.

"I got an opportunity to play against Russell when he was at Wisconsin," head coach Chip Kelly explained Monday. "He does the same thing. He always has his eyes down the field. He's not looking to run, but if you give him the opportunity to run, I think he makes really, really good decisions when he's flushed from the pocket.

"He's always got his eyes up. He's always looking for open receivers. If they're not there, he takes what the defense gives him. He never takes a big hit. I think he's got a real, real good feel of how to play quarterback on the move."

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis noted Tuesday that the Eagles have faced mobile quarterbacks earlier this season in San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Carolina's Cam Newton, both of whom run zone-read and read-option concepts, so the Eagles defense is accustomed to defending those types of plays. They've also seen it during the offseason, and training camp, and even during the year when facing their own offense.

"Our calls and our conversations from our linebackers, their reads, our outside backers, our inside backers, and how they're defended is nothing new," Davis said. "We just re-open that conversation when we have to face that kind of team like we are this week."

The veteran defensive coordinator went into great detail Tuesday when explaining how his team will have to defend Wilson when the quarterback is on the move. He explained that, when a quarterback becomes a rusher with a blocker, or even a rusher in a zone read, they change the way the defense reads gaps and the defense's gap integrity.

"When the quarterback is a runner … you just have to have the conversation of one more number in the count of the running game, and of the gaps available," Davis explained. "That's the biggest change."

So the Eagles defense will have to be able to adjust accordingly, and on the fly, when they recognize Wilson as a runner in the offense rather than a quarterback, a tall task but one the team's run-stifling defense seems up to.

And when it comes to defending Wilson's game when he drops back, Davis explained that there are two key parts of defending a mobile quarterback like Wilson.

"One, you have to finish all the way to the ball and you have to have all the guys in pursuit," Davis detailed. "But the real key is on the back end, plastering in the coverage when it goes from a three- to four-second coverage mode to five, six, seven, eight seconds when the quarterback is running around in space and still has the arm to throw it."

Safety Malcolm Jenkins echoed his coach's sentiments, acknowledging the mobile quarterbacks they've faced this season and the lessons they've learned from those matchups.

"It's not one of those games where you cover your guy early in the down, and then it's over," Jenkins explained. "You're going to have to continue to find your coverage, work your coverage as the play is extended, maybe for a long time if he gets to scrambling."

The Eagles' pass rush, especially along the defensive line, will be key in containing Wilson. The Eagles enter Week 14 ranked second in the league with 42 sacks and have been generating a solid pass rush and disrupting opposing quarterbacks all season long. Davis said Tuesday that the defenders' efforts in pursuing Wilson will be key. But they won't solve everything.

"If we collectively rush him, I think we'll be okay in that aspect," Davis said, "and he's still going to make those plays. Guys like this are going to make their plays."

But the unit can allow a few plays here and there on Sunday, as long as the defensive linemen stick to their gaps and the defensive backs plaster their receivers. It's going to be a test, both mentally and physically, this weekend. But with big momentum from their Bird Day win over the Cowboys and a week to prepare, if anybody can slow this zone read down, it's the Eagles' defense.

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