All things considered – the injuries, the games in Minnesota and Dallas – the Eagles' defense did a lot of good things in the 2019 regular season. It ranked 10th in yards per game allowed (331.7), fourth in third-down conversion percentage (34%), fifth in first downs allowed per game (18.1), and third in run defense (90.1 yards per game).
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would break it down more simply if asked – and he wasn't asked on Tuesday in his weekly press conference because, well, reporters know the answer – and say, "We played like a 9-and-7 defense."
Yeah, kind of.
The Eagles have been a much better defense at home this season, allowing 16.8 points per game in the eight home outings. And the Eagles allowed 27 points to Washington and then 20 to Detroit in the opening two games at Lincoln Financial Field this season, so the performance improved considerably as the year progressed. They hope to continue that on Sunday afternoon against a familiar nemesis, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
Wilson is 4-0 in his career against the Eagles, throwing seven touchdown passes and only one interception. His escapability is legendary in the NFL, and the Eagles have had more than their fair share of near misses and empty armfuls against the mobile Wilson. On November 24, the Eagles had their best performance against Wilson – recording six quarterback sacks, limiting him to 200 passing yards – and still lost the game, 17-9.
This time around? Schwartz knows that it's going to take a village of defenders to corral the wily Wilson, the focal point of Seattle's offense.
"He's a smart quarterback. He doesn't turn the ball over very often. He's got great mobility. He can extend plays, but he can also just make his plays from the pocket. He's a very accurate passer," Schwartz said. "All those things will be factors in the game that we're going to have to defend. You don't bring your resume to the field. You bring your skill set and we're going to bring ours and we're going to play hard.
"We don't change a whole lot from week to week. I think he probably had a good idea what we were going to do when we faced them the first time. It's the playoffs. There is probably not a whole lot of surprises going to go on on either side of the ball. It'll be about execution. It'll be about teamwork. It'll be about toughness, fundamentals. I think those things will have more to do with the game than them coming up with something new or us coming up with something new."
In that November game, the Seahawks scored their touchdowns on a flea-flicker throw from Wilson and a 59-yard run from running back Rashaad Penny. A lot has changed with Seattle's offense since then. The offensive backfield has been decimated by injury and now the Seahawks use rookie Travis Homer (10 carries, 62 yards rushing, five catches, 30 yards receiving last week), Marshawn Lynch (12 carries, 34 yards, and a touchdown in his Beast Mode return to Seattle in Week 17), and Robert Turbin in the running game. Third receiver Josh Gordon is on the NFL's suspended list. Seattle's offensive line has been banged up.
But the Seahawks still get it done offensively. They shrugged off a poor first half in Sunday night's loss against San Francisco and came back with three straight touchdown drives and finished just inches short of a fourth scoring drive and a victory. Rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf caught 58 passes for 900 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Tyler Lockett is a problem. Seattle uses its tight ends as well as any team in the league.
And then there's Wilson, Wilson, Wilson, who uses the run game to set up his bootleg run/pass options and his play-action passing game.
The Eagles know they have to be aware of everything – trick plays, improvisational Wilson moments, and a physical running game.
"When it's all said and done, it's blocking and tackling and execution and that will carry us a lot longer on Sunday than anything new we put in," Schwartz said. "Every week you have different wrinkles and different things that you set up from the time before or things that you're shoring up or things you're changing on offense and defense. Everybody does that. But I think this is going to be more of a player's game."
The players, after two days off, report back to work at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday. Happy New Year, yes, and a focus on No. 3, the player the Eagles haven't yet been able to solve.