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Lawlor: A Fine Line


The Seahawks and Eagles are similar teams in some ways. Each team has a great defense. Each has a franchise quarterback and an offense that scores in a variety of ways. Each team is very good on special teams. Watching the game on Sunday, you could see the biggest difference. Seattle makes big plays over and over. The Eagles don't. 

Let's compare some situations. Trailing 13-7, the Eagles had the perfect play called. Carson Wentz threw to Zach Ertz on a tight end screen and Ertz followed his blockers for a 57-yard touchdown. The play was wiped out by an alignment penalty. Nobody held. No illegal blocks. A receiver simply failed to put his front foot on the line of scrimmage. That simple error changed the complexion of the game. Later, Seattle decided to call a perfect play of their own. Russell Wilson took the snap and handed the ball to Doug Baldwin, who ran right a few steps and then turned and threw the ball to Wilson for a touchdown. That is a complicated play with a lot of things that can go wrong. Seattle executed it perfectly and had the score. 

Early in the game, running back C.J. Prosise cut back to the right side and hit the hole. Rookie Jalen Mills was there to make the stop, but overran the play. Prosise went 72 yards for a touchdown. Eagles runners Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood got into space a few times. On each of those plays, a Seattle cornerback was there in the right spot and those guys put the runners down with strong, physical tackles. 

There was a play where Wentz tried to go deep to rookie Bryce Treggs. Wentz threw the ball about 60 yards and put some air under it. Treggs lost the ball momentarily as he was running at full speed and looking up for it. Seattle corner Richard Sherman tracked the ball perfectly, also running at full speed and looking up. He then made an impressive over the shoulder catch. Eagles corner Nolan Carroll had tight coverage on a red zone pass play. He actually jumped the route and Wilson threw the ball to him. Carroll saw it the whole way, but couldn't hold on. Seattle settled for a field goal, but Carroll could have kept those points off the board. 

Teams in the NFL are bunched more closely than people think in terms of overall talent. The best teams are the ones that execute consistently and make big plays when they have the chance. Seattle is one of those teams. The Eagles aren't there right now. 

The Seahawks are the kind of team the Eagles want to become. Doug Pederson basically said that in his postgame press conference. Seattle is a physical, aggressive team. They are smart and tough. They don't beat themselves. Maybe most of all, they are ultra-competitive. That's true on the practice field and the playing field. Those players are tough on each other, which helps them to be ready for games. They challenge you for every inch of the field. They battle you for all 60 minutes in a game. Nothing is free. With Seattle, you see the finished product. The building process began in 2010 when Pete Carroll was hired as the team's new coach. There were a couple of 7-9 seasons before enough of the right pieces were in place and the team took off. 

The Eagles are headed in the right direction, but there is work to be done, both in terms of adding more talent in the offseason and developing the players that are already on the roster. There were some positive signs in this game. Back in 2011 the Eagles had a veteran team go to Seattle and lose 31-14. In 2014 a veteran Eagles team hosted Seattle and lost 24-14. On Sunday, you had a young group go down 26-15.

The offense had rookies Carson Wentz, Wendell Smallwood, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Bryce Treggs out there trying to move the ball on arguably the best defense in the league. The Eagles fell behind 26-7. I thought Pederson might just run the ball a lot to work the clock and get the game over. The Eagles were banged up and a comeback didn't seem likely.

Instead, Pederson let Wentz throw the ball and show what he could do. The first drive stalled on downs inside Seattle territory. Wentz then led the Eagles 66 yards for a touchdown and added a two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 26-15. The Eagles got the ball again and got all the way down to the Seattle 25-yard line, but that play got wiped out by a penalty. That drive also ended on downs in Seattle territory.

Wentz struggled at some points in the game, but he never gave up and he did get into a good rhythm in the fourth quarter. The Eagles scored 15 points and gained 308 yards for the game. Those are hardly compelling numbers, but consider that Mark Sanchez led the team to just 139 yards of offense in the 2014 loss. The Eagles had more than that in the first half on Sunday.

The Eagles running game was good again. Four running backs combined for 25 carries for 111 yards. Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Mathews and Smallwood all contributed to that total. Mathews hurt his knee and Sproles injured a rib, so they were limited. The Eagles have to be impressed with what they have seen from Smallwood this year. He is a talented runner with a bright future. At the least, he will be a good backup. 

Ertz has been productive lately and kept that streak going. He had six catches and a touchdown. Those numbers would look so much better if his impressive screen pass play had counted. Dorial Green-Beckham came alive after some quiet weeks. He caught five passes for 54 yards and once again showed his size, strength and toughness. He caught the ball in traffic and took some big shots, but kept right on going back for more.

The Eagles defense was up and down. There were times when they looked really good and got Seattle off the field. Unfortunately, Russell Wilson is fully healthy now and he used his feet more on Sunday than in any other game this year. He burned the Eagles for some big plays when they appeared to have blown things up. It is incredibly deflating to get penetration and blow up the offensive line, only to see the quarterback run to his right and throw an amazing touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham.

There is no question that the defense needed to play better, but there are also times when you just have to acknowledge the other team was really good. Wilson has been on fire the past three games. If you go look at the numbers, this was Wilson's weakest of the three games and Seattle had scored 31 points in each of the previous games so holding them to 26 is better than the previous couple of defenses. All Jim Schwartz will care about is the fact his defense wasn't good enough to help the team win. They needed to be better.

The Eagles want to be a great team. Part of that means improving the talent level, but a lot of that is on the current group and the need to make plays when the chances are there. The NFL is a league of parity. There is a fine line between winning and losing. There is a fine line between being good and being great. Make key plays and you'll be on the right side of that line.

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