The Eagles defense in 2017 has compiled some gaudy numbers through 11 games – leading the NFL fewest rushing yards per game, allowing the third-fewest points per game, ranking second in third-down efficiency. All of that is well and good, but on Sunday night the Eagles face the kind of weapon they haven't yet seen this year in Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson.
Seattle goes as far as Wilson is able to take the team, and so far that's to a 7-4 record and solid playoff positioning. Wilson is having another brilliant season, his sixth in the NFL, tossing 23 touchdown passes against only 8 interceptions, leading the Seahawks with 401 rushing yards and leaving swarming defenses grasping at air in their attempts to limit his elusiveness.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is very aware of the dangers Wilson brings to the table. The Eagles lost to Wilson and the Seahawks in Seattle as Wilson threw for 272 yards and a touchdown, added 19 yards on the ground and caught a 15-yard scoring pass.
Yes, he does it all.
And he's really, really tough to stop.
"We faced a similar quarterback this year in (Carolina's) Cam Newton, but Russell Wilson is unique in his own ways," Schwartz said on Tuesday during his weekly press briefing at the NovaCare Complex. "He can run the designed quarterback runs – the zone reads and the keepers and things like that – and then he can also create something off schedule. I've compared him in the past to Fran Tarkenton (Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback with the Giants and Vikings) and the only thing I knew about Fran Tarkenton was watching NFL Films stuff.
"But he can threaten inside the pocket, he can threaten outside the pocket but probably the thing he's most dangerous in is running backwards. It's easy to keep contain – well, it's not easy but you can keep contain and you can contain step ups – but it's hard to get somebody directly behind the quarterback. And that's where he can just turn and run and escape and then once he does he can create some problems for your defense.
"He threatens the whole field. He'll boot one way and throw back the other. You have to stay alive on everything. Our D-linemen are going to have to do a great job staying on their feet and staying alive. You can never go to sleep because if he is scrambling one way, there's a good chance he's coming back to you. So we have to stay alive in coverage as well as our rush. And he threatens the whole width of the field and the whole length of the field."
So how do you play against Wilson? Defenses have had success beating an up-and-down Seattle offensive line, but Wilson's ability to escape and keep plays alive defeat the pass rush. Schwartz said the Eagles need to "respect the running back that's in the game but are also prepared to handle the quarterback, then we'll be OK."
Schwartz also respects Seattle's pass-catching corps that includes speedster Doug Baldwin, who has 58 receptions and 4 touchdowns. Tight end Jimmy Graham has 49 catches and a team-high 8 touchdowns and is a huge matchup problem in the red zone. Schwartz said Seattle has "one of the top passing attacks in the NFL."
And it's all starts with Wilson, one of the most difficult quarterbacks to slow down in the NFL. The defense's preparation starts with No. 3.
"We have to do a good job containing that," Schwartz said.