BY Art Thiel 06:58PM 11/29/2017

Thiel: Seahawks were then, 10-1 Eagles are now

The 2017 Eagles look quite a bit like the 2013 Seahawks when they were 10-1. But age, injuries and salary cap travail have conspired to send the Seahawks into decline.

RB Thomas Rawls (34) had 57 yards on 14 carries against the Eagles in 2016. Similar production Sunday would be a thrill beyond measure for the Seahawks Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Something is familiar about the Philadelphia Eagles, and it has nothing to do with being the team that lost to 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 LB K.J. Wright has noticed. He watched film of the Eagles’ latest dismantling, 31-3 over Chicago Sunday, and saw RB Jay Ajayi break away on a 30-yard run, only to fumble into the end zone. Teammate WR 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 LB 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 (CB Richard Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor and DE 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 (5:30 p.m., NBC).  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, LG Luke Joeckel, RB Eddie Lacy and PK Blair Walsh, have had less than expected contributions.

The 2017 draft has yielded modest immediate help. The 10 picks produced one solid starter, CB Shaquill Griffin, a starter-by-default, RG Ethan Pocic, and a D-line contributor in Nazair Jones. RB 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 DE 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 DE 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 GM 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 CB Jeremy Lane, who was traded to Houston for LT 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 an 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.


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YourThoughts

  • Husky73

    McDowell was a high risk draft pick. When a pick like that works out, the drafter looks like a genius. When it doesn’t (most of the time), there are “I told you so’s” and grimaces. I doubt if he will ever be a Seahawk contributor, and would probably bet a dollar that he never plays in the NFL.

    • art thiel

      The one scary word that was in the scouting reports about McDowell was immaturity. Look up that word and you’ll find a photo of an ATV.

      • Chris Alexander

        Yeah …. that’s the part that REALLY hurts about McDowell. It’s not as though he showed up for camp, looked horrible, and got beat out for a spot on the team – or that he made the team and just plain sucked in games. It’s that he didn’t even make it to training camp because he thought it was a good idea to do foolish things after signing his contract. Sigh.

        The thing that I think has hurt the Seahawks the MOST though – aside from injuries (those come and go and you can’t do much about them) and their apparent fondness for penalties – is the decision to let Hauschka go and signing Blair Walsh instead. They did NOT save much on that swap and have lost 2 games as a direct result of the decision. And, yes, it hurts worse knowing that Hauschka set an NFL record with his 13th consecutive FG from 50+ yards the same week that Walsh missed a 52-yarder against Atlanta :/

        • Effzee

          They have put too many resources into immature and/or injury prone guys, hoping they would either mature or heal and get not-injury prone. It has not worked out more often than it has worked out. They need to get boring and go with the can’t miss picks. They need to rely less on the reclamation projects and their perceived ability to coach guys up. Simply, not enough of the guys that they roll the dice on pan out.

      • John M

        Though you may tire of the constant adulation, Art, that is a great analogy not only for McDowell but the season. Your article shined a light on what many of us have been thinking – this isn’t going to be another 2013 or any other season for us, this year it belongs to the Eagles. The Hawk’s luck cycle has faded for now, but it will return, the good bounces have been earned again through miserable moments. I hope the coaches and all the administrative staff take quiet vacations and come back to do the revamping that must happen for next season.

        Of course I’ll be hoping to see magic on Sunday like everyone else . . .

        • Chris Alexander

          The Eagles are on top right now but there are still 5 games to play. Even if we were to “dismiss” the Seahawks, there are plenty of other teams capable of knocking off the Eagles. Their 10-1 record is impressive and Wentz is having a great year but if they’re the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl – and that’s a pretty big IF in my book – then the AFC is probably going to take home the title.

        • art thiel

          Adulation is second only to cash in the SPNW shop.

  • Husky73

    Compare the Super Bowl winning Seahawks man-to-man to the team that will take the field against Philadelphia this week. How the mighty have fallen.

    • art thiel

      Part of the planned cycle in the NFL. It’s not impossible to overcome, but you can’t miss on high picks like McDowell and potentially Ifedi.

  • Diamond Mask

    I guess we will see. Seahawks are known to rise to a challenge or vice versa. I’m rooting for old and wily. Go Hawks.

    • art thiel

      You will be joined by 70,000 in person.

  • ll9956

    One of the pleasant surprises in the win over SF was a significant reduction in penalties, probably their minimum this year. The biggest surprise is that Ifedi didn’t commit any infractions (I think). Of course Bennett made up for it by going offsides twice! Ho-hum.

    I hope the Hawks fool the “experts” on Sunday, but I fear they won’t.

    • art thiel

      The PIs and holds were much reduced. Details cleaned up.

  • bevdog

    Poignant, sad, but true Art. You nailed it. The Seahawks are on the decline. Your insights have helped to confirm our suspicions.
    Still hopeful for a Hawks win. Reality may decide otherwise.

    • art thiel

      It doesn’t have to be a serious decline, but the injuries have been crushing in 2017.

    • Chris Alexander

      When you reach / are at the top, anything less than the top becomes a decline.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art – all true, and a bit scary. It’s impressive that the Seahawks have been able to keep their peak as long as they have, with two Superbowls in a row and their playoff streak. Hard to admit it, but the Patriots are the only other team that’s been more impressive in years of late.

    • art thiel

      Sustaining quality in team sports, especially with a salary cap, is the hardest thing. Seahawks have done well.

  • Paul Harmening

    John Clayton’s last article pointed out the added experience now on the depth charts this year now coming into play via the injury plague that has decimated the Hawks, along with roster decisions gone awry. That may give some higher hopes to pull things out of the fire. But like the California fires of the past two years, the Seahawks landscape seems rather scorched now.

    • art thiel

      Agree with John that rookie inexperience is not very relevant by December.

  • tor5

    Articles like this need some kind of “parental advisory” or something, Art. A real gut punch to us loyal 12s. I know it’s your job to rationally analyze personnel and stats and salary caps and all that. But a team is more than the sum of its parts, and that is where a lot of the Hawks’ strength is to be found. Especially, it seems, when they’re counted out.

    • art thiel

      C’mon, tor. You’re a big guy. Truth can be liberating.

      And I don’t rule out Wilson to Graham on a 24-yard on a 4Q seam route to get you giggling.

  • woofer

    “The Seahawks are on the decline.”

    I guess it’s now official. One hopes that the locals put up a valiant fight Sunday night — defeated after a struggle but not humiliated.

    A win would surely require a Marshawn-versus-the-Saints level of improbable heroism. Only Russell Wilson has the potential for that. It could happen if it just came down to one big play. But an entire game full of improbable heroism is too much to ask from a guy who is going to be in the defensive crosshairs all night.

    And it’s not like this week in Seattle a final nail is being driven into the coffin of American democracy. That event is scheduled for tomorrow in Washington DC.

    • art thiel

      Well now you’ve brought up the end of political fantasy to couple with the Seahawks. Wish I could argue.

      Regarding the gridsters, if the Seahawks get a turnover early to lock in the crowd and the defense and stay close until the 4Q, I like Wilson’s chances to blow minds.

    • Chris Alexander

      The Seahawks might surprise you. Brown and Joeckel have had a whole week of practice together after playing pretty well together last weekend with zero practices together. Davis may (?) be back at RB and he looked pretty good before suffering a groin injury 2 weeks ago. Shaquille Griffin should be back on defense. Maxwell has another week of practice with the D. While it’s true that the team needs #3 to have a good game, he may not have to carry them as much as he’s had to recently. Especially if the D (or special teams) gets an early turnover (or 2).

    • art thiel

      I realize it doesn’t look good for either the Seahawks or democracy, but I am hangng around to watch each game play out.

  • juliusvrooder

    Was it over when the Japanese bombed San Diego? NO!!! These guys have played two winners, and have one loss. Nobody has better numbers than Russell in December. Tonight’s game may lock Philly up for the division, tempting them to breathe a sigh of relief. The South is going to be beating each other up for a month, so we can still grab the two-seed, right behind the 13-3 Eagles. Rams at Seahawks for the championship…

    • art thiel

      OK, then, Dean Wormer.