Tue, 19 Jan 2021

Defense faces familiar nemesis on Monday in QB Russell Wilson

Philadelphia Eagles
28 Nov 2020, 18:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

The numbers don't lie when it comes to the Eagles' defense lining up against Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson: In five games (including last season's playoff matchup), Wilson has thrown eight touchdown passes and only one interception. He's added another 158 rushing yards and a score on 36 attempts. He is like tackling water.

And that's really difficult to do without a net.

"When you play someone like him, you have to be ready for everything. He'll run around back there and keep a play alive, but you have to understand that he's always keeping his eyes down the field," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "He has a big arm, he's smart. He's a winner.

"I like playing against guys like Russell. He brings out the best in you."

The Eagles put on a brilliant performance against Wilson in a 2019 regular-season game in November, sacking him six times, limiting Wilson to 200 passing yards and 15 rushing yards. It's about as good as it gets against Wilson, but it ended in a frustrating 17-9 loss to the Seahawks. Six weeks later, the Eagles saw Wilson again in the postseason and this time Wilson passed for 325 yards and a touchdown and added another 45 yards on the ground and, again, the Eagles fell, 17-9.

Different stat lines. Same results.

The Eagles have yet to solve the Wilson riddle. They look to do it on Monday night in a prime-time game, understanding just how slippery he is, and how confounding he can be as defenses prepare for his mobility, which doesn't always translate to big runs. Wilson buys time in and out of the pocket to allow receivers some time to come free, and his arm strength allows for Wilson to connect with favorite targets D.K. Metcalf (48 receptions, 862 yards, 9 touchdowns) and Tyler Lockett (67-748-8 touchdowns).

"I just think he's a guy who is always going to be looking to make a play or extend a play and always be smart about it," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "I think it's just going to take the entire defense to make sure that everyone is on their X's and O's to make sure that we have him contained and also make sure that we're not giving him easy, quick reads in the passing game. Obviously, very good player, very talented, so it's going to take everybody to contain him this week, but we're excited for the challenge.

"I think he's just a gamer, a guy who, when the team needs a big play, he's going to make something happen. Obviously, with the weapons he has and with the deep threats all over the field, you have to know where everyone is at, know down and distance, know when he's going to try and take a shot, know when he's going to check it down. He definitely keeps you on your toes and make sure everybody is playing technically sound and make sure everyone has good eyes on him."

Wilson has 30 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season and he's in the conversation for Most Valuable Player as the Seahawks sit at 7-3, tied for first place in the NFC West. Seattle opened the season 5-0 and then lost three of four games before defeating Arizona last Thursday night. In each of those three games, Wilson committed three turnovers. That's not a coincidence, as we know well watching the Eagles' offense struggle in 2020 with giveaways.

The formula, then, would be to get to Wilson and force him to throw picks, and to hit him and try to jar the ball loose. That's so much easier said than done against a player with the kind of experience and guile that Wilson possesses. He's got a high football IQ, in addition to the obvious physical gifts.

"We're familiar with what they do and how they try to attack our defense," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "You've just got to be ready for whatever. They've changed up a few things with what they do. I think their guys are playing really good up front. Russ, he's playing at an MVP level. They're running the ball real good, throwing it real good. We're going against a really good football team."

This is a game that will require the Eagles' defense to be at its best against a Seattle offense that averages 31.8 points per game, second only to Kansas City in that category. The Seahawks are more than just Wilson - they are a balanced offense that averages 121.3 yards rushing per game, 12th best in the NFL. After some early-season injuries in the backfield, Seattle comes into this game healthy there and along the offensive line.

The Eagles want to dominate the line of scrimmage. That is always their mindset. In this game, that may be even more important than ever.

"We have to go in thinking that way and then do it," Graham said. "They can hurt you in a lot of ways. We know we have a fight on our hands. It starts with Russell Wilson, but they've got more to their offense than just him."

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