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Film Room: The Curious Case of the Seahawks’ Run Game

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The Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) enter their Week 13 match-up against the Seattle Seahawks (7-4) with a distinct advantage. The Eagles run defense has been otherworldly while the Seahawks ground game is nonexistent.

Forget that the Seahawks average 102.9 rush yards per game, which ranks 19th in the league, because 35% of that comes from QB Russell Wilson. With nearly twice as many yards (401) as their leading running back and 3 of the 4 rushing touchdowns on the year, Wilson could be considered RB1.

For a comparison, Eagles QB Carson Wentz has been no slouch at picking up yards with his legs (253), but that puts him at 3rd on the team and he only accounts for 15% of the ground game yardage.

I dug into the defensive run stats for the Eagles and created three separate buckets from which to gauge effectiveness. First, let’s start with the running backs against the Eagles.

Only allowing 2.85 yards per attempt isn’t just a formula for success, it’s utter domination. Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie RB Kareem Hunt had the most success, but when you subtract his 53-yard touchdown, that leaves him with 12 carries for 28 yards. I do this not to dismiss a home-run as if it never happened, but to highlight that for the most part, it was tough sledding for Hunt.

The Seahawks running backs average an anemic 3.2 yards per carry. This is not a favorable match-up for them.

Moving on from the running backs, the Eagles have had a bit of a blind-spot to designed Quarterback runs and scrambles. This is where the Seahawks have a chance to literally make up ground.

With the Eagles passing defense leading the league in the last three games in passing yards allowed (146.0) and it not even being close, the Seahawks might not find much success through the air. Having eclipsed 300 yards passing only 3 out of 11, which would likely be required to make-up for their deficiencies on the ground, they will have to gain yardage in less conventional methods. Basically, once again, Wilson will have to do it on his own.

This is basically common knowledge at this point, as Wilson has accounted for 83% of the teams’ total offense and 97% of their touchdowns, but it is worth noting just how much they really on him.

The Quarterback to damage the Eagles defense with his legs the most this year, as noted in the spreadsheet above, has been Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton. How, you ask? The Eagles have been aggressive pursuing down the line from the backside and it has led to some soft edges.

This wasn’t just apparent in the Week 6 game against the Panthers. Early in their 37-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Eagles gave up a similar soft edge to QB Dak Prescott.

The Seahawks are not adverse to running the read-option, but they don’t use it as much or as successfully as I expected. I charted every play where Wilson was credited with a rush, and was surprised to find that he only kept on read options 8 times all year. The stat line on those plays is 8-40-1 with 50% of those plays going for a 1st down or touchdown.

I would expect the Seahawks to test the Eagles early with this, likely in a short yardage situation. If it works, they should continue to go back to it at a level in which they haven’t this year. They have to supplant the run game in some form or fashion that goes beyond Wilson scrambling for his life on every play. Giving him a foundation to work with that gives the Eagles pass rushers and run defenders something to consider before flying to their initial reads would serve them well.

However, here’s the problem with the Seahawks’ option run game, and don’t be shocked to learn that it’s when the running backs are given the rock. On the other 41 option plays I could find, they only amassed 147 yards for an average of 3.58 yards per carry. This is a far cry from the success they’ve had in the past, particularly when they used the read option concept heavily in 2012 and 2013.

Let’s face it though, the real danger comes from Wilson scrambling, even if he has to do it far too often. It’s not enough to apply a contain rush with your edge rushers, not allowing them a two-way go. Wilson will also exploit you up the middle and is a quick decision maker when he sees the light. Also, plays like one are a regular occurrence for Wilson.

Coming into this week, Wilson led the NFL in drop-backs where he was pressured by a large margin. The Eagles rank first in the league in QB hits and pressures. Russell Wilson will have to be every bit magician as he is Quarterback come Sunday night.

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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