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December 03, 2017

First half observations: Seahawks 10, Eagles 3

In what could be a preview of a playoff matchup down the road, the Eagles found themselves in a dogfight with the Seahawks through 30 minutes of Sunday Night Football. They better hope they have some better performances left in them for the stretch run because that 10-3 deficit heading into halftime was a fair measure of their performance: not great.

The Good

•  Brandon Graham came out ready to play in this one. On Seattle's second possession of the game, he disrupted a run play in the backfield on first down, and when it came time for Seattle to drop back on third-and-long, Graham just consumed Wilson in the pocket.

There weren't a whole lot of defensive positives to speak on in the first half, so savor that play.

•  It won't go down on his season highlight reel, but Jay Ajayi ripped off a 10-yard run in the second quarter that should have been a loss in the backfield. A Seattle defender was already diving at his legs when he got the handoff from Wentz, and some beautiful footwork got him out of the way, allowing him to hit the hole and get to the next level.

The degree of difficulty on this play is extraordinarily high. Ajayi is not a burner and makes his living primarily through his power, but you can see on a play like this that he's not a straight-up bruiser in the mold of his teammate, LeGarrette Blount. This guy has some moves.

If you're looking for a positive out of the first half, the run game, in general, is the obvious thing to point to. Against a tough Seattle front seven, the Eagles racked up 91 yards on the ground in the first two quarters, keeping the primary components of their running back committee involved. Pederson is betting on the ground-and-pound strategy to wear the Seahawks down over time, which could be a preview of how he'll gameplan for a playoff game.

The Bad

•  If the Eagles want any chance of pulling this game out tonight, they have to make sure they get off the field on third down. There was a worrying sequence to that end early in the first quarter, when Russell Wilson completed throws to convert on back-to-back third downs.

That is the danger of playing against Wilson, who can move the pocket with his legs and buy time until one of his guys get open down the field. Philadelphia struggled to contain him in the first half, even on the plays where they ended up hauling him down short of the sticks.

The only good news is Philadelphia's first scoring drive chewed up a lot of clock, keeping Wilson and the Seattle offense off the field and getting cold on the bench. If you can't put points on the board, keeping the ball away from your opponent is one way to minimize the damage.

•  It was admittedly on their own side of the field, but I was a little surprised Doug Pederson opted not to go for it on 4th and inches on Philadelphia's first possession. The Eagles have dominated on plays like that all year, using the big guy behind center to just lean into the pile and move the chains.

At the 47-yard line and with lots of time left to play, the instinct to play conservatively is understandable. And it's worth noting this — the ensuing defensive stand put Philadelphia in even better field position. Results aside, I think Pederson needs to show a little trust in the boys up front there and stick with the process that got them here.

•  When you're playing against a capable defensive team, the key to victory is not maintaining your usual pace, but taking advantage of the smaller pool of opportunities you have. Carson Wentz missed a big one on Philadelphia's second drive, sailing a pass that would have been a huge play to Nelson Agholor.

That's not just a first down, it's a potential touchdown down the sideline. Wentz has to be better there, and good teams make you pay when you don't take advantage of gaps in the defense.

Seattle did just that on its next possession, moving down the field with the help of a couple soft penalty calls. Jimmy Graham is a bear to deal with in the red zone, and Wilson found him for six points.

•  What exactly was Wentz doing on the final possession of the half? The Eagles had two yards to go on fourth down, and after Seattle opted out of calling a timeout, the Eagles ran the play clock down and could have either gotten into field goal range or left Seattle with little time to take advantage of good field position.

They did neither, waiting until the last possible second to call a timeout for what appeared to be no reason. Total headscratcher.

The Ugly

•  Speaking of those soft penalty calls, the officiating was a big factor in the first half. Philadelphia's first kickoff return was taken to the 40-yard line by Kenjon Barner, but ended up getting wiped out by an illegal block in the back. It felt like every time the Eagles came close to making a big play or making the game interesting, a backbreaking call was handed down.

The officials also missed some downright obvious penalties. Barner went back for a punt return in the second quarter, only to have a Seahawks gunner dive at his legs as he made the catch. It seemed like an obvious fair catch interference call, but the officials apparently thought otherwise.

That's not an excuse for why the Eagles trailed for the entire half. They didn't execute at the level we've grown accustomed to, and Seattle picked up a couple cheap penalties of their own. But boy do I not enjoy when a football game turns into an officiating showcase, particularly when the penalties are borderline at best.