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November 28, 2017

How the Eagles defense is preparing for Russell Wilson

So far this season, the Seattle Seahawks ground attack has been boom or bust, with four games of 130 or more rushing yards and four games of 75 or fewer yards.

Currently, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has nearly twice as many rushing yards (401) as the team's leading running back (Chris Carson, 208). So as far as the Eagles No. 1 ranked run defense is concerned, he's going to be a main focus on Sunday in Seattle.

And while allowing an opposing quarterback to lead his team in rushing wouldn't be an unfamiliar site for the Birds – it happened in Week 1 against Washington and then again against the Panthers, 49ers and the Bears just a few days ago – defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was quick to point out that the fact that Wilson is leading his team in yards, carries (65) and touchdowns (3) can be somewhat misleading.

"Well, sure. I mean, you have to account for an extra guy," Schwartz said when asked how the gameplan is different against a team like the Seahawks and, specifically, a quarterback like Wilson. "I think you've got to look at it this way: They've rotated through a lot of running backs this year. If they had one guy that got all the carries and all the yards, it wouldn't be that way, you know what I mean? You tally all those guys, and just stack all their yards up, and they're still a team that can run the football. If we treat it that way and respect the running back that's in the game but also are prepared to handle the quarterback, then we'll be okay."

Schwartz is right, as Wilson has only led his team in rushing in five of their 11 games, and has only rushed for more than 40 yards in a game twice.

Also misleading is that number about the four times the Eagles allowed an opposing QB to lead his team in rushing. That has much more to do with the Eagles' incredible ability to stop the opposition's running backs – in each of those four games, the other team's leading RB finished with no more than 30 yards.

Furthermore, the Eagles have not allowed an opposing QB to gain more than 71 yards in a single game       

18.4 YPG

Still, Wilson will be difficult to defend, especially with his ability to improvise.

"He can run the designed quarterback runs, the zone reads, the keepers and things like that. And then he can also just create something off schedule," Schwartz said. "I've compared him in the past to [former NFL QB] Fran Tarkenton, and the only thing I really know 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 threatening by running backward because it's easy to keep contain. Well, it's not easy, but you can keep contain and you can prevent 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 [way]. 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's scrambling one way, there's a good chance he's coming back to you. 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 far this season, mobile quarterbacks haven't hurt the Eagles, even when they allowed a season-high 71 yards to Cam Newton in Week 6. But Schwartz sees the 28-year-old QB as a unique challenge.

"The biggest thing is his ability to escape backward, which I said before," he said. "We have [faced] guys that can threaten north-south. We've had guys that can run the zone read. But he not only threatens the width of the field but he threatens the depth of the field, also, and can throw it anywhere. We have to do a good job containing that."

When these two teams met last season, the Eagles lost the game, 26-15, but Schwartz's defense did a nice job of preventing Wilson from beating them on the ground – he finished with eight carries for just 19 yards.

Maybe they should be more worried about Wilson as a wide receiver. After all, he did catch a 15-yard touchdown pass against the Birds in that one... 

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