Week 13: Eagles at Seahawks (Game Thread)

It feels strange putting up a game thread this early in the week, but here we are.  Playing on Thursday night makes for a lot less time to prepare.  Even under the best of circumstances, that means less time to study the opponent, less time to put together a game plan, less time to test that plan out on the practice field, and less time for the players’ bodies to recover from last Sunday’s game.  Thankfully the Seahawks are playing at home, so they didn’t have to spend one of those precious few days traveling, but that’s pretty much it for the good when it comes to recent news.

Sidney Rice, the true number one wide receiver Seattle paid big money to land in the offseason, is now on injured reserve after suffering two concussions in the last three weeks.  At some point it becomes more important for the team to protect its longterm investment in a player than it is for that player to tough it out and play hurt, and that’s what happened here.  Rice’s durability over the next few years is going to be a major cause of concern for coaches and fans alike, but no one is going to question his talent.  In terms of pure ability, Rice might as well have been created in a lab by scientists trying to engineer the perfect wide receiver.  He’s got great hands, he wins jump balls, he uses his large frame well to shield defenders from interfering with his catches, and he’s fast and quick enough to get separation from defensive backs on a regular basis, but more importantly he has that rare combination of an acrobat’s body control and a surgeon’s concentration that allows truly great receivers to consistently make difficult catches look easy and routine. 

Losing Rice hurts, but unlike the 2008 season, when the Seahawks were forced to conduct a desperate, season-long search for anyone who could possibly catch a pass without immediately landing on IR afterward, this team still has solid talent available at the wide receiver position.  Yes, 2010 standout Mike Williams is having a disappointing, drop-filled year, but Ben Obomanu is still eminently reliable, Doug Baldwin continues to shame every GM in the league for not drafting him, speedster Deion Butler is back from injury, Golden Tate has improved his game significantly over last year, and tight ends Zach Miller and Cameron Morrah are competent receivers as well.

Wide receiver isn’t the team’s biggest concern in the passing game, anyway — the health of QB Tarvaris Jackson is.  Jackson has been playing through a serious pectoral injury for weeks now, and while I think his production hasn’t diminished as much as some people think it has (he’s had a lot of great passes bounce off his receivers’ hands the last couple games), his ability to physically recover is.  Jackson has needed every last day he can get to recuperate enough to play effectively in the following game, and this week that timeframe has been cut in half.  Will he be able to do in three days what normally takes six?  Is it smart to even let him try, especially with replacement RG Paul McQuistan leaking pass rushers like a sieve?

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The Seahawks’ opponent this week, the Philadelphia Eagles, have their fair share of problems this year too, especially in their passing game.  Whatever Andy Reid did with Michael Vick to get him to have the brilliant year he did in 2010 appears to have had a shelf life of just one season.  Compared to last year, his touchdowns per attempt has dropped, he’s gaining nearly a yard less per attempt, and his interceptions per attempt has more than doubled.  Not that any of that matters to the Seahawks, since his backup Vince Young will be starting in his place tonight, but it does explain a lot about their 4-7 record.  For his part, Young has looked every bit as indecisive, panicky, and generally disappointing as he’s ever been.

Philadelphia’s run game is a whole different story, especially with RB LeSean McCoy having the best season of his career.  The Eagles are currently ranked 1st in rushing yards per attempt, 5th in rushing TDs, and 2nd in rushing yars per game.  If the Seahawks are going to have any chance of winning this one, their run defense is going to have to step up after having a down game against the Redskins.  Containing McCoy is going to be tough, but if they want to continue to be known as one of the best run defenses in the NFL, then they have to be able to stop the best rushers in the league.

On defense, the Eagles are having serious problems.  Their new-look defense has racked up a lot of sacks, thanks in no small part to DL coach Jim Washburn’s “wide nine” scheme in which the team’s defensive ends line up in a four-point stance well outside the offensive tackles, then use that extra space to get up to speed and maneuver around the OTs.  However, moving the DEs out wide like that means that they aren’t much help in defending against runs between the tackles, which puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers and safeties to stop the run. Unfortunately for them, the linebacking corps is by far the weakest position group the Eagles have, and compensating for their deficiences against the run has in turn weakened the team’s pass defense.  The result is a defense that’s 5th in sacks per passing attempt, but 25th in passing yards allowed per attempt, 22nd in rushing yards allowed per carry, 21st in rushing TDs allowed, and an abysmal 30th in passing TDs allowed per attempt.

The Seahawks have a very, very good chance to win this game, but I can remember saying much the same thing before the games against the Redskins, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, and so forth.  Seattle has the talent to win — here’s hoping that today is one of the days they realize that.