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Clayton: Seahawks’ run defense dominant again with Bobby Wagner, Sheldon Richardson

The Seahawks are facing depth issues at linebacker following injuries to Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. (AP)

Despite being the underdogs at home last week, the Seahawks resumed being top dogs after their Sunday night victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles game was the first big test. This Sunday’s visit to Jacksonville will show whether the offense can do enough to win against a great Jaguars defense. And a week later, the NFC West title will be on the line when the Los Angeles Rams come to town.

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The Seahawks proved a lot by beating the Eagles by 14 points. Here are some takeaways:

The Seahawks are great at stopping the run. The Seahawks’ defenders said they needed to focus better on technique and on their run-stopping positioning. They have. After starting the season allowing a few big plays on the ground, the Seahawks are back where they were last year as one of the best run-stopping units in football. Since the loss in Tennessee in Week 3, the Seahawks are giving up only 3.3 yards a carry. They are particularly good on first down. The Seahawks have allowed 511 yards rushing on first downs – second to the Eagles (412) – but their 2.9 yards per carry average on first down running plays is the best in the league. The combination of Sheldon Richardson and Jarran Reed at defensive tackle with linebacker Bobby Wagner coming up and making tackles has formed a strong interior for stopping the run.

The running offense has hope. Mike Davis looks good as a starting running back. He hits the holes quickly and runs hard after contact. J.D. McKissic is developing nicely as the pass-catching back, too. The 64 yards from Davis on 16 carries against the Eagles was exactly what the offense needed. He got 49 of those yards after contact. Russell Wilson didn’t feel forced to run the ball himself. He strategically had six carries for 31 yards. And things could get better if Chris Carson comes off Injured Reserve. The plan would likely be to use Carson in the final two games of the season against Dallas and Arizona. It’s starting to look as though Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls are afterthoughts in the running game.

Better line play. Even though the offensive line struggled with run blocking against the Eagles’ defensive front, the pass blocking continues to improve. So much of the improvement comes from the play of left tackle Duane Brown. Since Brown came over from Houston in a trade, the percentage of pressure on Russell Wilson has dropped from 39.4 percent to 23.1. According to Pro Football Focus, that takes them from being the third-worst before to the eighth-best since Brown arrived. What’s even more amazing is how he’s been doing this playing on a bad ankle. On a different front, center Justin Britt continues to make his pitch to go to his first Pro Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus, Britt has had seven games in which he hasn’t allowed a quarterback pressure or a sack, and he’s only allowed four hurries this season.

Frank Clark’s star is rising. Clark had his best game as a Seahawk against the Eagles. He had two sacks and five hurries. On the season he has seven sacks. The Seahawks still put five Pro Bowl defenders on the field, but Clark is getting to the level where he might get Pro Bowl consideration in the future. One of the reasons he might not get to the Pro Bowl this year is because he’s on a team with Michael Bennett, who continues his run as a Pro Bowl defensive end. Bennett leads the team with 7.5 sacks.

Jimmy Graham the touchdown machine. Graham has gotten to the point in the red zone where he can now confuse defenders on touchdown passes. For the most part, he’s been running fade routes for touchdowns in the red zone. Against the Eagles, he succeeded on a slant. Graham now has nine touchdowns for the season, and the Seahawks finally know how he use him to score.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out the latest episode of his “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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