Gallant: Seahawks’ D shines again, but there are still unanswered questions
The first line of Martin Scorcese’s film “The Departed” is a line that’s been stuck in my head for nearly 15 years:
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”
“PAWL, I get that you’re the host of a bit show. But do you HAVE to work a mildly-dated pop culture reference into everything you write?”
I’m going to apply Frank Costello’s quote to the recent success of the Seahawks’ defense. Is their success over the last two weeks a product of their environment, or did they break two offenses over a pair of games?
It might sound like a leading question. It’s not. Because I don’t know the answer.
I don’t want to become known as the “Yeah, but…” Seahawks guy, so before I try to answer this question, let me first give Seattle’s defense some credit.
In their 27-24 OT win over the 49ers in Week 10, Jadeveon Clowney was a destroyer of worlds. And given how Vishnu-esque he was against the Eagles last season – prompting my Philly fan mother to call him a meanie – I thought he’d eviscerate a banged up Philadelphia offense Sunday.
But there was a plot twist. Clowney has some sort of hip injury and was declared inactive about an hour and a half before kickoff. And when I saw that Seattle would be without its second most important player, I wondered if the Eagles’ Carson Wentz – a QB whose struggles confuse me – would finally be able to get his groove back.
He didn’t. Instead, he was bludgeoned into submission by an ensemble performance of Seahawks defenders.
• Ziggy Ansah, Poona Ford, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Quentin Jefferson, Jarran Reed (who left the game with an ankle injury) and Al Woods combined for three sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles and seven QB hits.
• Linebackers K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks were all over the field, combining for 20 tackles and 2 TFL.
• The secondary made plays too. Bradley McDougald and Tre Flowers each had an interception and Quandre Diggs forced a fumble that was recovered by Shaquill Griffin.
This was the best team performance by the Seahawks’ defense all season. And when you combine it with the showing they put on against the 49ers on Monday Night Football, shouldn’t you come to the conclusion that Seattle’s defense is becoming a plus unit?
“OF COURSE Pawl drops a big ole ‘BUT’ in the middle of this column. Don’t you remember what Ned Stark said about everything before the word BUT?”
…you can quite easily slash the Seahawks’ tire of recent defensive accomplishments.
• Sunday’s Eagles offensive line was without right tackle Lane Johnson.
• Philadelphia benched Johnson’s replacement, rookie Andre Dillard, midway through the game.
• The Eagles lost right guard Brandon Brooks to an illness in the middle of the game.
• They were also without two of their top wide receivers: Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
• Their leading wide receiver, Greg Ward, was a practice squad call up that played quarterback in college.
• And their QB. Carson Wentz? A guy I used to consider an elite QB? He might not even be good. He was especially inaccurate in this one, missing several easy throws.
And you can keep going:
• The 49ers dropped several passes in that Monday night game.
• They lost starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the first half.
• Left tackle Joe Staley, who may have been rusty playing his first game in months, broke a finger at some point during the game.
• Running back Matt Breida aggravated an ankle injury he’d been dealing with since early in the season.
• And San Francisco played without Jimmy Garropolo’s favorite target, tight end George Kittle, who had six catches for 129 yards and a 61-yard touchdown against the Packers on Sunday. With how well Eagles tight end Zach Ertz fared against the Hawks – 12 catches for 91 yards and a TD, though a lot of that was in garbage time – isn’t it fare to assume Kittle would have been similarly effective?
Don’t get me wrong. The Seahawks deserve a lot of credit for their defensive performance on Sunday. They would not have won without it, and they did it without their best defender. On top of that, they’ve looked completely different with midseason trade acquisition Quandre Diggs on the field at safety.
But is it realistic, or even fair, to expect a third straight performance of this caliber against an 8-3 Vikings team coming off a bye week next Monday? Especially with how well Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing?
I’m too much of a cynic to answer those questions with a yes.
Penny the playmaker
Second-year running back Rashaad Penny was by far the Seahawks’ best offensive player on Sunday. He was gashing the Eagles before breaking their back with a 21-yard burst and 58-yard touchdown scamper over a span of three plays, and he averaged nearly 10 yards a carry. He actually looked like a former first-round pick and almost certainly will challenge Chris Carson for playing time after Carson’s fumble problems in Philadelphia.
Seahawks’ objectionable offense
Penny played well. But it was a rough day for the rest of the offense.
• Russell Wilson was incredible to open the game. His flea flicker touchdown pass to Malik Turner was perfectly tossed. He threw a couple of pretty passes that DK Metcalf couldn’t hang on to. But when he missed Jacob Hollister for a wide-open touchdown on third down, he came back to earth for the rest of the game. And eventually, he’d throw a very careless interception.
• Tyler Lockett wasn’t much more than a decoy, though he did catch one of those patented Russ moonballs for a 38-yard gain, his lone reception Sunday.
• Carson was involved on fumbles on back to back plays, giving him either seven or eight on the season. No matter his talent, if he keeps putting the ball on the ground he won’t play.
• Mike Iupati was called for two false starts.
• The Seahawks had a chance to put the Eagles away after Philly fumbled at its own 32, but the offense threw the opportunity away. Jacob Hollister was called for a false start, and then Russ was called for a delay of game the next two plays. Joey Hunt was called for tripping after a pass to Hollister put them back in field goal range. And to wrap up the sad series, Russ forced a careless interception into blanket coverage on third-and-long.
• The offensive line allowed six sacks on the game.
The Seahawks’ offense has struggled two games in a row. Was that because of the two plus defenses they played, or are there real concerns going forward? Only time will tell.