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Seahawks' defense dominates Eagles to keep pace in tough NFC

PHILADELPHIA -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been so brilliant that it's easy to forget he can't do everything for this team. There will be days when he's struggling and frustrated and his teammates have to carry a heftier amount of the load. That moment came for the Seahawks on a windy Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Their response served as a reminder as to why this team is becoming more dangerous with each passing week.

The Seahawks defense was the major story coming out of their 17-9 win over the Eagles. As much as skeptics will point out how hobbled Philadelphia is on offense, it's hard to believe a healthier lineup would've done more damage against the Seahawks on this day. Seattle produced five turnovers, three sacks and nine quarterback hurries in Sunday's victory. If the Seahawks offense had been anything close to what we've come to expect this season, this game would've been over by halftime.

That is the most exciting part of this win for the 'Hawks: With their Pro Bowl quarterback off his rhythm, their formerly underwhelming defense found its way.

"There's been a lot of doubters for our defense this year," said Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. "It's taken some time for us to figure it (out) and we're starting to figure it out. It shows in the games we've played (lately) and we just have to keep building."

The doubters that Wagner referenced were there for a reason. The Seahawks have been predominantly known for their defensive prowess since Pete Carroll became their head coach in 2010. They won one Super Bowl and played in another largely because of an intense pass rush, fierce linebackers and a defensive backfield so nasty that it inspired the nickname "The Legion of Boom." This year's Seahawks -- a unit that entered this contest ranked 23rd in the NFL in points allowed (23.4 per game) and 25th in total yards per game (372.9) -- had been a far cry from what Seattle fans expected in those glory days.

As much as this team had been riding Wilson throughout this season, it needed something to change on the other side of the ball. The 'Hawks got their first glimpse of what this defense could be in a 27-24 overtime win over the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 11. Two weeks later, they kept an opposing team to single digits for the first time all season.

Just as importantly was how the Seahawks did it. Three different players had sacks, two had interceptions and three others recovered fumbles.

"You can look at it either way -- as [the Eagles playing] bad offense or [the Seahawks playing] good defense," said Seattle outside linebacker K.J. Wright. "I look at it as really good defense. We were out there communicating, calling their plays out and it was fun. I know they had some guys hurt, but this is still the NFL and you have to come with it."

"The difference is that everybody is believing in one another," said Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin. "The back end believes in the front seven. The front seven believes in the back end. When you have guys believe in each other, you don't have guys jumping out of gaps or trying to do something extra because they think somebody won't have their back. At the beginning of the season, everybody wanted to be the guy who made the big play. Now it's like, let me do my job because I know the guy next to me is going to do his, too."

One major takeaway in the Seahawks' recent defensive success is that they're definitely seeing the impact of some key personnel moves. They traded for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney right before the start of the season and he dominated the 49ers in that win two weeks ago. Even though a hip injury sidelined Clowney in this contest, defensive end Ziggy Ansah produced the kind of effort (1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two tackles for loss) Seattle had envisioned after signing him as a free agent this offseason. Safety Quandre Diggs, who arrived in a midseason trade, also has brought leadership and intensity to the secondary.

The Seahawks still have familiar faces like Wagner and Wright to lead this unit. What they're learning now is how all these other talents fit into the picture. It was pretty clear from the start of this game that Seattle's defense was going to relentlessly harass Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who is leading a 5-6 team that is desperately fighting to keep pace with Dallas in the NFC East race. The more surprising aspect of this contest was how little help Wilson contributed.

The same player who entered this game with the highest passer rating in the league went 13-for-25 pasing with 200 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Eagles also sacked Wilson six times and he fluttered a pass over the head of wide-open tight end Jacob Hollister on what should've been an easy 6-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The gusty winds that whipped through Lincoln Financial Field certainly didn't help, but as Wilson said, "The reality is that we really should've had 21 points in the first half. We felt like we missed a couple layups that we normally hit, but we aren't stressed about that. We know we can do those things."

The nice thing for Seattle on Sunday is they didn't need Wilson to be a star. The Seahawks relied heavily on the running of Rashaad Penny -- who rushed for a season-high 129 yards and one touchdown after gaining 167 yards all season -- while Philadelphia could only muster three points until Wentz hit Zach Ertz with a 2-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game.

"We've taken a new step forward and we're getting better," Carroll said. "This is really important for the stretch run that the defense can start playing like this. The last two weeks have been really good days for our defense."

Carroll opened his postgame press conference by talking about how Wilson and Wagner are the first quarterback and middle linebacker in the history of the NFL to have eight consecutive winning seasons together. The more important statistic coming out of this contest was the way Seattle has played on the road this season. The Seahawks have won all six of their games away from home so far. For a team that now sits at 9-2 -- and relishes the advantage it enjoys in its own stadium -- that speaks to the kind of noise the 'Hawks can make in the postseason.

For much of this season, the thinking has been that the Seahawks would only go as far as Wilson could take them. There's still plenty of truth to that, but don't for a second think Seattle is riding a one-man show toward the playoffs. This team is starting to bare a striking resemblance to the ones that made Seattle so tough for so many years. It's just that it's taken a little bit longer than normal for this bunch to finally hit its stride.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @JeffriChadiha.

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