Seattle Seahawks

The secret to their success? It’s trust

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots. The Associated Press

Russell Wilson has the arm.

He has the legs — at least he had those, until a sprained ankle and knee in September, the first major injuries of his five-year career. He’s just now getting over those.

He has the grit and the football savvy, the preparation and the leadership. Hugely successful franchise quarterbacks must have all that.

But most of all, he has trust.

That trust is what makes him — and the Seahawks offense — perform at the highest level.

That trust is how Seattle (6-2-1) beat the Patriots in New England last weekend. It’s how the NFC West leaders — by two games — intend to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Florida the following weekend and so on over these final seven games of the regular season.

“It definitely comes down to trust,” Wilson said Thursday.

That trust is coach-to-player and player-to-player.

Wilson and Pete Carroll went up to each other during the team’s flight home from the maddening, 25-20 loss at New Orleans the night of Oct. 30. The quarterback and coach agreed on that plane to scrap the safe play-calling the team had been doing to protect Wilson while he was recovering.

Last week against New England, Wilson was running, moving, scrambling and improvising more like 2015. The offense went from puzzling to 31 points to beat the Patriots.

As for player-to-player trust: Continuity is one of the chief reasons for the Seahawks making four consecutive postseasons, two of the last three Super Bowls and having an estimated 95 percent chance of making the playoffs again this season.

Seattle acquired 23 of the 53 players currently on the roster for the game against the Eagles during its 2013 or 2014 Super Bowl seasons. Yes, more than half of the 2016 roster includes Seahawks from the Super Bowls two or three seasons ago.

Twelve players have been on the team since at least 2012, including Wilson and No. 1 receiver Doug Baldwin. That includes all four starters in the defensive secondary: three-time All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, four-time Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback DeShawn Shead. Chancellor is the NFC defensive player of the week for his hugely successful return last weekend at New England after five weeks out with a groin strain.

Those dozen players still with the Seahawks from 2012 or before include dependable kicker Steve Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan. Last week, Ryan broke guard Chris Gray’s record for the most games played in franchise history.

That trust — from practicing and playing together for so long — beat the Patriots.

Two of Wilson’s three touchdown passes to Baldwin came from an unspoken understanding between them.

The first touchdown at the end of the opening half came when Wilson rolled left and looked left. Baldwin was in the middle of the field, then began drifting right. Wilson knew where Baldwin was heading, away from the coverage and flow of the Patriots defense into an open space most quarterbacks would not look. Yet Wilson threw all the way back across the field to the right to Baldwin, who was open. Baldwin caught the pass and backed up into the end zone uncontested.

“The fact of the matter is the throw was against Football 101,” Baldwin said. “You are never supposed to throw across the field, across your body. But, knowing Russell and knowing his talents and just how smart a player he is, I know that I can find the open spot, and if it’s a good spot then he will deliver the ball.

“We’ve done that over the course of the years. He’s proven that we can make those plays. So against my better judgment I went in that direction.”

Wilson’s third touchdown to Baldwin, with 4 1/2 minutes left, pushed a one-point lead to seven and came with the Patriots in man-to-man coverage. Baldwin was inside right, in the slot. He had his assigned cover man, plus a snooping linebacker, covering him off the line at the New England 15-yard line. Wilson threw the ball only a split second after that double coverage formed, and well before Baldwin even looked to his seam route to the end zone, let alone the ball. Wilson’s pass plopped perfectly over Baldwin’s outside shoulder and into his arms in the end zone before the Patriots knew it was coming to him.

Last weekend produced the 14th, 15th and 16th touchdown connections between Baldwin and Wilson in the last 15 regular-season games.

“Doug has been phenomenal,” Wilson said. “He’s one of the best receivers in the NFL, and he does great things.

“It comes down to trust and practice, and knowing what you can do and what you shouldn’t do.”

The Eagles defense is tied for third in the league in points allowed at 17.8 per game, just behind Seattle’s 17.6. Last weekend, Philadelphia went into man coverage 18 times on 37 pass plays against Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and what had been Atlanta’s top-rated offense and passing game. The Falcons scored 15 points and the Eagles won by nine to snap a two-game losing streak.

A subplot to Sunday’s game is whether Philadelphia again will play so much man coverage. If it does, the Seahawks believe they are uniquely equipped to combat that. Two of their three touchdowns last week at New England came against man-to-man.

Not only do Wilson and Baldwin trust each other to beat man looks instinctively, as New England found out, Seattle has Jimmy Graham. The tight end is 6 feet 7 and 260 pounds, and can leap like the basketball power forward he was at the University of Miami. No one in the NFL who can match that size in man coverage. Two-man coverage, maybe.

Graham had two first-half touchdowns two games ago against Buffalo, both with one arm while a Bills defender grabbed his other arm. Now Wilson — you guessed it — trusts that Graham can make such catches whether covered or not.

“I think we’re continuing to be aggressive, continuing to be smart with the ball, picking up our matchups,” Wilson said of his approach against man coverage. “Then in zone, we want to continue to carve up people. We want to be able to get first downs. We want to make plays and hit the big shot when we have the chance.”

Seattle’s defense may see more of a run-first, run-often approach that Bellingham native and Ferndale High School graduate Doug Pederson ran as the Eagles’ head coach against the Falcons. Stretch plays outside the tackles by Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles reduce the burden on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.

The No. 2-overall pick in this spring’s draft began the season 3-0, but has gone 2-4 since. Philadelphia is 1-4 on the road, the only win came in a 29-14 win over woeful Chicago in Week 2.

Wentz has completed 65 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, while starting every game. Pederson says Sproles, at age 33, has been Wentz’s “best friend” lately, catching passes and extending drives on check-down throws. Sproles is second on the Eagles with 33 catches, trailing Jordan Matthews, who has 48.

“It is going to be a fantastic challenge,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “We think we match up well.”

The Seahawks have come to believe that no matter what ails them early in seasons — this one had Wilson’s limiting injuries, an iffy offensive line and a defense that could not get off the field on third downs — they will get it right late in the season.

Seattle enters Sunday with a 30-6 record in November and December since Wilson became its starting quarterback from the start of his rookie season in 2012. They are 2-0 so far this November.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)

at Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1)

Sunday, 1:25 p.m., CenturyLink Field, Seattle

TV: Ch. 7. Radio: 1170

Line: Seahawks by 6½.

SEATTLE’S KEYS

See how they — if they — run: Russell Wilson is as healthy as he’s been since his first leg injury in the third quarter of the opener on Sept. 11. Lead runner Thomas Rawls is back for the first time since cracking his fibula on Sept. 18. The Seahawks sent fill-in Christine Michael away for the second time in 14 months to make room for emerging rookie C.J. Prosise, who was so impressive in moves and talent and toughness last weekend at New England. Preseason rushing star Troymaine Pope was promoted to the active roster. If the Seahawks don’t run against an Eagles defense that is 24th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (4.4), they may never do it.

Make him feel like a rookie: Eagles No. 2-overall draft pick Carson Wentz, their starting QB since game one, has impressed the NFL with how he’s handled a 3-0 start and then a 2-4 dip. The Eagles have had him throw 47 times in a game, then last week helped him by running it more. But he’s 1-4 on the road and has never faced the challenge he’ll get Sunday at CenturyLink Field: the league’s loudest stadium, plus a swarming Seahawks defense. The Seattle defense is suddenly second in the league in sacks, and caused Tom Brady’s first interception of the season last weekend. Expect ends Frank Clark and Cliff Avril, on stunts with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, to blitz often to make life harder for the rookie Wentz.

Settle the line: With former starting left tackle Bradley Sowell healthy for the first time since spraining his knee on Oct. 23, he is competing with so-far starter Garry Gilliam for the right tackle job. Undrafted rookie George Fant has won the left tackle job from Sowell — apparently. It’s game 10, high time for the Seahawks to get a solid enough performance from their right and left tackles in the same game so they can finally settle on two for the rest of the season. The Eagles are fourth in the league in sacks, so this will be another test.

The pick: Seahawks 20, Eagles 12.

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