SEATTLE Sheldon Richardson’s been doing this for months.
Back in September, just one week into his Seahawks debut season, defensive coordinator Kris Richard was already saying his tackle was “a difference maker.”
What a difference Richardson made Sunday night against Philadelphia.
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Usually, it’s been more subtle. Oh, the athletic, 6-foot-3, 295-pound lineman who was a four-sport letterman in high school in St. Louis had an interception that helped his Seahawks beat the Rams in early October. But Richardson has been affecting games by dominating the line of scrimmage, tying up and shoving around blockers and freeing All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to have a season worthy of NFL defensive player of the year.
Sunday night in the reviving victory over the Eagles, Richardson impacted Seattle’s best win this season almost as much as Russell Wilson.
And in this season of Wilson’s do-it-all magic, that’s saying something.
“It shows up every game. He does something special,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday of Richardson.
The former Pro Bowl defensive lineman with the New York Jets who arrived in a September trade fought through a block and stripped the ball from Carson Wentz just before the Eagles’ NFL MVP-candidate quarterback got to the goal line for a touchdown in the third quarter. Richardson ripped the ball from Wentz so forcefully the ball bounded 12 yards, beyond the back line of the end zone. Instead of a 10-10 game, the Seahawks had a touchback and possession at the 20-yard line.
“That’s an amazing play,” Carroll said. “To knock that football out right there is an incredible play.
“I think that one really was the turning point in the game.”
‘Twas. Wilson’s touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett on the ensuing drive made it a 17-3 Seahawks. The Eagles never got closer in losing for the first time in 10 games.
“Just coming off the block, saw him,” Richardson said on a night Seattle’s front four defensive linemen hit Wentz nine times and sacked him twice.
“He’s a quarterback. He’s not used to being hit down in and down out. So taking care of the ball is something he’s still a little foreign to.”
Richardson made a similarly athletic and impressive play in the second quarter. Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount took an outside stretch play around left end and was bulling untouched for a 15-yard touchdown run. Richardson--again, a defensive tackle--sprinted from over the center out onto the left edge and almost 20 yards in all to pull down Blount from behind short of the goal line. The play came back because of an Eagles holding penalty, and Philadelphia ended up with a field goal to trim Seattle’s lead to 10-3, so it’s easily to forget. But Richardson’s coaches and teammates sure noticed, and were about to again on Monday when they reviewed the game film. It’s a play most defensive tackles don’t --and can’t--make.
The week before, Richardson controlled much of the win at San Francisco by mauling 49ers offensive linemen, sometimes into their own running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback C.J. Beathard. Wagner went crazy again with a ridiculous interception and more plays that have the entire country noticing him.
The entire Seahawks franchise is noticing what Richardson is doing each game.
Richardson said it took him a couple months to adjust to the footwork and gap nuances of going from the Jets’ 3-4 front to Seattle’s 4-3. The Jets had him playing all over, outside at end as an edge rusher, sometimes even in the flat in pass coverage. The Seahawks stuck him inside as a three-technique tackle and said, “Just go dominate the guard-tackle gap.”
He’s done that. Exquisitely.
Some of the most noticeable examples of Richardson’s brilliance this season have come when he hasn’t been off the field. When he rested for a series for the first time in week two against San Francisco, previously stopped 49ers runner Carlos Hyde romped for 61 yards. Sunday night, the Eagles’ No.-1 ranked rushing game was doing next to nothing until Richardson took a break in the second quarter (he ultimately played 46 of 75 snaps, 61 percent). Philadelphia’s first run with Richardson out of the game went for 10 yards. The Eagles averaged 3.5 yards on their other 25 runs Sunday night.
When Wentz sneaked for a first down on fourth an inches, he looked across the line at the snap, saw Richardson to his right--and wisley dived left to extend Philadelphia’s drive.
Richardson’s play has made wide receiver Doug Baldwin agreeing to free $5.2 million under the salary cap to fit Richardson’s deal onto Seattle’s books so September’s trade could happen look like one of the best moves by a Seahawk this season. Seattle sent wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round draft choice to the Jets to get Richardson.
It’s not as if the Seahawks fleeced the Jets. Kearse, the former Lakes High School star and Washington Husky, had nine more catches for 157 yards Sunday in New York’s win over Kansas City--including this gem:
Kearse has 51 catches so far this season for the Jets. That’s already his career high. His five touchdown receptions tie his career high from the Seahawks’ 2015 season.
Richardson’s been as good for Seattle--just in the more subtle, overlooked ways of a defensive tackle.
Each game Richardson controls up front is another reason the Seahawks should be making re-signing the 27-year old this offseason a priority. His contract ends after this season; he could become a free agent in March.
It’s going to take more than the $8,069,000 he’s earning--and I mean earning--this season, with a multiyear deal and hefty guarantee up front to keep him. Seattle may need to shed a guy or three to make it happen.
Yet Sunday night showed,again, how Richardson is worth it.