Byron Maxwell looked better than a nickel. More like a quarter or half-dollar.
And Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn look like sages.
Two days earlier Seattle Seahawks coach Carroll had talked about how much he and Quinn, his defensive coordinator, like usual starting cornerback Byron Maxwell inside as the fill-in fifth — nickel — defensive back with Jeremy Lane injured.
Sunday in the Seahawks’ 24-14 humbling of the grounded Philadelphia Eagles, Maxwell showed why the Seahawks love him there, where he had also excelled in last week’s win at the San Francisco 49ers.
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Maxwell made five plays to stop the Eagles on third downs and end drives. Two of those were passes he knocked away from Eagles slot receiver Jordan Matthews in the first half. Three others came on immediate tackles after catches over the middle.
Maxwell’s instant tackle of wide receiver Riley Cooper two yards short of the first down with 1:48 left in the first half of a tie game forced Philadelphia to punt. The Seahawks converted that ensuing chance into Steven Hauschka’s field goal the end of the half, and they never relinquished that lead.
“I love it (at nickel),” said the rangy, 6-foot-1 Maxwell, as two dozen reporters crowded around teammate Richard Sherman’s locker a few feet to his left.
“You get to be freer to make more plays inside. You get to run around more.”
Carroll likes Maxwell’s size, long arms and speed against opposing slot receivers.
Matthews probably wasn’t as thrilled. He just beat his season-low with two catches for 23 yards — after 54 catches for 686 yards in the 12 games before he ran into Maxwell.
“For one, it’s a good matchup,” Carroll said. “Matthews got us once (for 17 yards in the first half), but it was a good matchup we thought going in, so we had some good chances with him.”
The Seahawks’ new arrangement includes Tharold Simon at Maxwell’s usual spot at cornerback opposite Sherman when Maxwell moves inside. Simon had his first career interception in his eighth career game, covering Cooper 40 yards downfield on a post pattern that Mark Sanchez overthrew by four yards.
Sherman sees this as a win-win, Maxwell inside and the emerging Simon outside. It’s an arrangement the Seahawks might be tempted to continue to use even when Lane — injured most of this season — fully returns from his gluteus-muscle injury. Especially next weekend against the same 49ers the Maxwell-at-nickel move helped throttle last week in Seattle’s 19-3 win in Santa Clara, California.
“I’ve said before I thought Tharold Simon was going to be one of the better corners in this football league. And he’s starting to finally figure it out a little bit,” Sherman said. “He’s starting to come into his own. I’m really proud of him. He played a great game tonight.”
Carroll had joked on Friday whether he should trade jabs with Mark Sanchez, his quarterback at USC through the 2009 Rose Bowl they won together. The Seahawks defense hit Sanchez for him Sunday. It sacked Sanchez three times and limited him to a mere 98 yards passing on 10 of 20 passing.
Philadelphia was the No. 4 offense in the NFL entering Sunday, with 31.3 points and 416.2 yards per game. The Eagles had season lows of two touchdowns and 139 yards against the Seattle defense and its Maxwell-Simon set-up. That is the lowest yardage total in Chip Kelly’s head coaching career, back to before he was leading the Oregon Ducks.
“Our guys covered very well. We made it hard on Mark,” Carroll said. “There was not a lot of space out there to throw the football.”