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Eagles-Seahawks Preview: The Beast Goes East
The defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles on Sunday, in a matchup between two of the best teams in football.
Both teams will have had 10 days off after playing on Thanksgiving and both teams are coming in hot. The Seahawks (8-4) are closing in one NFC West leader, Arizona, while the Eagles (9-3) lead the NFC East after dismantling the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
The game is a classic matchup of offense versus defense, as the Eagles fast-paced offense leads the way and the Seahawks No. 1 defense (285.8 yards allowed per game) continues to be a force for Seattle. Let's take a look at the matchup
Eagles Offense Versus Seahawks Defense
The Eagles have the No. 4 offense in the NFL (416.2 ypg) and are 4th in scoring (31.2 ppg). They have lots of weapons, but what really seems to bother opposing defenses is their fast pace. The Eagles have run a league-high 875 plays and constantly have opposing defensive players sucking wind by the second half.
Mark Sanchez had his best game of the season against Dallas, which means he actually didn't turn the ball over. That will be the key, once again, against this punishing defense. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly wisely realized that Sanchez can't throw the deep ball, so he concentrated more on the short to intermediate routes. Seattle runs a lot of Cover 3 defense, which means that they play a 3-deep zone. That's why they have allowed the fewest passing plays of 20+ yards (26) in the league. Of course, they also play some Cover 1 with All Pro safety Earl Thomas (Oh what could have been, Eagles fans) deep and safety Cam Chancellor at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. They are also running a bit more man-to-man coverage this season. You can do that when your safeties can cover and you have talent like Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman at CB.
Sherman will be covering Jeremy Maclin all game, but the Eagles swear they will not avoid Sherman. Unfortunately, that probably means a bad INT or two from Sanchez. Seattle has just 9 INTS this season, after they led the NFL with 28 last season, but Sherman leads the NFL with 23 INTs since he was drafted in 2011. When the Seahawks go to their nickel defense, Maxwell moves into the slot, where he will cover Sanchez's favorite target, Jordan Matthews. The Eagles have the No. 5 passing attack (286.0 ypg), but the Seahawks are 3rd against the pass (199.4 ypg).
The one thing the Seahawks don't do well is rush the passer. Their 20 sacks ranks them 27th in the NFL and the Eagles have given up the 5th fewest sacks in the NFL (18).
What the Eagles will need to do is exactly what they did against the Cowboys. They need to run the damn ball, early and often. The Eagles are the No. 6 rushing attack (130.2 ypg) and have been getting progressively better in recent weeks as the offensive line has returned to health. Center Jason Kelce and All Pro LG Evan Mathis are fully healthy and opening big holes for LeSean McCoy. After a slow start to the season, caused by the injuries up front, McCoy is starting to look like the RB that led the NFL in rushing last season. He is 3rd in the league with 1,018 yards rushing. While the Seahawks are No. 5 against the run (86.3), they might have actually gotten better with the return of LB Bobby Wagner and Chancellor who is a ferocious hitter. But they did also lose DT Brandon Mebane. Kelly needs to run the ball to prevent Sanchez from literally throwing the game away.
Seahawks Offense Versus Eagles Defense
Russell Wilson is a Super Bowl winning quarterback, but he still isn't an elite passer. He's only attempted 335 passes and has thrown 15 TDs and 5 INTs. That explains Seattle's No. 29 ranking in passing offense (192.4 ypg). And that's good news for an Eagles pass defense that is ranked 26th against the pass (258.6 ypg). The only thing Wilson does really well as a passer is hit the long pass, but that's mostly due to his scrambling ability allowing his receivers to shake free. That's bad news for an Eagles defense that has allowed a league-high 23 completions of 30+ yards, including 10 for TDs.
It's not all Wilson's fault though. First of all, he has no receivers. Seattle let Golden Tate leave via free agency and shockingly traded Percy Harvin during the season. That leaves Wilson with Doug Baldwin as his leading receiver. When your leading receiver has 48 catches for 519 yards, your passing attack can be best described as anemic. It doesn't help that Wilson has been sacked 31 times (6th most in NFL) and center Max Unger is still out with knee and ankle injuries. A matchup to watch is LB Connor Barwin and his 12 1/2 sacks going up against RT Justin Britt. If Barwin isn't the spy on Wilson, he should be rushing the passer all day, because Britt stinks
What the Seahawks do really well, though, is run the football. They are the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL (168.6 ypg) due to the combined efforts of Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is the most physical runner in the league and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He leads the NFL in broken tackles (61), so the Eagles will have to swarm to the ball. He's 5th in rushing yards (956), 6th in total yards (1,253) and 5th in first downs. Lynch is tied for the NFL lead with 12 TDs, but he hasn't scored one in the last three games. His 1,113 carries, 5,007 rushing yards and 44 rushing TDs are all the most in the NFL since the start of the 2011 season. He truly lives up to his nickname, "Beast Mode". The other element that makes this rushing attack so special is Wilson. Wilson is 15th in the league in rushing, but it isn't all on scrambles. He is averaging 5.9 yards per carry on zone read plays, where he fakes the hand-off to Lynch and keeps it and other designed runs (52 for 306 yards) and 9.6 yards per carry on scrambles (39 for 373 yards). The Eagles defensive line, led by Fletcher Cox and LBs, led by Mychal Kendricks will have to bring their "A" game. The good news is that since Kelly took over last season, the Eagles have only given up two 100-yard rushers - Oakland's Rashad Jennings last season during a blowout and SF's Frank Gore earlier this season.
The one thing to watch is how often Eagles safety Nate Allen gives up a long pass because he gets caught looking into the backfield for a run. He does it constantly and with the Eagles defense focusing on the Seattle running game, I'm sure Allen will give up at least one long TD reception.
Lynch in "Beast Mode"
Who is the best team in the NFC?
Nobody in the NFL has produced more special teams TDs than the Eagles, who have 6 (2 KR, 2 PR, 2 blocked punts). Darren Sproles is 2nd in the league in punt returns and the Seahawks are the second worst at covering punts. The only bright spot there is that Seattle punter Jon Ryan has only had 14 of his 44 punts returned. Eagles punter Donnie Jones doesn't have a good net average, but has dropped the second most punts inside the 20, while having only 11 of his 33 punts returned. Eagles kicker Cody Parkey is 27-for-29 on FGs, but he may have hit the rookie wall with his kickoffs. He has only 7 touchbacks on his last 24 kickoffs. Seattle kicker Steve Hauschka is 4th in the NFL in scoring (110 points) and first in FGs (27) after drilling 8 FGs in the last two weeks. He also has a 58-yarder and has 40 touchbacks, so he has a very powerful leg.
Chip Kelly and Seattle's Pete Carroll know each other from their Pac-10 days when Kelly was at Oregon and Carroll was at USC. Kelly is considered an offensive genius, but Carroll's defensive mind won him a Super Bowl last season. There is also the little fact that Carroll coached both Sanchez and his backup, Matt Barkley at USC. It remains to be seen who has the advantage there. Sanchez and Barkley might have insights on Carroll's defensive tendencies, but Carroll would know their weaknesses better than anybody and has the players to exploit them.
The Seahawks are nearly unbeatable at home, but they won't enjoy that "12th Man" advantage at the Linc in Philly. The Eagles have won 10 straight games at home and Seattle is only 3-3 on the road this season. Seattle is also averaging a TD less on the road (21.0 ppg) than at home (28.7 ppg). Seattle has held each of their last two opponents to 3 points, but they also gave up 30 points to two teams. The Seattle defense is playing at their best right now and the Eagles running game seems to have returned to its league-leading stride from last season, with the return to health of their offensive line.
Saying this game will be decided by the points scored may seem silly, but check out this stat. The Eagles have won every game under Kelly where they have scored at least 24 points. What does that mean? It means I think the Eagles can actually steal a win from a team that may be better than them, but isn't the same team on the road as they are at home.
Eagles 27 - Seahawks 20