The Eagles (9-3) are now in control of their own destiny, as the squad has sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Coming off of a blowout win over the Cowboys, the Eagles face a tough task against the Seahawks. Despite being undefeated at home this season, Philadelphia will have to rely on more than just that advantage on Sunday, as Seattle has one of the best defenses in the league.
BGN's Dan Klausner and Mike Kaye are looking forward to this match-up. The not-so-dynamic duo previews the Week 14 matchup below.
1) Was the Thanksgiving throttling a sign of what's to come or was it simply another flash in the pan for the quarterback position and running game? Where do you see the Eagles going from here?
Kaye: I really enjoyed Thanksgiving and while the Eagles were terrific, they could stand to improve in the red zone. That said, I think the running game is back for the most part and Mark Sanchez has shown he is at least competent. I think the Eagles could continue their trend of 3-1 in each quarter of the season. Whether that loss comes this week or next, I think the Eagles will lose at least once in the next four games. This team is good enough to at least win a home playoff game.
Klausner: I don't know if it was just a flash in the pan so much as it is the Eagles are the last team you want to face on a short week because of their unique recovery methods, exceptional fitness level and the rapid tempo at which they play. Keep in mind, Tony Romo hasn't even been practicing until Thursdays -- so that was his first football action of the week and he looked woefully unprepared, as if things were moving too fast for him. He wanted no part of playing in that game. I had an uneasy feeling going into Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, but it ended up being the perfect storm for the Eagles to win in a romp. The running game gashed the Cowboys over and over, with the offensively line opening up gigantic holes for Shady and co. to run through. The Eagles dominated in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and, as always, that's a recipe for victory in the NFL.
As for Mark Sanchez, Thanksgiving was the most impressive performance to date for him as the Eagles' starting quarterback. Only one bad throw immediately jumps to mind that could have been intercepted, in which he sailed a throw to Brent Celek in the end zone between three defenders and got lucky that the ball dropped harmlessly. Sanchez was smooth and crisp, showing off the athleticism and movement skills that make him such a better fit for this offense than Foles. Whether it was rolling out and throwing on the run or keeping the ball on options and taking advantage of the space the defense gave him to pick up positive yards, Mark was in complete control from the very first snap. Sure, he did it against a woeful defense that simply couldn't keep up with the pace, but it's the kind of essentially flawless game that builds confidence. Against a prideful, championship Seahawks defense that boasts a formidable secondary and has hit its stride, we'll need to see that same Mark Sanchez.
2) The Seahawks are the defending champs, but look extremely vulnerable by comparison this season. Should fans be worried about this matchup or are the Seahawks very beatable?
MK: I think the Seahawks are a tough matchup but they are definitely beatable on the road. The Seahawks don't seem to score very much on the road (27 is their high, 21 is their average) and the Eagles tend to blow teams out at home. The Seahawks have a great defense, but with the speed the Eagles bring, they could eventually tire them out and score frequently. I am not sure the Seahawks can keep up with the Eagles if they find a way to score consistently. They'll have a lot of pressure on their very great defense, but still it's not an overwhelmingly daunting matchup.
DK: Every team is beatable, especially on the road. The Seahawks have been erratic and looked much more vulnerable this season, yes, which is to say they haven't been the juggernaut, you-have-no-chance team we saw last season. Still, the defense ranks at or near the top of the NFL in every meaningful statistical category and is built to match up against the Eagles' high-powered offense, especially in the secondary. To me, this is the kind of game where Chip shows his tactical prowess and adds another notch to his genius belt. What's the best way to exploit a ferocious defense that has regained its swagger and is playing at the top of its abilities? Hint: It's in the trenches (look what the Chiefs offensive line and Jamaal Charles were able to do in Kansas City's 24-20 win). The Seahawks defense has been feasting on garbage offenses in eight of its last nine games and was fortunate enough to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Seattle (Week 3) -- that unit hasn't seen an offense like ours. Against a defense that is used to dictating terms and imposing its will, I really think the tempo and pace at which the Eagles play will be the key, even more so than usual:
@dklausner Equalizer: Eagles run their O 33% faster than SEA D usually sees. They think it won't matter, until they are panting at halftime.— Winter of Sanchize (@ProtoTyler) December 4, 2014
One thing is for sure: Mark Sanchez won't get away with sailing throws in the middle of the field against the likes of Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor and some guy you may have heard of named Earl Thomas. Those will turn into auto-picks and flip the game entirely.
On the other side of the ball, it's strength versus strength, as the Eagles run defense faces its second straight daunting test, this time against Marshawn Lynch and the league's top-ranked rushing offense. The defense dominated the previously unstoppable Cowboys rush offense and will need to do so again. With the way Fletcher Cox (deserves All-Pro honors), Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton are playing, and with the center of the Seahawks offensive line being a
third-stringer backup (Lemuel Jeanpierre -- see: not All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler Max Unger), how can I not like our chances to contain Lynch? Where I'm concerned is, obviously, contending with Russell Wilson. He doesn't have any receivers who scare you*, but he'll make things happen outside the pocket to pick up the yards himself or buy enough time for one of them to get open. That said, the Eagles defense has been quite adept at containing this breed of quarterback over the last two seasons. It's a very athletic, quick and disciplined front. You might be thinking, Well, Collin Kaepernick burned us with his scrambles, and you'd be right -- but keep in mind that Mychal Kendricks, the front seven's fastest player, didn't play in that game. He's now healthy and has been a force and will be one of the players tasked with chasing Wilson all over the place. How ironic would it be if Bill Davis, just one week following that delightful massacre, bases his defensive game plan for containing Wilson around what Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys defense did in Seattle, when Wilson had no room to run and put up arguably his worst game as a pro?
*though now watch the silly fast Ricardo Lockette, a former college sprinter, burn Cary Williams/Bradley Fletcher/Brandon Boykin/Nolan Carroll down the field for a long gain
3) Which matchup are you least looking forward to on Sunday? Which matchup are you most looking forward to?
MK: I worry about the Eagles passing game against the Legion of Boom. Sanchez is prone to turnovers and the Seahawks secondary is great at causing them. Sanchez can't make mistakes on Sunday or this will be a long game. I think Jeremy Maclin can do well against Richard Sherman, but I doubt the rest of the pass catchers will get a ton of separation. Zach Ertz's lack of impact over the last several games could make this matchup even worse.
As far as matchups that I am looking forward to on Sunday, I'd say Seattle rookie right tackle Justin Britt against NFC sack leader Connor Barwin. The outside linebacker has been on fire all season and I expect him to wreak havoc against Seattle. He may spy Russell Wilson with Mychal Kendricks and I expect him to have a massive impact against the pass.
DK: Mike already took the Seahawks secondary against the Eagles receivers as the most concerning matchup, but there's really no other answer to the question for me. However, I will be keeping a close eye on the matchup in the slot, where Jordan Matthews -- who has been the Eagles' most productive receiver since Sanchez took over -- will go up against the tall and long Tharold Simon. I like the impressive rookie's chances there. So, yeah, that's one matchup I'm looking forward to inside the totality of a matchup I'm not looking forward to. I also have nightmares of the defense losing contain on Wilson a few times and him breaking off multiple 25-plus-yard runs.
One matchup I'm really looking forward to is Brandon Graham against all his haters. He has been a force everywhere this season, including as a devastating inside rusher on passing downs, and this is his ultimate "Fuck Everybody" game given the, you know, Earl Thomas stuff. I expect him to wreak havoc with multiple pressures and at least one sack. Otherwise, the matchup I'm most looking forward to is, as I alluded to earlier, Bennie Logan inside against Lemuel Jeanpierre. I'll take Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton against whoever dares try to block them, as well -- I wish nothing but bad luck to James Carpenter/Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy/Justin Britt, respectively, in their efforts. Conversely, despite the Seahawks rush defense, anchored by Tony McDaniel and the ageless Kevin Williams, ranking fifth in the league overall (86.3 yards per game allowed) and third overall in yards per carried allowed (3.5 -- 0.4 yards better than the Eagles), I love the way the Eagles offensive line is playing right now, and this will be THE challenge to show whether or not the unit -- especially inside -- has rounded back into last season's form.
Lastly, a collective matchup of interest: The most persistent theme all season on offense has been the Eagles' struggles in the red zone, where they've scored touchdowns on just 43.48 percent of drives (29th in the NFL). Despite a statistically dominant defense, the Seahawks have struggled to stop offenses in the red zone, giving up touchdowns on 64.52 percent of drives that penetrate their 20-yard line (28th in the NFL). That said, the Seahawks also allow the second-fewest red-zone trips per game, while the Eagles get there the eighth-most times per game. What's going to give?
4) Give us two players on both sides of the ball who will stand out in a positive way on Sunday.
MK: On defense, I think Fletcher Cox and Connor Barwin, who was recently named NFC Defensive Player of the Month, will continue to trend upward. Barwin, as mentioned above, should play well on Sunday, while Cox will need to be stellar against the run and Marshawn Lynch. I know these guys are safe picks, but you have to go with what works.
Offense is tough, but I'll go with Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy. The Seahawks are the fifth-best run defense, but I think the Eagles will have success using their backs in the passing game. I think Sproles and McCoy's receiving ability will allow them to do a lot of 22 personnel and render most of the Seahawks secondary useless. It's hard to find a good matchup on offense.
DK: Eagles offense: Jordan Matthews and Jason Peters / Eagles defense: Bennie Logan and Brandon Graham
Seahawks offense: Russell Wilson and Whoever is being covered by Bradley Fletcher (so, most likely Jermaine Kearse) / Seahawks defense: Earl Thomas (because of course) and K.J. Wright
Bonus: Come on special teams, go all St. Louis Rams on the Seahawks!
5) What's your prediction for the game?
MK: I think the Eagles are due a loss at home and the Seahawks present a very tough matchup. Unfortunately, I think I'll go with a Seattle win, 23-20.
DK: For the second week in a row, I'm picking the opposite of Mike, except I'm going to go with the same exact score. Despite the Seahawks being a difficult matchup and precisely the kind of team that could march into Lincoln Financial Field and end the Eagles' 10-game home winning streak, I think this is the kind of measuring stick game in which the Eagles will rise to the occasion, especially after what happened against the Packers in Lambeau in their first non-divisional measuring stick game. They'll be at home in front of a raucous crowd, engaged in a litmus test of their potential Super Bowl chops, with the chance to take a huge step in locking up one of the NFC's top-two playoff seeds. I feel like believing, and since I don't envision the Eagles' red-zone struggles subsiding even with a favorable matchup -- voila, 23-20, Eagles.