With the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks scheduled to face off on Sunday, I reached out to the writers over at Field Gulls for some inside perspective. Danny Kelly kindly took the time to answer my questions.
1) The most points the Seahawks have scored on the road this year is 27. The fewest points the Eagles have scored at home this year is 27. Something’s gotta give. To what extent is Seattle more beatable when they don’t have the benefit of the 12th man?
My first impression of the thing that "has to give" for Seattle to come away with a W this week is for them to somehow stifle the Eagles’ offensive attack. Holding them to under 27 points seems like the only way they manage a big win in a tough environment on the road.
The Seahawks have one of the better homefield advantages in the NFL in CenturyLink Field, but for Seattle (and just about every team in the NFL), winning on the road is a bit more difficult. I think that playing on the road makes the Seahawks’ ability to produce a consistent pass rush much more difficult — the 12th Man has earned a reputation for making it near-impossible for offenses to hear much of anything, so silent snap counts are the norm. This helps the Seahawks’ edge rushers get great jumps on the snap, and in turn makes it easier for them to harass and sack opposing quarterbacks. This, of course, gives the Seahawks’ secondary a better shot at jumping routes and plastering to opposing receivers. Give most any NFL quarterback too much time, and they’ll pick you apart.
So, with that in mind, I think it will be crucial for Seattle to "affect" Mark Sanchez in this game. That’s the term that both head coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn consistently use, and that goes to pressuring, moving, hitting, and sacking the opposing signal caller. Seattle may have to utilize a little creativity in their rush without the benefit of a deafening crowd behind them, but getting to the quarterback quick enough to make him panic or rush his throws is not an easy thing to do against Chip Kelly’s offense. The Eagles snap the ball quickly, have well-designed routes that help get receivers open, and each play tends to have multiple options that make it very hard to scheme for. Seattle’s defense has been playing extremely well the last couple of weeks, but they have their work cut out for them this Sunday.
The other thing that comes to mind playing on the road in a huge game like this is to make sure to play sound on special teams. Considering the absurd amount of success the Eagles have had in that area, one or two big returns or plays on Special Teams could be back-breaking for the Seahawks.
2) What’s the best plan of attack against this tough Seattle defense? Where are the weaknesses?
The Eagles have some really great space players in Shady McCoy and Darren Sproles, so I would imagine Chip Kelly will continue to make them central parts of the game plan - particularly in the passing game. The Hawks defend the deep pass with the best of them in the NFL, so at times, the underneath catch-and-run types of plays make Seattle vulnerable. The Seahawks will have to pursue with intensity and tackle well or it could be a long day. The Seahawks are a fairly vanilla defense that relies on execution — getting to spots, pursuing, tackling, playing physical, and keeping everything in front. But in the past, if you can get this defense to start missing tackles, things can snowball and you can have some success. That’s obviously scary as a Seahawk fan, though, because of the players that the Eagles have carrying and catching the ball.
Obviously, I would expect the Eagles to try to run the ball as well. Seattle typically has defended read option type teams fairly well — they’ve got good team speed and normally play very disciplined in their run fits — but that won’t stop Kelly from trying, I wouldn’t think. Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs tore Seattle up on the ground a few weeks ago, but the return of Bobby Wagner to the middle linebacker spot has really helped clean things up on that front since that game.
3 - How good has Russell Wilson been this season? What’s the key to beating him?
Wilson has had his ups and downs this season. His numbers have been fairly steady as compared to last season, but the explosion of huge pass plays and total take-over of the offense that some expected has not happened. Instead, Seattle’s offense is still centered on the run game and Marshawn Lynch, with Wilson acting as the facilitator or point guard. What you get with Wilson is great ball security, great escapability, great rushing ability, and the threat to occasionally attack downfield effectively with deep strikes. Seattle hasn’t hit as many deep bombs this season, which is a little surprising, but probably due to a combination of how teams defend them and the fact that Wilson’s lost a few of his key receiving weapons in Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin. Nonetheless, we’re all still waiting for Seattle to start hucking up deep bombs a little more often.
Overall, I think that Wilson’s had a good, not great season. He’s played better over the past few games so he’s trending in the right direction at the right time. The key for the Eagles would probably be to try to keep him in the pocket and make him make throws from there. He’s most dangerous when he has the ability to move around and throw on bootlegs and sprint outs, but can obviously kill you when the pocket breaks and he scrambles. It’s got to be super demoralizing when you have the Seahawks’ receiving options all covered up, the pocket broken down, and Wilson seemingly bottled up — only to see him escape and scramble for a ten or fifteen yard first down. This is something that he does with remarkable regularity.
4 - What match-up favors the Seahawks the most?
On offense, honestly, I’m not sure if there is a pure one-on-one matchup that favors Seattle. The Seahawks are a run team though — so it’s pure buy-in from all 11 guys to get things going, and they will hand it to Marshawn Lynch and hope he can do what’s he’s done so well this year. The thing that makes Seattle so dangerous on the rushing front is that Wilson is a true threat with his legs — he stresses defenses horizontally with the read-option keeper, and helps soften things up in the middle for Lynch. The key thing is that Seattle isn’t afraid to let him actually keep it on read option plays and run the ball.
On defense, I think that Seattle’s linebacker play will be key — they’ll need to show that they can flatten out and defend Philly’s stretch runs and stay disciplined with all their fits. If they over-pursue or allow McCoy/Sproles to bounce things upfield or back across the grain, that’s where Philly could really hurt the Hawks. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the two main guys to watch on Sunday — if they can get involved in the run defense and force the Eagles to go to their pass game, the Seahawks can then lean on the "Legion of Boom" to hopefully create some turnovers. Kam Chancellor is another name to monitor — he’s a hybrid linebacker-safety in Seattle’s scheme, and he’s been playing very well the last few weeks after finally getting fully healthy.
5 - Let’s hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
Needless to say, this is a really exciting matchup — two really good teams, with strong coaching, talented players, and a lot at stake. I will go with Seahawks 26, Eagles 24, but only because I believe Seattle’s defense is playing the best ball it’s played all year right now. If they can hold Philly to around 24 or 25 points, Seattle has a real shot. That’s obviously a huge challenge though.