The Eagles haven’t played the Seahawks in two years. Last time the two teams played, the Eagles lost. In fact, the Seahawks have won four of the last five against the Eagles. Ideally, Carson Wentz can reverse that trend. We asked the indomitable Kenneth Arthur of sister site Field Gulls whether that might be possible.
Here’s what he said!
1. Carson Wentz isn’t too shabby under pressure, but obviously things come easier when there’s less of a pass rush. What does Seattle’s front seven look like this year, and how often do Kris Richard and Pete Carroll like to blitz?
Seattle's pass rush is pretty good, Football Outsiders ranks them 12th in pressure created, with it coming on 17.6% on downs. (For your readers out there, the Eagles are first in that category at 23.1%.) The Seahawks do so without blitzing very often, they generate almost all of their pressure with their front-four, which includes Cliff Avril (nine sacks, as many as he had all of last year) and Frank Clark (7.5 sacks), and it doesn't feel like things have slowed down much without the injured Michael Bennett. Not that Bennett doesn't make them that much more dangerous. Rookie defensive tackle Jarran Reed notched his second sack of the season (technically marked as a .5 sack) last week against the Patriots, and we love what he's been bringing to the table.
Overall you won't see much pass rush from linebackers KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner, though Wright does have three sacks. They have nine sacks in their last two home games against Tyrod Taylor and Matt Ryan, so as a Seattle fan, I hope they bring that to the table on Sunday against Wentz.
2. What does it do for the Seahawks’ offense, in particular, to have a straight-up stud wide receiver in Doug Baldwin?
Hmmm, that's an interesting question.
During Russell Wilson's first season in the league, he had no chemistry with Baldwin (29 catches for 366 yards) and it honestly felt like Doug's time in Seattle could end as quickly as it skyrocketed as an UDFA in 2011 who had 788 yards in his rookie season. But the next season he caught 69.4% of his targets. Then he drew a career-high 98 targets in 2014 and kept producing. Then he exploded last season for 14 touchdowns and caught 75.7% of his targets. This season, it's 76.9% of his targets, and he's getting even more attention from Wilson despite the presence of Jimmy Graham, and he's on pace to top 1,100 yards for the first time ... so that's sort of how his production has increased from the "pedestrian" receiver to being an "elite" one, but it doesn't really answer your question.
By having that high catch rate without having a low yards-per-catch average, like you may see from Kendall Wright (before this season at least) or Cole Beasley, Wilson knows that despite Baldwin not having the frame of a number one receiver or playing on the outside like most number one receivers would, that he can trust Baldwin just the same as Ben Roethlisberger can trust Antonio Brown or Ryan can trust Julio Jones. Baldwin's career YPC of 13.8 might not seem like a lot, but it is a considerable difference from a 10-11 YPC and maintaining that while still catching well over 70% of his targets since 2013, well there just isn't another receiver in the NFL who does that. I can't tell you with any certainty that if Baldwin played for the Steelers that he'd produce like Brown produces, but given that Brown has a lower YPC and a lower catch rate, I definitely would be interested in seeing what Baldwin could do if he was the one getting almost 200 targets per season. That's probably never going to happen in Carroll's offense, but we are going to see an increase to roughly 110-120 targets this year and I believe we will see him consistently get 1,000-1,200 yards per season. Having that incredibly trustworthy player on the field has elevated Wilson's game so much in the last two years because he can throw it to Baldwin and trust he won't drop it (it's so hard to even think of a time Baldwin had a drop), he'll gain a first down often because he's elusive, he'll flawlessly run the exact route he was supposed to run -- now that Wilson also has that level of trust with Graham, it's changed the whole dynamic of the passing game, which is something they really needed with Wilson's injuries and the lack of a running game.
Nobody has caught more touchdowns in the last 12 months than Baldwin has, so he's also been that red zone threat and dangerous scoring weapon that Seattle has been lacking without Marshawn Lynch, which we saw as he scored three times in Foxborough last Sunday.
3. How’s the first year sans Marshawn Lynch going so far? The Eagles’ run defense is improving as the year goes on. What kind of ground game will they face Sunday?
What an interesting time to ask that question.
The Seahawks waived Christine Michael on Tuesday, which is a move I saw coming for the last couple of weeks just because he had not been playing well, the coaches were subtly voicing displeasure with his performances and effort, and Thomas Rawls was due back any week. So the move to drop Michael may have surprised some, but definitely not me, and I'm happy to get back to Rawls.
What Rawls brings is incredible vision on the field to see running lanes that others (see: Michael) may not see, an amazing ability to change direction on a dime, a burst through the gaps. He was Football Outsiders' top back last season in terms of rushing yardage, and led the NFL at 5.6 YPC. I don't worry at all about his 1.6 YPC to open this season because he was coming off of a broken ankle and got almost no playing time in the preseason, almost no practices, and the Dolphins/Rams have pretty good defenses. Now that the NFL is into Week 11, the offensive line has had more time to improve -- especially for a line that had a new starter at four positions to open the season, which didn't include first round pick Germain Ifedi back then -- and come together as a unit. They've played much better as of late and as such, I think we're going to see Rawls remind the NFL what he can do.
The other dynamic to the run game will be rookie C.J. Prosise, who has topped 100 total yards in two of the last three games. He had at least seven or eight really good runs against New England and he's just a stud in the passing game. Prosise started his career at Notre Dame as a wide receiver and it really shows. Whenever he's on the field, the defense has to stay on its toes because you just don't know if he's going to carry it, stay in to block, dip underneath for a screen, or go deep -- he can do all of those things. There was probably some jealousy on the part of Carroll to see what Darren Sproles does in Philly, or a dream to have his own NFL version of Reggie Bush, and that's why he signed Fred Jackson a year ago and then drafted his clone. I hope we see Seattle have their best running game of the season, because that's how much I believe in this duo much more than when it was Michael and nobody else (Prosise missed four games), but we'll see. We just don't know yet.
4. The Seahawks are allowing 100 yards/game more through the air in the last five weeks compared to the first four. Is that simply borne from playing far better QBs? Or (as Eagles fans hope) is the Legion of Boom not what it used to be?
I hate to give you a really simple answer but I think the answer is really simple: Kam Chancellor missed four of those weeks. He returned last Sunday against the Patriots and they were facing Tom "*******" Brady at home and held him to no touchdowns. It was the first time since 2007 that Brady had a no touchdown/at-least-one-interception game at home. Up until Sunday, Brady was a clear choice (?) for MVP and he got some chunks of yardage, was doing "Brady things" but ultimately Seattle's defense got to him just enough to hold New England to 24 points at home and snag an unlikely road win. And most of us believe that Chancellor was the MVP of that game. That's about as straightforward as an answer as I can give you to your particular question, but I'd also note that those quarterbacks are Tyrod Taylor, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Carson Palmer.
Ryan got all of his production in the third quarter and was shut down in the other three, and that's the number one offense in the NFL.
Palmer got six points in five quarters.
Brees is awesome and played awesome.
Taylor did an admirable job.
Overall, Earl Thomas hasn't lost anything and is headed to another Pro Bowl. Chancellor, as mentioned, has been hurt but his presence was felt right away. Richard Sherman is getting tested a lot more this season but then you look at Darrelle Revis and see what a fall-from-grace really looks like; Sherman is holding his own against some really great receivers. DeShawn Shead is a massive upgrade from Cary Williams (which I'm sure you can relate to.) If there's a gap in coverage, it's slot corner Jeremy Lane, who they gave over $20 million to in the offseason because they felt he could be the next Byron Maxwell, which was a good thing for the Seahawks, even if it wasn't for the Eagles.
So it's a combination of not having Chancellor and a brutal stretch of QBs.
5. Seattle is a marquee franchise. We know about the big names on the roster. Who’s one under-the-radar player Eagles fans should keep an eye on come Sunday?
So check off the big names. Check off the ones I've already mentioned like Prosise, Reed, Clark, Shead.
You may not know it because he hasn't missed a game, but Tyler Lockett's been injured for most of the season. He looked healthy last week vs the Patriots and had three catches for 72 yards. He's such an exciting player. His future is so exciting. His kick returns are so ... exciting. He had a 32-yard return last week, a 43-yard return the week before, a 37-yard return the week before that, a 36-yard return the week before that -- he's perhaps one of the few returners you don't want to test right now under the new rules.
Paul Richardson is sneaky, he had the longest catch of the game on Sunday in New England. He's a former second round pick who just hasn't been able to stay healthy. I don't think he's been on the injury report this season but has just 18 targets because he has so much to catch up on. He can't develop any chemistry with Wilson and the offense simply doesn't need him to produce because they have Baldwin, Graham, Lockett -- but I think/hope he replaces Jermaine Kearse at some point. They're different players in many regards but I do not have much affection for Kearse's game. Richardson can make some "pause, what just happened" type plays, so look out for that.
K.J. Wright is one of the best outside linebackers in this league, but he'll never get recognition like it because he's not a pass rusher and he plays in a 4-3. But his area of the field is always so secure, he'll wreck your screen pass, he's extremely good at what he does.
BONUS: Who wins, and what’s the score?
If your readers liked me at any point so far, they won't anymore.
The Seahawks are playing at the height of their game in the second half of a season once again. We see it basically every year under Carroll. They struggle in September and October but this is a team with a winning percentage of like 75-80% in November, December and January. That begins and ends with Russell Wilson, who is just above average in Sept/Oct and THE BEST QUARTERBACK OF ALL TIME IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER. I'm emphasizing that in a mostly jokey way, but in reality, Wilson has the best passer rating in NFL history in November and December. He's even better at home. His two interceptions are the fewest he's ever had after nine games, by a decent margin. He's developed significant love and affection for Graham and Baldwin in the passing game and that trust makes him such a better quarterback. So I'd honestly have to say that Wilson is the most dangerous QB at home in the second half of the season in the NFL. It's just so hard to imagine them losing in a situation like this, though it does happen.
2015: They lost at home to the Cards in Week 10 and Rams in Week 16
2013: They lost at home to the Cards in Week 16.
If your readers are like Panthers fans (and I pray that they aren't) then they're reading some of this and going "Well, this f*%!ing moron keeps citing DVOA. SCREW DVOA! WE DON'T LIKE FANCY NUMBERS, MATH BOY!" But I tell you this: The Eagles are the number one team in the NFL in DVOA, but I'm sure your readers knew that and so did you. So we can't take Philly lightly because they've got the number one defense in DVOA, and the number one special teams unit in DVOA. So my prediction won't be predicated on the quality of Philadelphia, it'll be predicated on the historical play of Wilson at home in November and December. It'll also factor in the return of Thomas Rawls, the second game back of Kam Chancellor, the increased viability of a healthy Tyler Lockett to play offense, and a defensive unit that has a really good reputation for shutting down number one receivers and getting burned by quality number three and number four receivers, which I don't believe the Eagles have yet. I think Philly's best shots will be taken at Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles, I think pressuring Wilson and trying to get him to make a bad throw or forcing a fumble on a sack will be a key for the Eagles, and winning every battle on special teams.
Given all of that, my prediction is Seahawks 23, Eagles 16