The Philadelphia Eagles will host the Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday for the second time in the span of six weeks. Let’s run through some of the most important things to watch as the Eagles try to win this wild card matchup and advance to the divisional round of the 2020 NFL playoffs.
1 - Can the Eagles finally beat Russell Wilson?!
Hardly a revelation here but it bears repeating: Wilson is 4-0 in four career games against the team that was interested in selecting him but ultimately passed on him three times in the 2012 NFL Draft.
His numbers from those four games: 73/124 (58.9%), 962 yards (7.8 average), 7 TD, 1 INT, 98.9 passer rating, 1 fumble lost ... 27 rushing attempts, 113 rushing yards (1 rushing TD ... 1 reception, 15 yards, 1 receiving TD. That’s nine total touchdowns to just two turnovers.
When Wilson is playing his best football, he looks flat out unguardable. He runs around and makes plays and it feels like there’s nothing you can really do to stop him. Pressuring him is often easier said than done considering how he’s able to mitigate a team’s pass rush with his mobiltiy.
The good news for the Eagles is they may have found a way to limit Wilson’s damage. Jim Schwartz’s defense sacked Seattle’s starting quarterback six times, hit him 11 times, and held him to a 75.4 passer rating (third worst outing this season) in Week 12.
Then again, Wilson’s numbers easily could’ve been better had the Seahawks not left a number of plays on the field:
There is reason for optimism when it comes to the Eagles’ defense. I’ve typed this stat a billion times by now but they’ve allowed 17 points or fewer in seven of their last nine games. Both games with more than 17 points allowed came on the road.
Did you realize that the Eagles’ home defense has actually been the best in the NFL since Schwartz was hired as defensive coordinator?
The Eagles aren’t going to completely shut Wilson down but they should turn in a respectable performance that makes the game winnable if Philly’s offense can live up to their end of the bargain.
2 - The Seahawks’ self-sabotage
One thing that could really work in the Eagles’ favor is the Seahawks’ antiquated commitment to running the ball. Watching the Seahawks play the Cowboys in the wild card round last year, I swear Seattle was trying to lose the game. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
The Dallas defense does deserve credit, yes. But the Seahawks also had an ABSOLUTELY ABYSMAL offensive coaching performance in this game.
Despite the fact it clearly wasn’t working for basically the entire game, the Seahawks insisted on running the ball over and over. All the while, Russell Wilson was clearly having success through the air.
And it’s not like the run was “keeping Dallas honest.” Wilson was having to throw in obvious passing situations because an ineffective running game was continually putting them in bad situations.
The simple truth is the Seahawks’ offensive strategy did not even give themselves a chance to win. Prior to HAVING to pass on their final drive (down 10 points with 2:08 left and zero timeouts), the Seahawks had called 24 runs to 21 passes. And they were gaining 8.6 yards on pass attempts to just 3.0 on rush attempts.
Wilson is the Seahawks’ best player and they just decided to not give him the ball. Not to mention they have two very good wide receivers to throw to in Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett. Just stupid.
The Seahawks rank third in rushing attempts per game this season so they clearly still want to run the ball. They most recently had 30 rushing attempts to 40 passing attempts despite trailing against the San Francisco 49ers for nearly the entire game. And this despite missing their top two running backs in Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny.
Seahawks rookie running back Travis Homer appears to have some juice; he has 6.3 yards per carry on 18 carries thus far. 33-year-old Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, only averaged 2.8 yards per carry in his first game played since October 2018.
Running the ball against the Eagles is a gift to Schwartz. His defense is much more equipped to stop the run (4th in DVOA, 11th in opponent yards per rush attempt) than the pass (16th in DVOA, 16th in opponent yards per pass attempt).
An over-reliance on running the ball might not be the only form of self-sabotage in this game. The Eagles could also benefit from Pete Carroll coaching conservatively when it comes to fourth downs:
Final 4th down aggressiveness in 2019 pic.twitter.com/TIUw1NVboj— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) January 2, 2020
Another coaching aspect to consider:
3 - Carson Wentz’s first playoff game
Wentz seems genuinely excited to be playing in the playoffs for the first time, as he should be. Much better than finishing the last two years injured while the rest of the team plays in the postseason.
History could be working against Wentz in this spot. As my BGN Radio co-host Jimmy Kempski pointed out, there are 32 active NFL quarterbacks with at least one playoff start and they are 10-22 in their first game.
I hardly think this stat dooms Wentz, though. There is context to be considered.
First of all, it’s not like Wentz hasn’t previously faced pressure situations. He played in big games at North Dakota State and he most recently led the Eagles to victories in four straight must-win matchups.
Wentz, playing in his fourth NFL season, is also more experienced than some of those other first-time playoff game quarterbacks. There’s also plenty of playoff experience elsewhere on the roster.
Still, Sunday should be a challenge for No. 11. His last outing against the Seahawks was arguably his worst performance of the season. He can’t be turning the ball over four times like he did in that game.
Wentz was able to elevate a supporting cast of practice squad talent to make it to the playoffs. He was aided by facing some pretty bad teams in Washington and New York. The Seahawks obviously provide a stiffer challenge.
4 - Dallas Goedert dominance?
The guess here is that Zach Ertz won’t be suiting up. Even if he does, I can’t imagine how he’d play a huge role.
And so it’s up to Goedert to really show up big in this game. The Seahawks finished the 2019 season allowing the second most yards to opposing tight ends. Seattle specifically allowed Ertz and Goedert to combine for 19 receptions, 123 yards, and one touchdown in Week 12.
Wentz’s wide receivers for this game are going to be Greg Ward, Robert Davis, Deontay Burnett, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Shelton Gibson. Anything you can get out of them is great. Anything the Eagles get from them is great but the coaching staff can’t realistically ask that unit to carry the team to a win. They should be able to rely on Goedert being the difference-maker the team drafted him to be.
5 - Run the ball, Doug!
The Eagles don’t want to venture into Seahawks territory when they’re running the ball to a fault. But this is a week where the rushing attack should be a factor. The Seahawks rank 26th in run defense and 28th in opponent yards per rush attempt.
Doug Pederson should continue to feed Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. If Sanders is limited by his ankle injury, it’s time to incorporate Jordan Howard into the mix as well.
The Eagles only had 18 running back carries (and Jay Ajayi had six of them!) to 45 passing attempts in Week 12. They shouldn’t be taking the ball out of Wentz’s hands too much if he’s balling ... but there’s a better balance to be struck.
6 - The Eagles’ offensive line situation
It’s unclear if Lane Johnson will be able to play against the Seahawks.
"Lane Johnson cannot put a lot of pressure on that ankle, this ankle injury is worse than the one last year. As I see it right now, and from what I've been told, I would be shocked to see him on the field Sunday. But if anyone can prove me wrong, it is Lane." - @RealDGunnNBCS— 975TheFanatic (@975TheFanatic) January 2, 2020
If he doesn’t suit up, the Eagles will be starting Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle and Matt Pryor at right guard.
That combo is obviously a downgrade from Johnson and Brandon Brooks. But at least both players will be entering the game with a full week of reps. Andre Dillard took all the first team right tackle reps the last time the Eagles played the Seahawks. He was a disaster and got benched for Vaitai at halftime. Pryor, meanwhile, had to fill in on short notice when Brooks left the game early due to anxiety.
The Seahawks rank 29th in sacks per game, 30th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, and 30th in PFF’s pass rush grade this season. The Eagles should be able to adequately protect Wentz in this game.
7 - DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett against the Eagles’ banged up secondary
Metcalf and Lockett only combined for four receptions and 73 yards in Week 12 but, as previously noted, they could’ve had more production. Metcalf dropped one touchdown pass in addition to two other potential big gains.
The Eagles’ defense is obviously most vulnerable at cornerback. It looks like it’ll be Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox starting on the outside this week, though we don’t know that for sure. Both players were listed as limited participants on the Wednesday injury report. Even if they do play, their effectiveness could be hampered. Re-injury means Rasul Douglas and/or Sidney Jones — who also showed up on the injury report — could be forced into action.
The Seahawks would be wise to limit their rushing attempts and instead chuck it down the field as often as they can.
8 - Can the defensive line keep the pressure up?
The Eagles’ pass rush is coming off a strong game where they were able to sack Daniel Jones four times and hit him 11 times. The Eagles need to turn up the heat against Wilson like they were previously able to do back in Week 12.
Wilson (31st out of 39 quarterbacks) holds on the ball on average even longer than Jones does (30th out of 39). Wilson is also much more elusive than Jones but the point stands: the Eagles will have opporutnities to get to the quarterback.
The Seahawks’ offensive line ranks 30th by PFF’s pass blocking grading. The unit is even worse off with starting left tackle Duane Brown expected to miss this game. Starting fill in center Joey Hunt is banged up and should be overmatched by Fletcher Cox, who gave him a lot of trouble last time. The Eagles’ defensive line needs to wreak havoc in this matchup.
9 - Home sweet home
Eagles fans clearly contribute to a significant home field advantage:
Best Home Winning Percentage (@NFL Teams Since 2016 - Including Playoffs)— Eagles Communications (@EaglesComms) January 2, 2020
.838 (31-6) - New England
.735 (25-9) - @Eagles
.727 (24-9) - Baltimore
.727 (24-9) - Minnesota
.714 (25-10) - New Orleans#FlyEaglesFly
On the flip side, the Seahawks have been road warriors this season. They’re 7-1 in eight road games with the one loss coming to the Los Angele Rams. Here are their seven wins: Pittburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Eagles, Carolina Panthers.
The Eagles have never lost a home playoff game in the Pederson era (2-0). The Seahawks will put forth a strong effort to ruin that winning streak.