Seahawks fans are rightfully feeling pretty giddy about the team after two dominating performances against two tough division rivals. This next game against the Eagles is hard to forecast. Philadelphia has clear strengths that they do not get enough for, and clear weaknesses the Seahawks could exploit. There is a reason that oddsmakers have the Eagles favored by just a single point.
Eagles defense is better than advertised
Strong pass rush
They have one of the most prolific pass rushes in football that features a variety of rushers from different parts of the field. Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham all have more sacks than any Seahawk. Fletcher Cox can rush up the middle of the defensive line and players like Mychal Kendricks and Casey Mathews have been effective blitzers.
These guys are essentially the second-best pass rushing team in the NFL. The closest Seattle has seen to pass rush this effective would be the Chiefs. Seattle surrendered just two sacks that game, but the Chiefs registered nine quarterback hits. The running game will be crucial to the Seahawks chances on offense.
The passing game is not without hope, though, because the Eagles secondary has some weak spots. Starting corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are just okay, as is safety Nate Allen. Counting on continued success from the Seahawks tight ends might be asking too much in this game given safety Malcolm Jenkins and Kendricks are strong in coverage. It will be important for Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and Ricardo Lockette step forward. Doug Baldwin won’t have his normal advantage in the slot with Brandon Boykin shadowing him.
Solid run defense
Cox leads a good run defense that ranks well both at ProFootballFocus.com
(#6) and FootballOutsiders.com
(#9). They hold teams to 3.9 yards per carry, good for 9th in the NFL. The Seahawks faced a great run defense versus Arizona and struggled to move the ball with Marshawn Lynch. San Francisco has not been the same run defense since they lost Ian Williams, so it is hard to know how much stock to put into their success in that game.
The Eagles are sure to sell out early against the run to try and setup their pass rush. That might open things up for play-action early in the game. And the Eagles defense is dead last in the NFL in opponent pass plays over 20 yards. Seattle needs to push the ball down the field.
No clear advantages for the Seahawks offense
Only one running back (Frank Gore) has managed 100+ yards against the Eagles all year. There are some signs that they struggle with mobile quarterbacks. They allowed 58 yards to Colin Kaepernick, 49 yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick and 32 yards to Aaron Rodgers. Seattle will need Russell Wilson to be a major factor passing and running to move the ball. The good news is the the Eagles manage to give up a lot of points despite what appears to be a very solid defense.
Only three teams have failed to score at least 20 points against Philadelphia this year.
Eagles offense may be overrated
Philadelphia boasts the sixth-ranked rushing offense and fifth-ranked passing offense in terms of yards. They are fourth in the NFL at 31.2 points per game. But there are some serious questions about how solid those numbers are.
Mark Sanchez is still Mark Sanchez
Sanchez is getting a lot of love while leading the Eagles to four wins in the five games he has played. But this is a guy who has thrown six interceptions and fumbled twice in those five games. Russell Wilson has five interceptions for the whole season. The best defense Sanchez has faced so far is ranked #18 in yards allowed. He should struggle to make consistently good decisions against a team like Seattle.
Highly dependent on big plays
The Eagles are second in the NFL in pass plays over 20 yards on offense. Seattle is best in the NFL in limiting long pass plays. Philadelphia will have trouble getting behind the Seahawks defense and will need to utilize their tight ends over the middle and Darren Sproles in the screen and swing pass game. The more plays it takes them to move the ball down the field, the greater the chances that Sanchez is going to make a critical error.
Offensive line is talented
Three of the top four rated players on the Eagles offense are lineman, according to ProFootballFocus.com
. Left tackle Jason Peters is the second-best tackle in the game and best pass blocker by their metrics, and right tackle Lane Johnson is ranked number twelve. By comparison, Russell Okung is #24, as the highest rated tackle on the Seahawks. Evan Mathis is a terrific guard. Seattle will have trouble getting pressure off the edge. This is a game where Michael Bennett could be the key to making Sanchez flinch with pressure up the middle.
Turnovers are likely to decide the game
The Eagles are dead last in the NFL in giving the ball away. They turn it over an average of 2.3 times each game. The only way they have been able to overcome this massive issue is that they are fifth-best in the league at creating turnovers.
One could argue that the Eagles pass rush could force bad decisions by Wilson, and that may be true, but Wilson has faced pressure all year and managed to protect the ball well. The evidence definitely suggests Wilson has a better chance to protect the ball than Sanchez.
Chip Kelly and this offense like to throw the ball down field and to their wide receivers. Seattle is at its best creating turnovers against teams with those tendencies.
Seattle almost definitely needs to win the turnover battle to win this game
There are not nearly enough individual matchup advantages in Seattle’s favor to think they will win on talent alone. This will be as tough of a challenge as the Seahawks have faced this season. Beating the Eagles would leave little hope for any of the remaining teams on the Seahawks schedule.