Key Match-ups in Eagles/Seahawks

Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3

The Philadelphia Eagles are 6.5 point underdogs against the Seattle Seahawks, who are 6-2-1 on the year. The Seahawks have a decided advantage at home thanks in part to the SEC-like atmosphere created by their raucous fans. In their last 40 home games, they’ve gone 35-5. And oh, Russell Wilson is finally healthy again and has been lighting defenses up over the last two weeks. In other words, all signs point to an Eagles loss.

BUT, not all hope is lost. The Eagles have risen to the occasion more often than not this year, have yet to look like they don’t belong to with the big boys, and have a chance to surprise people with an upset. If they are going to pull it off, here are three key matchups in the game that will likely have to break in their favor.

Jordan Matthews against Jeremy Lane

While Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor continue to play at a high level, the Seahawks secondary is vulnerable against slot receivers. Over the last four weeks, journeyman cornerback Jeremy Lane has struggled against Julian Edelman (7, 99), Robert Woods (10, 162), Willie Snead (6, 56) and Larry Fitzgerald (9, 70) out of the slot.

This bodes well for Jordan Matthews, who has quietly become Carson Wentz’s security blanket over the last three weeks. He’s been targeted a combined 35 times over that span, catching 23 passes, for 226 yards and 1 td. Yes, J Matt still has momentary lapses of foolishness — like his key drop before the first half last week that arguably robbed the Birds of 3 points. But he’s otherwise has played very well and is on his way towards another 1,000 yard season. Expect a heavy dose of passes over the middle to Matthews in order to keep the pressure off Wentz and the offense moving down the field.

Eagles Running Game v. the Seahawks 2nd ranked run defense 

The Seahawks have the 2nd ranked run defense according to Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, and have limited teams to 871 rushing yards on the season, 7th best in the NFL.  But with Michael Bennett out, teams have been able to achieve some level of success running the football against the Seahawks. The Saints went 35 for 135 and 1 touchdown, the Bills went 38 for 162 and 2 tds, while the Patriots went 28 for 81 yards and 3 tds. None of those rushing attacks were highly efficient, but they used the running game to sustain drives and avoid the twin strengths of this Seahawks defense: its secondary and pass rush.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Eagles actually rank 11th in the NFL in total rushing yards, gaining 1070 yards on 251 carries (4.3 ypc). Did anyone actually suspect that? I sure as hell didn’t. Frustrating fantasy owners everywhere, it is a true running back by committee, with no running back gaining over 400 yards on the year: Ryan Mathews has 396 yards, Darren Sproles has 304, and Wendell Smallwood has gained 205.

As we saw last week, the Eagles offense is most efficient when Ryan Mathews and the run game enjoy success.  Part of that success is due to the offensive line steadily improving since Lane Johnson’s suspension. It goes without say that the Eagles will need that improved play to continue. Their outside receivers have a snow ball’s chance in hell against the Legion of Boom, so the Eagles will need their running game to be at least somewhat productive if the offense is going to have any level of success.

The Eagles dominant defensive lines verse the Seahawks offensive line

There is one consistent theme throughout the Eagles five victories this season: their defensive line has controlled the line of scrimmage. They have an opportunity to replicate that success this week against a Seahawks offensive line that has struggled for most of the season.

According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks offensive line ranks 24th in run blocking and 19th in pass blocking on the year. Comparatively, the Eagles defensive line ranks 4th against the run and 2nd against the pass according to those same metrics.

But, don’t assume this will be a repeat of the Minnesota Vikings game. The Seahawks have a young offensive line that has improved over the last couple of weeks, aided by the return of second year guard Germain Ifedi and the rapidly improved play of rookie left tackle George Fant.

The Seahawks are also helped by Russell Wilson, who is as adept at avoiding pressure as any quarterback in the league, finally overcoming the ankle and knee injuries that plagued him earlier in the year. Over the last two weeks, Wilson has completed 71.4% of his passes for 630 yards, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a QB rating of 130.8.

A player to keep an eye on is Brandon Graham, who is one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the league. Graham has spent his entire career playing under the cloud of not being Earl Thomas. It says here that Graham has had this game circled on his calendar all year and will be looking to make a statement to silence his detractors (if there are any left).

Bottom line: if the Eagles are able to consistently get pressure on Wilson, the Eagles have a legitimate chance to pull off the upset. But if the Seahawks keep the Eagles defensive lineman at bay, it could be a long day for the Birds.

Bonus point: I alluded to this earlier, but the significance of the Seahawks losing Michael Bennett for another game cannot be understated. With apologies to Brandon Graham, Bennett is arguably the best 4-3 defensive end in football. His versatility — he is lined up all over the Seahawks defensive line, is a nightmare rushing the passer but is equally effective against the run — is unmatched. While the Seahawks defense has still been effective since he has been injured, they have not been nearly as dominant. In addition to the aforementioned success that opposing teams have enjoyed running the football, teams have also found it easier to come by points in his absence. Consider this: before Bennett’s injury, the Seahawks gave up an average of 17 points per game. But since his injury? That number has risen a full touchdown to 24.6 points per game. The Eagles offense isn’t going to set the world on fire, but they shouldn’t be completely shut down either.

Prediction: There is significant concern that the Eagles are getting the Seahawks at the worst possible time, right as Wilson gets healthy, their offensive line’s play has improved, and they have finally found Marshawn Lynch’s replacement in rookie RB C.J. Prosise. Add in the Eagles traveling cross country to face the Seahawks on their home turf, and it’s easy to see why the Seahawks are favored by everyone and their mother. But screw it. Why not. I’m taking a flyer on the Birds. I have a good feeling about this game, especially given the Birds potential advantage in the trenches. Give me the Eagles 24-21.

 

 

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