Winning on the road in the NFL isn’t easy, and it’s been especially tough for this 2016 Eagles team.
Things started on the right foot with a commanding 29-14 win over Chicago, but since then the Eagles have dropped four straight on the road. It just so happens that this week’s task will take place in perhaps the most difficult place to play in the NFL, CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
But if we’ve learned anything about this Eagles team it’s this: Whenever the challenge has been greatest, the Eagles have stepped up the most. Home matchups with Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Atlanta all looked extremely daunting to the outside eye.
The Eagles won those three games by a combined 51 points.
So why not keep that trend going on Sunday afternoon in Seattle? The Seahawks are coming off of a hard-fought road win in New England and they sit atop the NFC West at 6-2-1. They’re a perfect 4-0 at home this season. In fact, since 2012 the Seahawks have gone 31-5 in Seattle. The crowd noise will most certainly be a factor for Carson Wentz and the offense, while Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham will be a factor for the defense.
Fans have probably heard throughout the week that this game is a barometer for the Eagles, and it really is. The Seahawks have been the class of the NFC for the past four seasons, and they’re playing as well as any team in the NFL right now. So how do the Eagles step up? How will Carson Wentz handle the pressure of playing in the loudest environment in the NFL? And what if the Eagles can pull off a win?
Those questions will be answered on Sunday. Until then, here’s the preview ...
Last Time They Met
Seahawks 24, Eagles 14
December 7, 2014 – Lincoln Financial Field
The offensive struggles for Philadelphia were more than evident in the team’s most recent matchup with the Seahawks. On that Sunday afternoon almost two years ago at Lincoln Financial Field, the Seattle defense dominated and allowed the Eagles to net only 139 yards throughout the entirety of the game. The Birds also possessed the football for just 18:04, giving the Seahawks ample time to control the pace that December day.
At quarterback, Mark Sanchez started for Philadelphia in place of the injured Nick Foles, who at that point had already missed the previous four games with a broken collarbone. The backup quarterback finished the afternoon with a less-than-impressive stat line, going 10-of-20 for 96 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a passer rating of 76.2.
The passing game clearly wasn’t working, as the team’s leading receiver in tight end Zach Ertz only gained 39 yards. Problem was, the run game never got going either. Running back LeSean McCoy managed a mere 50 yards on 17 carries, while Darren Sproles netted no yards on his four rushes. As a whole, Sanchez and the Eagles’ offense picked up nine first downs during the 60 minutes of play, which was clearly the root of the issue that Sunday.
Because of the offense’s lack of production, the Eagles’ defense saw its time on the field skyrocket. It did its best to limit the points, holding the Seahawks to 24, but Philadelphia let Seattle finish the game with 440 net yards. Quarterback Russell Wilson had a solid game, throwing for 263 yards and another 48 on the ground, including a 26-yard rushing touchdown.
When all was said and done, the Eagles were defeated at home by Seattle after managing only two scores. The game also marked the start of a three-game losing streak for Philadelphia, as it dropped its next two matchups to Dallas and Washington to fall out of the playoff race.
- Julie Bacanskas
When The Eagles Have The Ball**
It's already bad enough that the crowd at CenturyLink Field has forced an average of 1.63 false start penalties per game since 2005, but the Seahawks boast the second-best scoring defense (17.6 points per game) in the league.
Quarterback Carson Wentz can't afford to throw two first-quarter interceptions like he did in the Eagles' last road contest, a loss to the New York Giants. In the three games that the Seahawks did not win this year, two losses and one tie, the opposing quarterback did not throw an interception. In fact, those three teams - the Rams, Saints and Cardinals - had a combined one turnover against Seattle.
The Eagles must find a way to replicate the success they had on the ground last week against Atlanta. Behind Ryan Mathews' 109-yard performance, the Eagles gained 208 rushing yards and held the ball for 38:10. Seattle ranks ninth in terms of rush defense, allowing an average of 96.8 yards per game, but Atlanta had a top-10 run defense as well.
In essence, the Eagles game planned for the same scheme last week, as Falcons head coach Dan Quinn used to be Seattle's defensive coordinator. The difference is Seattle has more talent and chemistry.
Up front, the Eagles welcome the return of starting left guard Allen Barbre, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are likely going to be without starting defensive end Michael Bennett, who recently underwent a knee scope. Frank Clark has filled in nicely in Bennett's absence with 7.5 sacks, and isn't even the team's leader in that category. Cliff Avril, the other starting defensive end, paces Seattle with nine sacks, good for a fifth-place tie in the league.
The linebackers work so well in this scheme because of the amount of ground that they can cover. In the middle, Bobby Wagner leads the NFL with 93 tackles and only needs seven more for his fifth-straight year with at least 100. Outside linebacker K.J. Wright has 77 tackles and three sacks.
The secondary has been the hallmark of this defense, earning the nickname the Legion of Boom. Cornerback Richard Sherman leads the Seahawks with three interceptions on the year. He has a league-high 29 picks and 90 passes defensed since 2011. Safety Earl Thomas has not missed a game in his NFL career. He, too, is a ballhawk with 23 interceptions in his career, but you can ask Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski about his ability to lay a hit. Safety Kam Chancellor is known to bring the wood as a box defender. He returned to the lineup against the Patriots after being out with a groin injury.
Seattle boasts tremendous talent on the defensive side of the ball, as it has been the top unit in preventing points in the NFL for four consecutive years. Add in the loud road of the fans from CenturyLink Field. If the Eagles get off to a slow start offensively, they've been outscored 42-6 in the first quarter of their losses this season, it could lead to long plane ride back to Philadelphia.
- Chris McPherson
When The Seahawks Have The Ball**
Fresh off a 31-24 victory over the Patriots in New England, it’s clear the Seahawks’ offense is rolling and will be yet another big test for the Eagles, especially with the way Russell Wilson has been playing this season. Through nine games, Seattle’s quarterback ranks eighth in the NFL with a 99.4 passer rating. In Week 10 alone, Wilson finished the game with a whopping 124.6 rating, as he looks fully healthy after dealing with a knee injury for most of the season. He’s coming into this showdown with Philadelphia operating at an extremely high level, which the Eagles’ defense must be prepared for as the two teams kick off at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
Nevertheless, for as well as Wilson has been performing in 2016, the quarterback has had a bit of an issue with sacks since his mobility has been limited. While he’s only taken 19 this season, the yardage lost has been extensive. On those sacks, the Seahawks have lost a total of 172 yards, which is tied for second most in the NFL with Cam Newton and the Panthers. The Eagles’ defense has been one of the top teams in terms of pressuring opposing quarterbacks this year. The group has 25 sacks, tied for sixth in the league. Brandon Graham has led the way thus far with five sacks, while Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox are tied for second on the team with four takedowns each.
Looking at the Seahawks’ offense as a whole, it’s obvious there’s an emphasis on the passing game. This season, Seattle ranks 11th in the league, averaging 264.2 yards in the air per game. Wilson’s main target has been Doug Baldwin, who is currently the leading receiver for the team with 629 yards and five touchdowns on 50 catches. Tight end Jimmy Graham has also been a reliable source though and has 593 yards and three touchdowns on the year.
Where the team has struggled is the run game. Picking up only 77.7 yards on the ground each outing, the Seahawks rank 30th among NFL teams in that category. The Eagles’ defense, on the other hand, is coming off one of its most dominant games against the run. The team limited Atlanta to just 48 rushing yards last weekend and will look to put up similar numbers in Week 11. However, the true test for the unit will be whether it can limit scoring while on the road. At home, the Eagles have held teams to an average of just 9.5 points a game, but when away from Lincoln Financial Field, the average points allowed has been 24.4. The Seahawks are scoring 21.4 points per game, but have put up 31 in each of their last two matchups. If the Eagles want to come away with their second road win of the 2016 season, they’ll have to play shutdown defense just as they do when on the field in Philadelphia.
- Julie Bacanskas
1. TE Zach Ertz vs. S Kam Chancellor - The Eagles' tight end has had strong production in back-to-back games with 14 catches for 152 yards in that span. He is still looking for his first touchdown of the season. Chancellor is the enforcer on the back end of this defense. He has 33 tackles on the season, but missed four games due to a groin injury. He returned for last Sunday night's game against New England.
2. DT Fletcher Cox vs. G Germain Ifedi - This is a matchup the Eagles need to win in a big way. Cox has four sacks on the season, but hasn't posted one since the October 9 loss in Detroit. He also has 14 quarterback hurries and six tackles for loss on the year. Ifedi was the Seahawks' first-round pick out of Texas A&M this year. A tackle in college, Ifedi missed the first three games of the season due to an ankle injury, but has started the last six contests at right guard.
3. T Jason Peters vs. DE Cliff Avril - The Eagles' All-Pro left tackle doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In the win over the Falcons, the 34-year-old Peters did not allow a single hit or hurry on quarterback Carson Wentz, according to Pro Football Focus. Avril will present quite a challenge. The NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October leads the Seahawks with nine sacks on the year. Avril's streak of five games with a sack ended last Sunday.
4. LB Jordan Hicks vs. RB C.J. Prosise – Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls is set to return from a leg injury, but the rookie out of the backfield should still have a big role in the offense. He's got good size at 6-1, 220 pounds. He can catch the ball, as he showed in New England with seven catches for 87 yards in his first-career start. Hicks is third on the team with 56 tackles, but also has two interceptions on the year. His cover ability will be key in defending Prosise.
- Chris McPherson
Trends To Watch
24: The Seahawks have allowed at least 24 points in four of their last five games. The Eagles have kept opponents under 24 points in six of their nine games played this season.
124.5: Seattle’s rushing defense has been stout, but there have been some running lanes for opposing teams as of late. In the Seahawks’ last four games, they’ve allowed an average of 124.5 rushing yards per game. That bodes well for an Eagles team coming off of a 208-yard performance on the ground against Atlanta.
6: Seattle has only turned the ball over six times this season, the best mark for any NFC team. But the Eagles have the second-best NFC mark in terms of takeaways with 16, trailing Minnesota by just two.
77.7: The Seahawks have struggled to run the ball this season, averaging just 77.7 yards per game on the ground, ranking 30th out of 32 NFL teams. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ rushing defense ranks 10th best in the NFL, allowing 110.6 yards per game on the ground.
- Alex Smith