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Game Preview: Seahawks vs. Eagles

How can the Eagles beat the Seahawks and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs? Check out all of the key storylines ahead of Sunday's kickoff.

1. The latest on the injury front

On the Eagles' official injury report Friday, the team ruled out wide receiver Nelson Agholor with a knee injury. Two players – tight end Zach Ertz (ribs, back) and tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) – were questionable. Multiple reports on Saturday have indicated that Ertz was cleared to play, while Johnson will be sidelined again.

Ertz provides quarterback Carson Wentz with his security blanket and most productive pass catcher, with 88 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns. Johnson's absence would mean that Halapoulivaati Vaitai starts again at right tackle and Matt Pryor will make his first career NFL start at right guard. The Eagles are already without Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Week 17 win over the Giants.

2. Matt Pryor preps for first career start

With Johnson questionable and Brooks out, second-yard guard/tackle Matt Pryor is in line to start at right guard next to his former college teammate in Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

"I prepare like I'm going to be the starter. If my name is called, my name is called," Pryor said.

Pryor played 35 snaps last week in the win over the Giants, coming in after Brooks' injury.

"It was good. Everybody wants to play. It's really just being ready when your name is called," Pryor said. "Just get in there and do the best that you can."

Pryor's only other extensive action on offense this year? The Week 12 matchup against Seattle. Johnson was out due to a concussion and Brooks left the game early with an anxiety-related illness. Pryor played 43 snaps and helped stabilize the offense after a rocky first half.

Pryor started 23 games at guard at TCU. The 6-7, 332-pound Pryor has been cited by offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland for his amazing hand grip. At 11 1/2 inches, Pryor's hands were bigger than all of the offensive linemen at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

3. Ertz or no Ertz, Goedert a 'critical piece' of passing attack

Very quietly, Dallas Goedert was second on the team with 58 receptions for 607 yards and five touchdowns, all to positionmate Zach Ertz.

The team's top draft pick in 2018 improved his numbers all across the board from his rookie campaign. Even more impressive considering a calf injury from Training Camp limited him to just five receptions through the team's first five games of the season.

In the final month of the season, Goedert showcased the talent that made him a sought-after draft pick with 27 receptions for 318 yards and a touchdown. He had a career performance against the Cowboys in Week 16 with nine catches for 91 yards with Ertz limited due to injury. With Ertz out of the lineup against the Giants, Goedert had 65 yards and averaged 16.3 yards per reception.

"I feel like I played pretty well these last six games. I didn't really change anything, maybe just a little bit more subconscious about the way I'm carrying the ball in practice and stuff like that," said Goedert, who committed a fumble against the Seahawks in Week 12, one of the team's five giveaways. "Obviously, the ball is the biggest priority and I need to be better with that those turnovers are very costly. So that's probably the biggest thing.

Goedert is especially deadly in the screen game. And as Greg Cosell pointed out on this week's Eagles Game Plan, Goedert is good at keeping defenses guessing that he's going to go out for the screen until the last minute.

"He's become a critical piece of the passing game," Cosell said.

4. Ski mask season?

Safety Rodney McLeod spoke to reporters in the locker room on Thursday wearing a hoodie that read "Masks On." McLeod said it was merely a coincidence when asked if it was ski mask season, the defense's way of celebrating turnovers which began last season as the Eagles crashed the playoff party.

McLeod did note that they wanted to have the ski mask out for last week's game against the Giants, but cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc lost it. McLeod assured that there is a plan in place for Sunday's game.

McLeod was unable to take part in the on-field fun a year ago due to an early-season knee injury. He rebounded to play all but two defensive snaps this season. Fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins said that McLeod's only missed snaps were due to a bathroom break and a cleat that came off during a play.

McLeod posted 108 tackles (second highest of his career) to go along with two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a sack. Jenkins cites the versatility that the defense can have with McLeod patrolling the backfield.

"He's such a consistent player for us and again, he just gives us such a sense of calm on the field because he's such a good communicator," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He's certainly a valuable part of our team."

McLeod was a part of the playoff run last year as a mentor to the young players who were forced to step up behind the scenes. He cherishes the ability to be back on the field this time around.

"(The injury) put things in perspective for me, like always play the game hard and with a lot of passion and energy," McLeod said. "I wouldn't say a wake-up call. But yeah, it does just put that into perspective."

5. Jenkins delivers a powerful message

Wide receiver Robert Davis, one of the practice-squad-turned-key-gameday-contributors this season, was asked this week how the veterans are getting the young players ready for their first playoff game.

Davis said that team captain Malcolm Jenkins shared a message: "In these types of games, you don't rise to the occasion, you fall back on your training."

"You want to convince young players that it is no different," Jenkins said of his message. "I mean, because really, it isn't. The only thing that's different is the fanfare to the looming doom of your season and all those things, but the game is all the same."

Jenkins knows from firsthand experience. Although he played in and won the Super Bowl as a rookie with New Orleans in 2009, Jenkins said that it wasn't until his first playoff start against the Lions in 2011 when he admittedly tried to do too much.

"It comes down to who can execute the small things, you know, in big pressure situations," Jenkins said. "And oftentimes, the hype and hoopla make you lose sight of just the small things, your technique or details. We're just trying to convince them that it's no different than the last month than we've been in, and get them to focus more on the task at hand."

That's important because the Seahawks won 10 one-score games in 2019. Ten!

"You have to be confident at all times, regardless of what the circumstances are," Jenkins said. "They believe that they're in the game."

6. A two-play sequence that speaks volumes in team's turnaround

On the last play of the third quarter of the Eagles' Week 17 win over the Giants, quarterback Carson Wentz threw a 50/50 ball deep down the left side of the field for Robert Davis, who beat Giants defensive back Julian Love for the 39-yard reception.

The catch would have put the ball at the Giants' 24-yard line to start the fourth quarter with the game tied at 17-17.

However, a holding penalty negated the gain.

Davis said there was no panic on the sideline to start the fourth quarter.

Head coach Doug Pederson dialed up another deep pass on first-and-20. Wentz rolled to his right and found another practice-squad-turned-contributor Deontay Burnett for a 41-yard gain to the Giants' 32-yard line. Four plays later, the Eagles regained the lead on a 50-yard Jake Elliott field goal.

"We wanted to come out aggressive," Burnett said. "It was 17-17 at the time. You know this is a big game to get into the playoffs, so coach trusted in the players, he trusted in play that he called, and, as players, we get paid to execute, so that was a big-time play."

"I was excited because even though my play got wiped away, we got right back to the same spot and ultimately won the game," Davis said.

Both players praised Wentz for helping them make the transition from the practice squad in such a short amount of time.

"Not just with us knowing the plays and making sure that we know the plays, but just instilling confidence in us and always saying things like, 'I got faith in you guys and we're going to go out there we're going to play with what we have and I know that you guys are going to make plays for me,'" Davis said. "So for a guy who hasn't had a chance to play a lot in this league, hearing that from him and having those comments from him is really big on just instilling confidence and you know, letting me know that I can go out there and make plays for the team."

7. Real recognize real

Sunday's Wild Card showdown pits a pair of Super Bowl-winning head coaches against one another. Seattle's Pete Carroll has been impressed with what Doug Pederson and the Eagles' coaching staff did down the stretch to get the Eagles back into the playoffs.

"Some of the names are different, but the style of play and the way coach calls the offense and the defense and how they do their stuff doesn't look different," Carroll said. "They really rallied well. They played like a championship team down the stretch. To put together the four games to win it, with a big win over Dallas, it just shows their leadership from the coaches on down is really strong."

8. Can Seahawks maintain their philosophy?

Only two offenses attempted more rushes than the Seattle Seahawks in 2019 – the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.

Seattle averaged 30.1 carries per game this season with the likes of Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, and C.J. Prosise. And against the Eagles, the Seahawks gained 174 yards on the ground, second most against Philly all season long.

The problem is that all three of those aforementioned backs are injured and won't be in action for Sunday's Wild Card clash.

Rookie sixth-round pick Travis Homer (18 carries, 114 yards) and Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch (12 carries, 34 yards, one touchdown in Week 17) will be the primary backs.

Head coach Doug Pederson has done an outstanding job of adjusting to the new personnel on offense late in the year. Will Seattle do the same?

Fortunately for the Eagles, they've faced Saquon Barkley (twice), Adrian Peterson, and Ezekiel Elliott in the last four games, so they're battle-tested when it comes to physical backs like Lynch, who was lured out of retirement ahead of Seattle's regular-season finale. Jenkins lauded Lynch as one of the toughest backs to bring down of any he's faced in his career.

9. Boston moves on

Boston Scott was grateful for the support he received in winning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his three-touchdown performance against the Giants. But he wasted no time putting the accolade in his rear-view mirror.

"That week is over. We wanted to get into the playoffs and we're here now," Scott said. "I'm just doing my best to stay focused. That week is over. I appreciate the accolades. I appreciate the support. It means a lot to me, but we still have work to do."

Miles Sanders is good to go for Sunday's game after exiting the Giants game early with an ankle injury. Still, Scott has the playoff experience having helped the Eagles as a return specialist last season.

"I kind of understand the atmosphere, how everything is kind of heightened," Scott said. "Emotions are high. You really got to pay attention to detail more than ever. It's those little mistakes that make a difference in the game."

10. What a difference for Ward

The first matchup with the Seahawks was kind of the "breakout game" so to speak for wide receiver Greg Ward, who had six catches for 40 yards in his first extensive action on offense. He was on the field for two offensive snaps in the Week 3 game against Detroit before going back on the practice squad.

In the final six games of the season, Ward had 28 receptions for 254 yards and a touchdown – the game-winner against Washington in Week 15 that kept the team's playoff hopes alive.

Ward had six or more catches in three of the six games and he'll have a big role on Sunday. What's helped him is the chemistry that he's developed with Carson Wentz. Ward's better understanding of the offense and where to be has increased that trust.

"I think I'm more patient. I'm not trying to press too much," Ward said of the difference between the first Seattle game and now. "We talk all of the time about timing, how he wants certain routes to be run. We are on the same page."

11. Brandon Graham: A playoff captain

In the team meeting on Wednesday, head coach Doug Pederson announced that defensive end Brandon Graham would be a special captain for the playoffs. It's a testament to what the longest-tenured player on defense means to this football team.

"He's just a great leader. He's a great leader. In fact, he's going to be one of my captains this weekend just because of that. It just says a lot about who he is. He's a Philadelphia Eagle first and he's the player second. He leads more by example than anything else," Pederson said.

"And on top of that, he plays through injury, he plays hurt, and we get a lot of production out of him. To be able to play at a high level that he has throughout his – the last – since I've been here anyway – the last four seasons, he's another one that's pretty special to have on the team."

Graham has been optimistic about the potential for a turnaround, even in the darkest moments of the season. One of the biggest areas where Graham and other veterans helped was in mentoring the practice squad players before they were thrust into key roles.

"We already set the tone early on. We've been showing them how to practice and do things. We've been talking to them, communicating with them, making them feel comfortable even before this happened," Graham said. "At the end of the day, (we told them) your opportunity will come one day, just make sure you're ready."

And they were.

12. Fresh start pays off for Duke Riley

After the locker room cleared out on Thursday afternoon for meetings, linebacker Duke Riley raced down the hallway at the NovaCare Complex heading to the team's auditorium. He was shuffling through songs on his phone, as he's the DJ for the special teams meetings.

That's just a small part of the leadership he's shown since he was acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons at the end of September. With Kamu Grugier-Hill on Injured Reserve, the Eagles named Riley a special teams captain for the playoffs.

"I'm just honored that they would pick me to lead the guys," said Riley, who was informed in the team meeting on Wednesday. "I already took that role in the beginning, since I got here, just leading by example, don't everything right at practice. I'm doing everything tell me to do. It's an honor; it's bigger than me. And I'm, I'm just, I'm just blessed.

"I love being here. I love Philly. I love the fans. I love everything about it. I want to make this place home."

A third-round pick of the Falcons in 2017, Riley played in two playoff games as a rookie, with his season ending at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles.

He started 10 games and registered 57 tackles on defense in his second season, but was primarily on special teams duty before being dealt for safety Johnathan Cyprien and a late-round pick. He played one snap on defense in four games.

"I took it as a fresh start because I already knew what to expect. I knew how the NFL already worked. I knew how the league worked, so it was all in my favor," Riley said.

Riley finished third on the team with 10 special teams tackles.

13. Need a book recommendation for 2020?

Joshua Perkins had his two biggest games of the season against the New York Giants. After catching five passes for 37 yards in the overtime win on December 9, Perkins followed that up with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday's win.

Perkins was promoted the week after the Week 12 matchup with Seattle. A book that helped him as he patiently waited for his opportunity was The Gratitude Formula. Perkins was looking for something to read and noticed it was left in his house by his mother.

"I was really glad I read that one because it helped me a lot," he said. "Mindset-wise. Just waking up each morning being thankful for my opportunities. People are always in a worse situation than you."

Perkins was on Injured Reserve for last year's playoff run. His perseverance paid off. How Ertz impacts Perkins' role on Sunday remains to be seen, but he was clutch with Ertz sidelined against the Giants.

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