The Eagles are in for a really tough test when they go to Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks are the best team in the NFC over the last five years, winning one Super Bowl and almost winning another. They have a dynamic quarterback in Russell Wilson and a dominant defense led by the best secondary in the NFL. This is a huge challenge. The Eagles are about to find out how they stack up against one of the league's elite teams.
Seattle is 6-2-1, but it's been a strange season. The Seahawks have struggled at times - on offense and defense. Unfortunately, they have won two games in a row and they look to be rounding into form. The 2016 version of the Seahawks is a bit different as compared to recent teams.
Running back Marshawn Lynch was the foundation of the offense in the past. He retired and the run game is now ranked 30th in the NFL. As crazy as it sounds, Seattle has become a passing team. Wilson has picked up the slack and is playing at a very high level. In the past two games, Wilson has thrown for a total of 630 yards and five touchdowns. The team scored 31 points in each of those games.
The Eagles had to play the league's top offense (Atlanta) last week. Now, they get to face the team that has the hottest quarterback and another high-flying offense. Yikes. The NFL is trying to make sure that Jim Schwartz and his players earn their money.
Going to Seattle, trying to contain Wilson and dealing with that defense may seem like a daunting task, but the Eagles have one significant advantage. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and the defensive line are better than Seattle's young offensive line. The Eagles must win the battle up front if they are going to win this game.
As the Eagles prepare for an extremely tough and loud road test in Seattle, get to know some of the key Seahawks that they must contain.
The presence of Wilson complicates things. He hasn't run as much this year, but Wilson is healthier now than he's been all year. You can't count on him to just sit in the pocket. If you rush four, there will be room for Wilson to leak out and get into space. That is where Wilson can be deadly.
When the Eagles faced Dallas' Dak Prescott, also a mobile quarterback, they blitzed and tried to force him to stay in the pocket. That worked pretty well, but you have to remember that Prescott is a rookie. Wilson is a savvy veteran. He can beat you from the pocket as well as on the move. It will be interesting to see how Schwartz wants to attack him. There is no easy solution.
While the run game has struggled this year, Wilson does have some weapons. Receiver Doug Baldwin is playing as well as any wideout in the league. Tight end Jimmy Graham is a freakish athlete with dynamic pass-catching skills. Rookie C.J. Prosise can run the ball or line up out wide. He is coming off his best game of the year and will challenge Schwartz and the Eagles' defense to come up with a solution for how to handle him.
Seattle loves to use bunch sets and rub routes to help get its guys open. It will be critical for the linebackers and defensive backs to communicate well so they know who is covering who and when they need to switch off assignments rather than get lost in traffic.
The Eagles were able to shut down the Steelers' and Falcons' offenses. Bennie Logan played well in both games. He returned to the lineup last week and immediately made his presence felt. Logan makes the starting defensive line that much better and allows the backups to stay fresh. The best way to pressure any quarterback is up the middle and Logan helps the Eagles do that.
Another player who starred in those defensive performances is Malcolm Jenkins. This feels like another game where he will need to come up big. Jenkins can help cover slot receivers, Graham and even Prosise when he goes out wide. Jenkins will help against the run and can help double Baldwin on some looks.
On offense, quarterback Carson Wentz will be facing his toughest opponent of the season. Wentz did lead the Eagles to a win over the Vikings and their highly rated defense, but that was at home. Going up against the Seahawks' defense in Seattle is even harder. The noise generated by the fans gives their pass rushers a real advantage. It also makes it hard for offenses to adjust at the line of scrimmage, something the Eagles love to do.
Seattle was the number one scoring defense in the league each of the past four seasons. This year they have slipped all the way down … to second (the Vikings are first). Wentz and the Eagles did catch somewhat of a break, though. They just played the Falcons, who are coached by a former Seattle assistant in Dan Quinn. Atlanta runs basically the same system as Seattle. Seahawks defenders are much better, but Wentz will have an idea what he is going up against.
This is another game where the Eagles need to run the ball. Last week, they ran for 208 yards. Seattle has given up 123 or more rushing yards in four games this year. It can be vulnerable against the run. The Eagles' offensive line was dominant last week. I doubt we'll see that again on Sunday, but they need to win their share of battles and keep the chains moving. Jason Peters was dominant. Jason Kelce might have played his best game of the year. Brandon Brooks and Halapoulivaati Vaitai had some very impressive double teams. They drove defenders several yards downfield. Seattle is better up front than Atlanta, but the Eagles' offensive line is underrated.
Wentz will need to get the ball to his backs and tight ends. Play-action passes work well against Seattle. I think corner routes can also work well. Ronald Darby does a good job of getting open on the corner route.
The offense must limit mistakes. You cannot turn the ball over and commit penalties and expect to go to Seattle and win. The Eagles don't have to be perfect, but beating the Seahawks is tough enough. Don't fight yourself while also battling them.
This feels like a game where the Eagles' best players need to shine. Cox hasn't had a monster game in a while. It would be great to see him consistently collapse the pocket and get in the face of Wilson. Teams could really focus on Cox with Logan out, but the Eagles are now back to being healthy up front.
Graham needs to make plays. Tight end Zach Ertz has come alive the last two weeks, but he can be even better. Of course, his hamstring injury will be something to watch. Ryan Mathews needs to build on what he did last week. Matthews had a drop last week that likely cost the Eagles a field goal. He needs to make that catch this week, but like Ertz is questionable with a back injury.
The Eagles have proven they can beat anyone at home. They have shown they can play pretty well in road games. Now, they need to show they can break through and beat a good team on the road. This is a huge opportunity for Eagles to show they are getting better and have learned from tough losses earlier in the season. This is a winnable game.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.