Eagles Seahawks Preview: Battle of the Birds

Can the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson escape the Philadelphia Eagles’ pass rush? Can Mark Sanchez lead Philly’s offense against a tough Seattle defense? Jake Vincent breaks down the big Eagles Seahawks NFC match-up this week where it’s strength against strength, weakness against weakness.


Both the Seattle Seahawks and the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off big road wins over division rivals on Thanksgiving, and are in the heart of their respective stretch runs. Following this game, the Seahawks face another battle with San Francisco, a road trip to NFC West-leading Arizona, and then a home date with the frisky Rams. The Eagles also have a re-match with Dallas at home before finishing on the road with the Washington Football Club and the New York Giants, a pair of struggling NFC East foes.

With playoff seeding (and berths) still on the line, this is an important game for each side. Seattle is fighting for the division but risks falling out of the playoffs entirely with a poor finish. An Eagles win here keeps them in a strong position for a first-round bye.

Delving into the performances of these two teams, one interesting theme comes through: Their respective strengths match up with one another, and so do their weaknesses.

Seattle Offense vs Philadelphia Defense

Seattle is a run-first offense, now more than ever after trading their most talented wide receiver in Percy Harvin. The Seahawks passing game ranks 29th with a meager 192 yards per game (YPG), partially due to low volume; they’re dead last in the NFL with just 28 throws per game. On a per-pass basis, Seattle is in the middle of the pack (13th) in yards per attempt (YPA). This is not good news for the Seahawks as pass coverage is the major weakness of this Eagles defense, one which Seattle will struggle to exploit.

Seattle is a different animal running the ball, helped by their mobile quarterback Russell Wilson and his league-leading 7.5 yards per carry. The Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing YPG, total yards, and YPA. Philadelphia is coming off an impressive game holding the league’s rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, under 100 yards ‒ only the second time he’s failed to hit the century mark this season.

The Eagles defense has steadily improved: Football Outsiders ranks them fifth, while PFF ranks them sixth overall and seventh against the run. Philadelphia’s disciplined pass rush excels, ranking second in the NFL in sacks and third overall as a unit by PFF. Meanwhile, Seattle’s pass protection is moving in the wrong direction, allowing Wilson to be sacked 16 times in the first seven games and 15 times in the last five.

Edge: Eagles

Philadelphia Offense vs Seattle Defense

The Eagles line is finally healthy, and improving. Of course, it’s easy to look “improving” when blocking for running back LeSean McCoy, who is coming off two back-to-back dominant showings. McCoy gained 130 yards against the Titans in Week 12 and 159 on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys, while ripping off his two longest runs of the season with scampers of 53 and 38 yards.

Seattle is an excellent rush defense ranking 4th in yards per attempt. Strength meets strength yet again, making it hard to be certain who has the advantage. The Eagles rank 5th in passing yards per game despite losing starter Nick Foles and handing the reins over to Mark Sanchez. But the Seahawks excel against air attacks, ranking 6th in YPA allowed. Sanchez is coming off his best performance as an Eagle, and perhaps ever, but remains a question mark due to his addiction to turning over the football.

Where Seattle has taken a step back this year is in rushing the quarterback; they rank 27th with only 20 sacks in their 12 games compared to 44 all of last year. The Eagles have two major issues on the offensive side: turnovers and the red zone. Philadelphia ranks at the bottom with 28 total giveaways and 29th in red zone TD percentage. Again this offensive flaw matches up with an unexpected weakness for the Seahawks, who rank last with 5.57 points allowed per opposition red zone trip.

Edge: Seattle

Special Teams

The Eagles have an excellent special teams unit, ranking number one in Football Outsiders’ rankings. Philadelphia is particularly dangerous on returns, leading the league in average kickoff return and placing second in punt return average.

By the same measure, Seattle ranks 20th but has shown they do quite well when the opponent can’t count. The Seahawks employ an above-average kicker, Steven Hauschka, but Eagles rookie Cody Parkey has matched him this year-to-date. Both have made 27 field goals this season, with Hauschka attempting and missing one more.

Edge: Eagles

Conclusion

The two teams match up remarkably well; strengths of one team tend to square up against strengths of the other, but the same is true for weaknesses too. This symmetry will make coaching vital and, what’s more, it’s two old Pac-12 coaches meeting in the big leagues. Both teams should be well rested after playing on Thanksgiving and having ten days to prepare.

The Eagles’ defense matches up very well with Seattle’s offense, and that is potentially a problem for a low scoring team like the Seahawks. Seattle, whose 9 giveaways rank 2nd-fewest in the NFL, must continue to be careful with the ball and maximize their opportunities. Meanwhile the Seahawks defense is still very good, even if not as great as in 2013, but the same holds true of Philadelphia’s offense to some extent (a good unit, yet regressed from last year’s version). The clearest difference between the two franchises is on special teams where the Eagles have a decided edge. On top of this, the Eagles have been excellent – undefeated even – at home. The Eagles need to avoid turnovers and, if they do, should win; should they struggle in that area and in the red zone, Seattle will prevail.

The Call: Eagles, 30-23

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Inside The Pylon covers the NFL and college football, reviewing the film, breaking downmatchups, and looking at the issues, on and off the field.

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