Behind Enemy Lines: Analyzing Seahawks Wild Card Rematch with Eagle Maven
With both teams looking to keep their seasons alive for another week and advance to the divisional round, the Seahawks will travel to Philadelphia to face the NFC East-winning Eagles in a marquee wild card rematch at Lincoln Financial Field.
As both teams prepare for a marquee rematch, I teamed up with Ed Kracz of Eagle Maven to break down some of the biggest questions for each team, including how the Seahawks will respond to a tough regular season-ending loss against a red-hot Eagles squad that enters postseason play on a four-game winning streak.
Corbin Smith (CS): The Eagles are soaring after winning four straight games, particularly on the offensive side of the football, but those victories all came against NFC East opponents. Which players have stepped up to allow Philadelphia's offense to find traction as of late, how has Doug Pederson made life easier for Carson Wentz, and do you see this success translating to the playoffs against better teams?
Ed Kracz (EK): It's not so much who the Eagles beat during their four-game winning streak, though I would contend that it is difficult to win four straight games within a division where teams know each other so well. It is who the Eagles did it with. They have 16 undrafted players on the roster, which is one more than they have first and second round picks combined.
I would challenge any Seahawks fans to name the Eagles’ four receivers and I’ll spot them Greg Ward. Did anyone hear of Boston Scott until the running back was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week earlier in this week? Ward and Scott are two offensive players who have helped this team find its traction, but quarterback Carson Wentz makes it all go.
Since throwing two interceptions in the earlier loss to Seattle, Wentz has thrown only one in his last five games and that was Hail Mary shot at the end of a loss in Miami. Wentz has done a good job trusting and believing in his new skill players to make plays and that trust and belief between him and his crop of receivers has grown each week.
Pederson has helped make life easier, too, by simplifying the game plan and letting the new receivers play fast and not have to think too much about a complex play call. It’s an interesting dynamic considering Pederson did the same thing when Nick Foles had to take over late for an injured Wentz and that led to a Super Bowl in 2017 and a wildcard win over the Bears last year.
Do you think the disappointment of losing last week’s game by literally an inch will faze the Seahawks negatively, in that they know they were that close to having the weekend off and playing at home next week, or positively, in that they will be angry and refocused. Or will it not have any effect at all?
CS: Based on responses from players and coaches even moments after Sunday's challenging loss to the 49ers, this team isn't going to be derailed by the fact they were centimeters away from an NFC West title when tight end Jacob Hollister was stopped at the goal line. They gave a valiant effort nearly erasing a 13-point halftime deficit and can build off of what they did in the second half scoring three consecutive touchdowns on offense.
Sure, the Seahawks would've been playing a home game instead of traveling to Philadelphia, but the first round bye opportunity evaporated when the Packers came back and beat the Lions. They would have been playing this weekend regardless.
If Russell Wilson and the offense continued to struggle in the second half, I believe there'd be a lot more concern and doubt in that locker room heading into postseason play. But as it stands, coach Pete Carroll looks to have his team ready to bounce back. Wilson, Bobby Wagner, and K.J. Wright provide the veteran leadership necessary to ensure the Seahawks will show up ready to play for wild card weekend and undeterred by the fact they've lost three of their past four games.
Aside from injuries to a bunch of receivers, the Eagles have been stricken by the injury bug across the offensive line. Guard Brandon Brooks is now done for the season, while tackle Lane Johnson will likely be a game-time decision as he continues to struggle through an ankle injury. The Seahawks haven't had much success rushing the passer this year, but they were able to get to Wentz early and often in the first matchup between these teams. How do you expect Philadelphia to prevent that from happening again? And how big of a deal would it be if Johnson can't go?
EK: Lane Johnson missed the last game with a concussion, and I think he’ll miss one as well with a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of the three previous games. In his place in the last meeting was rookie left tackle Andre Dillard, who had never played right tackle in his life. It was a disaster, and Dillard was benched at halftime.
In the previous meeting, Brandon Brooks’ anxiety flared up after just 12 snaps, so that required super-sub Halapoulivaati Vaitai to step in at right guard. But when the Eagles benched Dillard, they moved Vaitai to right tackle and inserted never-before used Matt Pryor at right guard. Pryor, a sixth-round draft pick in 2018, held up well and stabilized the line in the second half.
Vaitai is better when he’s had time to prepare rather than going in cold to take over for an injured player, and Vaitai has started the previous three games in place of Johnson. He was the starting left tackle for most of the season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl two years ago in place of Jason Peters.
Pryor filled in for Brooks when he went down at the end of the first half in last week’s game, but his inexperience could make him a liability. He played well enough having to play the entire second half last week in the Eagles’ NFC East-clinching win at New York, but the stakes are even higher this week.
That the Eagles allowed three sacks in the first meeting, when the Seahawks did not have Jadeveon Clowney, is a big concern for them in this game.
Why do you think the Seahawks have been more successful on the road this season, with a 7-1 record, than at home, where they used to enjoy the ultimate home field advantage but finished just 4-4 at CenturyLink Field this year?
CS: I've done a ton of contemplating on the second part of that question. I'm not sure what's necessarily changed that has suddenly made the Seahawks so vulnerable at home, but this isn't a one-year phenomenon either. Back in 2017, the Seahawks lost several games at CenturyLink before eventually missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, including a devastating loss to the lowly Redskins. For whatever reason, Seattle has dealt with fluky plays on their own home turf this year and they've spotted opponents a bunch of points with offensive turnovers and poor special teams play.
During a Week 3 loss to New Orleans, they allowed a long punt return for a touchdown and safety Vonn Bell returned a Chris Carson fumble nearly 50 yards for a touchdown. In a Week 7 loss to Baltimore, Wilson telegraphed an uncharacteristically horrible interception to cornerback Marcus Peters, a player he has normally exploited in coverage. That pass was taken back for six points and proved to be the difference in the loss. In Week 15, Arizona rushed for 253 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown by Kenyan Drake littered with horrible pursuit angles across the defense. They simply haven't played near as well in front of the 12s, while they seem to be in their element traveling elsewhere.
I don't know if it's the fact players get to fly first class coming back after a road win or the fact fans travel so well to road games, but there's something specific that has this team clicking away from their friendly confines.
The Seahawks rushed for over 170 yards against the Eagles in Week 12, but most of that yardage came on a trio of explosive runs by Rashaad Penny, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Chris Carson has also been lost for the season. In their place, the Seahawks brought back Marshawn Lynch and elevated sixth-round pick Travis Homer into the starting lineup.
Given that situation, Seattle will likely have to air it out more with Russell Wilson to win this game. The Eagles defense has improved quite a bit the past four weeks, but again, they haven't played elite quarterbacks. How do you see the secondary holding up against Wilson and his duo of star receivers in Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf?
EK: Lockett and Metcalf were non-factors in the last meeting with Lockett making only one catch and Metcalf just three, but there were some plays each player left on the field that could have led to greater damage. The Eagles, though, have won games giving up 100-plus yards to receivers this season – Green Bay’s Devante Adams put up 180, New York’s Darius Slayton had 154, and Washington’s Terry McLaurin had 125 against them. But all those yards came in losses, so if Lockett or Metcalf go nuts, it’s still not out of the question the Eagles win.
Most of Lockett’s yards this year have come from the slot, if I’m not mistaken, and I like the matchup with a physical cornerback in Cre’Von LeBlanc on him, should the Eagles go in that direction. LeBlanc was still on injured reserve when the two teams met last time, and in his first extended snaps since returning, he made eight tackles and two key pass break ups last week.
Metcalf, who dropped a touchdown pass in the last meeting, is a concern with his speed. Avonte Maddox is the Eagles fastest cornerback, though undersized. It’s not a good matchup for the Eagles, but Maddox, I think, gives them their best shot. I'm unsure, though, how defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will play his corners, with the exception of Jalen Mills lining up on one side. Mills missed last week with an ankle injury, but he should be good to play on Sunday.
Still, the secondary is prone to give up big plays in the pass game. It was something they didn’t do against the Cowboys, however, and Dallas came in with the NFL’s top-ranked offense and a quarterback in Dak Prescott who had the best season of his career. The Eagles held the Cowboys out of the end zone, making them settle for just three field goals.
Also, the defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz plays much better at home. They have allowed just 16.7 points per game at Lincoln Financial Field. Since 2016, no team has allowed fewer points at home than the Eagles have at 16.1 per game.
To me, this game will come down to who executes best in the red zone (Eagles have NFL’s fourth-best efficiency in that area to Seattle’s 16th) and on third down (Eagles are fourth-best in the league, Seattle ninth) and who takes better care of the ball (Seattle is excellent at taking away the ball, doing it 32 times, which is third-most in league).
Since beating the Eagles in Week 12, the Seahawks have gone just 2-3. Why do you think they have tailed off over the final five games?
CS: Three major things stand out from this recent skid. First off, injuries have wreaked havoc on the roster. The Eagles won't have any sympathy given their own roster attrition, but the Seahawks lost three running backs, a starting linebacker, and an All-Pro left tackle in a matter of weeks. They have 18 players on injured reserve at the moment and Mychal Kendricks tore his ACL, which could mean a 19th IR designation by game day.
Add in the fact Quandre Diggs has been battling a high ankle sprain and Jadeveon Clowney isn't close to 100 percent dealing with a core injury and this team has been depleted on both sides of the ball. Luckily, both of those players look ready to go for this playoff contest and should provide a jolt for Seattle's defense.
Secondly, Wilson hasn't been quite as sharp playing behind a battered offensive line. He's been under constant duress and all the running back injuries have made life more difficult. The Seahawks scored just one offensive touchdown against the Cardinals, who ranked among the league's worst defenses in nearly every category. Then, they were shut out in the first half against the 49ers.
Most importantly, the defense hasn't been near as effective without Diggs and Clowney available. Diggs has been the biggest loss, as Seattle didn't generate a turnover the past two games without him. In the previous five starts with Diggs in the lineup, they generated 16 turnovers, including five against Philadelphia in Week 12. Getting Diggs back for this rematch will be crucial to helping the defense rediscover its groove.