1. How will the Eagles offense do?
Jeff McLane: I don’t think anyone is under the delusion that the Eagles can waltz into CenturyLink Field and take it to the Seahawks defense like they did a week ago against the Falcons. Seattle’s scheme bears many similarities to the Falcons’ because of the Dan Quinn link. But I’m not sure how much that will help the Eagles. They ran a couple of Cover 3 beaters -- including a levels concept play that repeatedly freed Jordan Matthews over the middle -- that burned the Falcons. But the Seahawks have much better personnel, particularly in the secondary. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are as good as they come. Thomas has great range and can lay the wood if any receiver dare go across the middle. Chancellor may be tasked with covering tight end Zach Ertz. He’s athletic and physical. Cornerback Richard Sherman covers the left side of field. The best you can say about Nelson Agholor’s matchup with the all pro is that it’s so lopsided that it actually benefits the Eagles because it neutralizes one of their best pieces.
DeShawn Shead has been an upgrade over former Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell opposite Sherman. Slot corner Jeremy Lane is the weak link of the three. Matthews should get his share of looks. But Carson Wentz will need time. Doug Pederson and Frank Reich have done a good job of mixing quick, timing routes with the occasional longer-developing pass play to aid the rookie quarterback. The offensive line, led by the rejuvenated Jason Peters and the improving Halapoulivaati Vaitai, has held up in pass protection. But defensive end Cliff Avril, who often lines up on the left, will be a handful for Vaitai. The Seahawks will be without veteran end Michael Bennett, but Frank Clark has a done a decent job picking up some of the slack.
The Eagles will want to establish the run game, much as they did last week. That will be easier said than done against Seattle. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are about as good as run-stopping linebackers get in the NFL. The Seahawks have allowed just 3.46 yards per carry, which is second best in the league. Thomas and Chancellor factor into keeping opposing running backs in check, as well. The Eagles are likely to go back to Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood are the two lead ball carriers.
Zach Berman: This is going to be a tough game for the Eagles’ offense. The key will be to avoid those slow starts. They were down 14-0 in three of the past four road games. So the offense cannot look sluggish at the beginning of the game. The formula the Eagles used last week will be helpful. If they can establish a running game and get into manageable second and third downs, they can find a rhythm. I don’t see the Eagles beating the Seahawks by Wentz throwing 40 times, so the running game will need to be strong against a defense limiting opponents to 3.5 yards per carry. Wagner and Wright are two of the best linebackers in the NFL, and I’d expect the Seahawks to bring their safeties into the box to challenge the Eagles to beat them through the air. Wentz will have a hard time incorporating his outside receivers based on the way they’re playing in recent weeks – and Sherman on Agholor – so he must find Matthews, Ertz, and Darren Sproles to keep the passing game afloat. In that respect, it’s similar to last week. The absence of Bennett hurts Seattle’s pass rush, but they still have Avril.
2. How will the Eagles defense do?
McLane: The Eagles’ greatest advantage should be their defensive line vs. the Seahawks’ offensive line. Seattle has had a number of injuries up front and is especially weak at both tackle spots. Brandon Graham will face off against right tackle Garry Gilliam and Connor Barwin will see left tackle George Fant, who didn’t play in the first six games. Fletcher Cox should have opportunities to get past right guard Germain Ifedi. The Seahawks have been able to compensate for their below-average line because quarterback Russell Wilson is so adept at moving in and out of pocket and buying time.
Wilson’s top two targets are slot corner Doug Badwin and tight end Jimmy Graham. Safety Malcolm Jenkins could match up against Baldwin or Jim Schwartz could try Jalen Mills in the slot. Nolan Carroll (concussion) and Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) are expected to be ready to go. Baldwin has gotten the better of Jenkins during his career. He toasted him a few times two years ago in Philly. Mills may be a better matchup. The 6-foot-7 Graham is a different challenge. He’s playing at a level close to how he performed in New Orleans. Graham could be Jenkins’ assignment in man coverage.
Berman: The Eagles proved how good their defense is last week against Atlanta, but now they must travel. The key, as it usually is, will be on the line of scrimmage. The advantage the Eagles have is their defensive line against the Seahawks’ offensive line. If the pass rushers can wreck havoc, it could change the game. Fletcher Cox will be blocked by Seahawks first-round pick Germain Ifedi. Brandon Graham is rushing against one of two players (Bradley Sowell and Gilliam) who are in a right tackle competition. Barwin will rush against an undrafted rookie who was playing basketball two years ago (Fant). That needs to be the Eagles’ advantage. Wilson is good enough to pick a defense apart, and he has the targets to do it. The Eagles need to find a solution for Baldwin and Graham – those are the two go-to targets. But they also must watch out for running back C.J. Prosise coming out of the backfield, where he’s a weapon. Another X-factor is the return of running back Thomas Rawls, who hasn’t played yet since Week 2. His return prompted the Seahawks to waive Christine Michael.
3. Who’s a player to watch?
McLane: Ertz suffered a hamstring injury in practice on Wednesday. He has been limited since and is questionable to play. But he said on Thursday that he was confident he could go. Ertz and Wentz have gotten more comfortable with each over the last few weeks. Ertz has 14 catches for 152 yards over the last two games after just catching 15 passes for 150 yards in his first five games. He’s caught 29 of 35 targets this season. He doesn’t have a touchdown yet, and his yards after catch hasn’t been very good either. But the Eagles will need him to have a strong game if they are to have a chance. I still can’t understand why they haven’t thrown to him in the end zone all season.
Berman: My eyes will be on Barwin. I mentioned the matchup above – this is one he can win. He has four sacks this season and has faced some tough left tackles. Barwin has a good repertoire of pass rush moves and he’ll need to use them against Fant, who was a backup tight end at Western Kentucky last year and is in his first season at offensive tackle. When Barwin can get penetration, he’ll also need to chase down Wilson. If he overpursues, Wilson can buy time in the pocket. Barwin’s also effective at deflecting passes, which could be a useful skill on Sunday against Wilson even if he can’t get the sack.
4. What’s your prediction?
McLane: The Eagles have a shot, obviously. Maybe their best shot is that I’m picking against them this week. The Seahawks could be prime for a letdown after an emotional win in New England. Their weaknesses seem to be matched up against the Eagles’ strengths and vice versa. But Seattle is very tough at home. The Seahawks are 4-0 this season and have won 31 of their last 36 at CenturyLink. I’ll take those odds. Seahawks 23, Eagles 13.
Berman: It would be a major upset if the Eagles can escape Seattle with a win. If they lose, it won’t cripple the season – the Eagles will still have opportunities, especially with four home games remaining. But if they win, it would be a major statement game and show that the Eagles are contenders. I don’t see that happening. The Seahawks are my Super Bowl pick in the NFC, they get tougher as the season progresses, and they’re undefeated at home. You never say never – the Eagles won in New England last year after three embarrassing losses – but I don’t see an Eagles victory. Give me Seahawks 19, Eagles 13, and the Eagles return home preparing for Green Bay.