The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Seahawks
Here’s a look at how the Eagles match up with the Seahawks.
WHEN THE EAGLES RUN…
LeSean McCoy has 289 yards in his past two games, while averaging 6.3 YPC. And the Eagles will start the same five offensive linemen for the third week in a row.
But this week presents a far bigger challenge than the Tennessee and Dallas games. The Seahawks’ defense ranks fifth against the run, according to Football Outsiders. They’ll be without defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, who is out for the year, but this is still a formidable group.
Seattle will rotate defensive linemen up front, but everybody contributes to its run defense. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is a difference-maker and had 10 tackles last week as the Seahawks limited Frank Gore to 2.8 YPC. Weak side linebacker K.J. Wright is the team’s leading tackler. And Seattle’s secondary is not afraid to come up and support the run.
I asked Chip Kelly specifically about Earl Thomas this week.
“The first thing you see is his speed because he can line up high, and you don’t think he’s going to be involved, and all of a sudden he’s on the line of scrimmage making the tackle,” he said. “I think he’s an extremely active player; he’s an extremely physical player. You can tell on tape he’s an intelligent football player.”
Strong safety Kam Chancellor is good against the run also. Seattle plays mostly single-high safety (Cover 3 or Cover 1), meaning it has an extra body to commit to the run.
Lane Johnson had probably his best game of the season against Dallas. Andrew Gardner has been better than Matt Tobin at right guard. The Eagles’ offense is at its best when the team can run the ball. Overall, the Birds’ run game ranks 16th in DVOA. Opponents are averaging just 3.5 YPC against Seattle. This will be a big challenge.
WHEN THE EAGLES PASS…
Mark Sanchez played a clean game against the Cowboys. He’s completing 63.4 percent of his passes and averaging 8.02 YPA. With the Jets, those numbers were 55.8 and 6.6. Sanchez still has a high interception percentage (3.4), but he did not throw a pick against the Cowboys.
There are defined areas where Sanchez excels and struggles. He’s good throwing in between the numbers and has been excellent on plays designed to get him outside the pocket. He’s not great outside the numbers and sometimes struggles to see underneath defenders who are dropping.
Per Pro Football Focus, 18.9 percent of Nick Foles’ passes traveled 20+ yards past the line of scrimmage. That number is only 12.5 percent for Sanchez. It’s been a lot of shorter stuff where he gets rid of the ball quickly. The Eagles’ pass game ranks 18th in DVOA.
Kelly called Seattle’s secondary the best in the league, although the unit ranks 10th in DVOA. The Seahawks play a lot of Cover 1 and a lot of Cover 3. Cover 1 is man coverage across the board with a single high safety. Sometimes, Seattle will use a “robber” player as a low-hole defender charged with freelancing and making plays on the ball.
Seattle’s Cover 3 was explained in detail by Grantland’s Chris B. Brown. It’s a three-deep zone, but outside corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell press at the line of scrimmage. It’s essentially zone coverage with man principles. Thomas has probably the best range of any safety in the NFL and takes away the middle of the field. Normally, seams are open against Cover 3 (Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek), but Thomas and the underneath defenders do a good job of taking those away.
The underneath stuff will be available to Sanchez. Seattle, however, does an excellent job of rallying to the ball and limiting YAC. Sanchez will have to be patient and not force throws into coverage.
Jeremy Maclin (71 catches, 1,088 yards, 9 TDs) has had an excellent season. He usually stays on the right side of the formation, and Sherman stays on the left side of the defense, meaning the two figure to be matched up against one another quite a bit. Riley Cooper has been quiet opposite Maclin.
This could be a big opportunity for Matthews to work the middle of the field. He has 22 catches for 373 yards and four touchdowns in four games with Sanchez as the starter. Ertz’s playing time has declined, but this could be a game where the Eagles really need him in the passing game. Darren Sproles should get opportunities against Seattle’s linebackers as well.
The Eagles have protected well the past couple of weeks. Seattle has capable pass-rushers in Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin. The Seahawks rank 27th in adjusted sack rate, but they have guys who can get after the quarterback.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS RUN…
Seattle has the most efficient running game in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Marshawn Lynch has 956 yards on the ground and is averaging 4.5 YPC. He’s the toughest back in the league to bring down. And Russell Wilson can do damage with his legs as well. He’s piled up 679 yards and is averaging 7.5 YPC.
The Seahawks will run plenty of zone read. The Eagles feel they’re ready to defend that because they have so many defensive assistants who came straight from the college ranks. The Birds’ run defense has been good all season; they rank eighth in DVOA and held DeMarco Murray in check last week.
It all starts up front with two-gappers Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan. Those three did a number on the Cowboys’ offensive line. Outside linebackers Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have all played well.
If the Seahawks have success on the ground, it’ll likely be because they win their battles against Casey Matthews and Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks played really well against Dallas. Matthews has not been a liability, but there are certainly times when he can be blocked at the second level. It should go without saying that wrapping up and finishing against Lynch is imperative.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS PASS…
The Seahawks rank 16th in passing DVOA, and the Eagles’ defense is eighth, which is remarkable considering there isn’t a ton of talent on the back end.
Wilson is completing 63.9 percent of his passes (13th) and averaging 7.36 YPA (14th). He’s thrown 15 touchdowns against five interceptions. Per PFF, only 9.9 percent of Wilson’s passes have traveled 20+ yards past the line of scrimmage; that ranks 35th in the NFL. In other words, this is not a downfield passing attack. This is a ball-control offense that runs one play every 30.8 seconds, the slowest pace in the NFL.
Wilson does not have an explosive group of pass-catchers. Doug Baldwin leads the team with 48 catches for 519 yards. Jermaine Kearse (29/414) is the other starting wide receiver. Lynch is third on the team with 28 catches for 297 yards.
The Eagles are limiting opponents to 57.5 percent completions, the top mark in the NFL. But they’ve also allowed 52 pass plays of 20+ yards, most in the league. Cary Williams has played well recently. Bradley Fletcher can still be had on the opposite side, and I’d expect Wilson to take at least a couple deep shots against him.
Brandon Boykin had probably his best game of the year last week. Nate Allen has been relatively quiet as of late, which is a good thing. Malcolm Jenkins has been really good all season long.
The Eagles are sixth in adjusted sack rate and have done a good job pressuring quarterbacks all season long. Barwin has 12.5 sacks and was recently named NFC Defensive Player of the Month. Graham consistently wins his one-on-one matchups, and Cole has played well. Cox has been a beast on the interior all season long.
The Seahawks’ offensive line ranks 28th in adjusted sack rate. The Eagles have to rush with discipline and limit Wilson’s ability to make plays outside the pocket, but he is a quarterback who will take some sacks. Seattle has 2012 Pro Bowler Russell Okung at left tackle. Statistically, right tackle Justin Britt has had a rough go. That’s a matchup Barwin should be able to win.
The Eagles have the top special teams unit in the league and may need a boost from this unit to win on Sunday, although it’s worth noting that Cody Parkey is dealing with a groin injury. Seattle’s special teams unit ranks 18th.