A pair of wounded birds square off at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday to close out Wild Card Weekend.
Can the Philadelphia Eagles keep their magical season alive when the Seattle Seahawks come to town again?
EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. SEAHAWKS PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 92.1 PASSER RATING (13/32), 239.6 YPG (11/32)
SEA- 85.6 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (9/32), 263.9 YPG ALLOWED (27/32)
The last time the Eagles played Seattle in Week 12, Carson Wentz played one of the worst games of his career. He fumbled three times and turned the ball over four times overall.
“We have to go back and look at that tape, make those corrections – we had five turnovers in that game, which is not good – and put a good plan together this week,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “So, much like going into the Giants week, we got to have some things ready to go, some wrinkles.
But at the same time, we know we’re dealing with some young players ourselves. So, it takes some work to get that done.”
Since that contest, Wentz has taken much better care of the football, losing two fumbles and tossing one interception. He has a 100.8 passer rating over his final four games, totaling seven touchdowns.
“I think we’ve changed offensively,” Pederson said. “I think we understand as a staff who we are, quite frankly, the personnel that we have, and using those strengths to our advantage.
We’ve gotten Carson out of the packet a little bit more, utilized some play-action pass a little bit more. One of the things that is still sort of hurting us a little bit is penalties on first and second down that keep us in some longer yardage situations and it’s hard to overcome.
And I think just Carson’s understanding the guys around him and the ball being distributed in different spots. The run game is a big part of that. So I think all in all, just learning from the season, learning from our mistakes, has really helped him and helped our offense progress to where we are right now.”
The Eagles attempted to push the ball downfield more last Sunday against the Giants. They’ve been so methodical, matriculating their way down the field one first down at a time, but once they began 1-of-8 of third down, they took some shots. It worked. Wentz has also received more bootlegs and sprints over recent weeks.
Deontay Burnett hauled in a 41-yard reception, Josh Perkins snatched a 24-yard touchdown and even Robert Davis came down with a catch downfield that was called back on a holding penalty.
Zach Ertz hasn’t been cleared for contact yet after sustaining a fractured rib and lacerated kidney against Dallas in Week 16. He was limited in practice all week.
“He is still not cleared for any contact,” Pederson said. “He will work a little on the side, like he’s done this week. We’re waiting on a few doctor results tomorrow (Saturday). If things go favorable, he’ll play and if they don’t, he won’t.”
Despite the fact that Ertz didn’t play, the Eagles still used their 12 and 13 personnel packages on 53 of 71 snaps.
Lane Johnson has been out since Week 14 with an ankle injury. If he’s able to go, Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start at right guard. If Johnson is held out, Big V will start at right tackle again, with Matt Pryor handling the right guard position following Brandon Brooks’ season ending shoulder injury.
“Lane is still working,” Pederson said. “He’s a tough guy. He really wants to play in this football game. We’re going to find out more today and see where he’s at the end of the day before we put out a report. He’s working to try to play in this football game.”
Considering Wentz’s quarterback rating is about 20 points higher, it’d be huge if Johnson is able to play. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t play in the first meeting between the teams and Johnson would be able to handle him better than Big V can.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. SEAHAWKS RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.3 YPC (17/32), 121.2 YPG (11/32)
SEA- 4.9 YPC ALLOWED (29/32), 117.7 YPG ALLOWED (22/32)
Miles Sanders practiced Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions with an ankle injury.
Asked Friday if he would play Sunday following his ankle sprain last Sunday against the Giants, Sanders nodded.
“It’s the playoffs, man.”
Pederson is optimistic Sanders can go as well.
“Miles is good,” Pederson said. “He’ll get in some work today, see where he’s at. He’s been feeling good.”
Jordan Howard should get more touches Sunday as well after playing just one snap as a decoy against New York. He was used in play-action on the pass downfield to Davis, which was called back on a holding penalty.
Boston Scott continues to be a vital asset. He had 27 first downs on 85 touches, 17 rushing and 10 receiving. Swing passes and screens have been his specialty as he continues to excel in the Darren Sproles role. He’s what Donnell Pumphrey was supposed to be.
So the Eagles have three healthy backs against a defense that allows the fourth most yards per carry in the NFL (4.9). I’d expect the Eagles to run the ball a ton.
SEAHAWKS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 90.8 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (14/32), 239.3 YPG ALLOWED (19/32)
SEA- 105.3 PASSER RATING (4/32), 236.9 YPG (14/32)
The Eagles’ defense has really clamped in the red zone over the final half of the season. They’ve surrendered just four touchdown passes inside the 20 over the last nine games. When Philadelphia’s defense is humming, it is pressuring the quarterback and allowing field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone.
That’s been happening over the past month.
Prior to last Sunday’s performance against the Giants, the home and away defensive splits varied greatly. The defense had surrendered 29 points per game on the road as opposed to 16.75 at home. They tallied 25 sacks at Lincoln Financial Field and 14 away from there, but the defense traveled to East Rutherford on Sunday.
The Eagles sacked Daniel Jones four times, including a strip-sack and the G-Men were limited to 17 points. Malcolm Jenkins came through the A-gap on a blitz, something he’s seemingly doing more of this season.
“He’s just a good football player. He’s good against the run; he’s good against the pass; he’s a good blitzer. He’s just all around. He’s savvy, he has really good instincts, like I said.
He’s just a guy that can go in the flow of the game. Part of that blitz was his timing. It’s not a real complicated blitz, but he looks like he’s covering the tight end and all of a sudden he times it up and him and [LB] Nigel [Bradham] both did a good job on that.
They had one little slip and then the pressure caused that play. That was such a huge play in that game. That game is close; we’re holding on to a three-point lead in the fourth quarter and we got pretty good field position. We got a chance to get a stop.
Not only do we get a stop, but we get the ball for our offense on the two yard line and score. That certainly changed the game, and Malcolm is the guy that can make those kind of plays.”
Can the Birds generate the same pressure against the mobile Russell Wilson? Despite all of the injuries that the Seahawks possess, Pederson hasn’t seen any changes to their offense.
“Even in their last five games and what they’ve done, scheme-wise they haven’t changed. Some of the personnel, obviously their offense, has changed a little bit. It’s a little different now offensively.
They still have one guy, [Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, that is electric and can beat you.”
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz praised Wilson as well and he doesn’t believe Seattle’s injuries at running back will make him play out of character.
“He’s a smart quarterback. He doesn’t turn the ball over very often. He’s got great mobility. He can extend plays, but he can also just make his plays from the pocket. He’s a very accurate passer.
All those things will be factors in the game that we’re going to have to defend. You don’t bring your resume to the field; you bring your skillset and we’re going to bring ours and we’re going to play hard.
I don’t think he’ll play out of character. He’s got a long history of how he plays. I think that’s one of the reasons he’s been successful. He’s been so consistent. You look at his stats across the board, it’s really amazing how every year he’s just so damn consistent with completion percentage and touchdowns and interceptions, and all those things. Quarterback rating, all those things you can measure a quarterback with. He’s just been so consistent.”
I would expect the Seahawks to be in a lot of third-and-long situations on Sunday, especially if they struggle to run the ball, more on that below. Third and long has been an issue for the Eagles’ defense this year. When the pressure isn’t consistent, the cornerbacks can be picked apart, but those corners are now playing their best football of the season. D.K. Metcalf will be a handful on the outside, with Tyler Lockett manning the slot.
SEAHAWKS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.1 YPC ALLOWED (8/32), 90.1 YPG ALLOWED (3/32)
SEA- 4.6 YPC (8/32), 137.5 YPG (4/32)
Season-ending injuries to Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny have forced the Seahawks to reach into their past.
Marshawn Lynch is back in Seattle as the team’s featured back following all of the injuries. The Seahawks rely on the run pretty heavily in their offensive attack, using it to set up their play-action and bootleg game with Wilson. They had the third most rushing attempts in the NFL.
“They’re still a top running team in the NFL,” Schwartz said. “I don’t know where they finished in the rankings and they’ve rolled different backs in over the course of the year, started off with [Seahawks RB Rashaad] Penny then went to [Seahawks RB Chris] Carson and then went back to Penny, and then both of those guys got hurt. They’ll get all their guys in there and go. They signed [Seahawks RB] Marshawn [Lynch] and [Seahawks RB Robert] Turbin last week, so I’m sure they’ll — it looked like they had some scheme stuff where they wanted to get Marshawn Lynch the ball in there.
They’ve always been a good running offense, and I think it sets up a lot of their boot game, a lot of their play-action game. We just got to make sure that we’re up for that. We gave up a long run last time. IT wasn’t our best play, but you miss one tackle and they can go the distance. I think all their guys have that ability.”
The Eagles shut down Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley in back-to-back weeks to close the season, I would expect the same to be down with Lynch. That means Seattle will most likely be in a lot of third and longs like I explained above.
Philly needs to take advantage of its opportunities and get off the field.
PREDICTION: I think both offenses struggle and we see a close game in the fourth quarter. Seattle will struggle to move the ball because they’ll be in a lot of third and longs. The injuries at running back will catch up to them. Wentz leads the Eagles down the field for another game-winning drive and it’s Jake Elliott for the win at the horn!