Dominant. It’s probably the most accurate word in the dictionary to describe this Eagles team. With four consecutive wins of 20+ points, the Birds are just one more away from soaring into the record books for what seems like the umpteenth time this season. Standing in their way is a ferocious opponent in hostile territory however. We’re used to seeing the Eagles eek out massive leads and coast in the fourth quarter…but they’re facing a Seahawks team that never say die. If they want the NFC East crown, they’ll have to fight for it.
If we’re talking about the fourth quarter alone, this is a Seattle team that won’t wave the white flag…at all. In fact, they’re outscoring opponents 104-46 in the final quarter this season, mounting two victories from behind in the process. That may be the most overlooked aspect of this Seahawks team, they have a quarterback, who like Carson Wentz has the offense feeding on every word he says. Seattle had three game-winning drives last season, three game-winning drives in 2015, and of course orchestrated come-from-behind victories in the 2013 and 2014 NFC Championship Games to advance Seattle to the Super Bowl.
With the exception of the magical Jake Elliott field goal, Eagles haven’t had to grind out a late victory yet this season and come back from the brink of demise. The Eagles have ran away with leads for so long that there is a legitimate concern over the ability to perform when the pressure is at its highest. If the Eagles are down by 4 points with 2 minutes remaining in a stadium that has its fans appearing on the Richter scale, can Doug Pederson muster that clutch drive?
“I think that’s certainly a fair assessment of we’ve been in three games where we’ve had a lead and played with a lead.” Frank Reich said earlier this week when asked about the possibility, before following with a complete vote of confidence. “But no, I think we have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing, the players and the play making at all levels, and a lot of that really comes down to 3rd down and red zone. The fact that when and if we get into a game where we’re not able to run the ball as effectively as we are, the fact that we’ve maintained good consistency in the pass game, in the red zone and on 3rd down I think is a good indication that we can handle the play making from the other aspects when you’re tested to have to throw it a little bit more and be in a tight-knit game that comes down to the wire.”
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have surrendered just three double digit defeats in their last 111 games. Three. A clash of cultures will determine whose will is stronger on the day, but a blowout may not be likely under the primetime lights…and it just so happens that there lies another strength for the Seahawks. Under the lights since 2010, the Seahawks have posted a 21-4-1 combined record in Sunday, Monday and Thursday night games, and outscored opponents 680-366. The Seahawks are 53-29-1 all-time in prime time and 7-2-1 on Sunday Night Football, including a 13-2 record at home in prime time under Carroll.
Two very strong defenses will face two offenses who can control the tempo of a game with ease. From an Eagles defense allowing a total of 291.6 yards per game and brutally smothering anything in their path, to a Seattle Defense built on intimidation and confusion, both quarterbacks will need to be ready to put their respected teams on their back.
The Eagles have been incredible on third down this season, but so have the Seahawks. In terms of shortening drives, The Seahawks have held teams to 57/151 third down conversions…a number far lower than comfortable for Philadelphia. it’s not just on third down that the teams mirror each other either.
The red zone has been a key area of success for Seattle this year. The Eagles have a success rate of 71.79% when inside the red zone this year. Carson Wentz has been absolutely surgical when inside the 20-yard line and in fact all six of Corey Clement’s touchdowns have come from within the 20-yard hash. Seattle will have fits defending such a prolific attack, but the Eagles won’t exactly have it easy.
Seattle has been just as impressive.Jimmy Graham has caught 13 of his 21 targets this year with 8 going for touchdowns. Here’s a breakdown of Seattle’s red zone success (grey boxes) and opposing teams (clear boxes). Seattle has been just as vicious as the Eagles from inside the 20…and although the Birds have an ability to suffocate the run, containing Russell Wilson is a very different task.
Forget the wounded secondary. Forget the offensive line woes. This is a team that comes to play and if they can scrape a victory against the Eagles, their playoff race is very much alive. The Eagles have done a great job of avoiding complacency all year long and their recent blowout over a team who have fed at the bottom of the NFC North this season exemplifies that. But the Eagles have to come prepared for a war on Sunday Night.
They have all the tools to do it. A franchise quarterback who has come on leaps and bounds since the defeat he suffered at the hands of Seattle one year ago, an explosive receiving corps that has ripped through even the toughest of walls this season and a defense that held a top five rushing attack to just six yards one week ago. With Ronald Darby back in action, the Eagles are in an incredibly strong position, but their blowout wins still contained errors.
Four fumbles against the Bears, eleven penalties and some problems against Dallas will not fly against this Seattle team. The Eagles need to come in to the matchup ready and raring to go because if they don’t, they’ll be met with a punch as hard as the one’s they have become so used to giving.
A hard hitting defense is missing its heart, but still captained by Bobby Wagner, who ranks second in the NFL with 100 tackles (76 solo) this season…his sixth consecutive 100+ tackle season. On the other side of the trench, the Eagles offensive line has paved the way for 10 consecutive games of 100+ rushing yards and has allowed just one sack on Carson Wentz in the last two weeks. The offensive front may finally be receiving the credit it deserves, but with no ability to manipulate the hard count as he has so effortlessly at home, Carson Wentz and his linemen need to prove their chemistry on a stage expected to be surrounded by 65,000+ fans.
“It’s among the most difficult.” Reich said of using a silent count on Sunday. “I mean, sometimes I wonder — I don’t want to say that we make too much of it because it’s obviously among the most difficult, but loud is — in another respect, loud is loud, and once you’re using the silent count, you’re using a silent count. I think at this time of year, you never take anything for granted.
For Pederson and the Eagles, their “one game at a time” mentality will be tested like never before. The character and strength of this team will be. Seattle won’t roll over if the team can push out to a three touchdown lead…and they have to be wary of that.
The difference between a good team and a great team is the ability to close out games and win in hostile environments. If the Birds are going to get revenge on Seattle, their gritty defense and explosive offense will need to be at their best. If they are at anything less, they will be punished in ways Chicago didn’t have the talent to do.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports