The seeds of dysfunction have been sown at the NovaCare Complex following a surprise shakeup at the Eagles’ defensive coordinator spot. The details remain cloudy thanks to conflicting reports. Was Sean Desai demoted and moved into a new position? Or was he assigned a different seat to give him a better vantage point?
Time will tell. However, one thing remains clear: the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense is broken. Now senior defensive assistant Matt Patricia — the right-hand man to Bill Belichick for so many years — will take over the play-calling duties. Buckle up.
The Eagles and Seahawks will lock talons tonight (December 18) at 8:15 p.m. at Lumen Field in Seattle. Philadelphia clinched a third straight playoff spot thanks to a win by the 49ers, coupled with losses by the Packers and Falcons. They currently hold the top spot in the NFC East following the Bills 31-10 beatdown of the Cowboys.
So, no, the Eagles don’t have to beat the Seahawks to make the postseason. They are already in. But, to have any shot at overtaking San Francisco for the No. 1 seed in the NFC then they will likely need to win out the rest of the way. That starts tonight in Seattle. Let’s take a look at some keys to victory:
1. Bringing the ‘Patriot Way’ to Coverages
Look for Matt Patricia to leverage what he learned from his mentor with plenty of Cover 1 looks against Seattle. That’s all he knows. His Detroit defenses relied almost entirely on man-to-man coverages: 46.5% of their snaps in 2019, 39.2% of their snaps in 2018 — unfortunately, they weren’t very good at it and finished near the bottom of the league in his three years there.
They allowed opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball for nearly three seconds per pass attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. Considering the Eagles have a suspect secondary — Darius Slay is injured and out, James Bradberry has struggled, and nickel cornerback remains a huge question mark — it’ll be interesting to see if Patricia decides to throw single coverage at a dangerous Seahawks receiving crew, highlighted by the one-man wrecking ball that is DK Metcalf.
2. Quarterbacks Questionable
Both starting quarterbacks enter Monday night’s game listed as questionable to play. That’s right, Jalen Hurts (illness) and Geno Smith (groin) traveled with their teams, but neither player’s status will be known until they go through pre-game warmups. The injury to Smith appears more serious, with NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport calling him a “long shot” to suit up. Meanwhile, Hurts seems “likely” to play.
If Smith is indeed out, Seattle would start Drew Lock. He has thrown 23 career interceptions in 27 games while going 8-14 as a starter. It would behoove the Eagles to bring pressure against a quarterback who doesn’t move well in the pocket. The 49ers sacked him four times last week while bringing a steady array of blitzes. Follow the same script.
3. Run the Ball. Win the Game:
Much has been made of the Eagles not running the ball enough as evidenced by a bunch of fans standing outside the practice facility lobbying for a better ground attack. The concerns are a bit overstated, definitely overblown. They are averaging 4.1 yards per carry (No. 14 in the NFL) on 40 rushes per game (No. 5 in the NFL). The Eagles actually run a rushing play 45.5% of the time which ranks in the top-five. The real problem is the cadence and commitment to it.
The Indianapolis Colts, under the guidance of offensive mastermind Shane Steichen, called 13 straight runs on the Colts’ game-sealing drive against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Perhaps the Eagles should borrow a page out of their former offensive coordinator’s playbook versus a leaky Seattle defense that has surrendered 1,604 rushing yards (173 last week to San Francisco) and 17 rushing touchdowns.
4. Utilize the Silent Count
Seattle owns one of the biggest home-field advantages in all of sports, peaking at a 137.6 decibel level in 2013 which is the equivalent of a jet taking off. So, yes, it’s going to be loud. The Eagles pumped in extra noise at practice this week to try and simulate the environment, including consulting with former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn on how to deal with it. Expect Jalen Hurts to go to the silent count often in this one. Nick Sirianni said: “Everything factors in. We’ve been practicing with noise all week. Obviously, we know how loud the environment is there.”
5. Unleashing Shaq Leonard:
The Eagles have been unable to solve their never-ending issues at linebacker through 13 games. (Insult to injury: TJ Edwards and Alex Singleton are among the NFL leaders in tackles). They were exposed in Week 13 versus San Francisco, then exploited again in Week 14 against Dallas. Poor tackling and missed assignments doomed them last week. Fast forward to Week 15: starter Zach Cunningham — arguably the team’s best linebacker — has been ruled out. That means it’s time for Shaq Leonard to make his presence felt after seeing only 14 snaps in his Eagles debut. Does the three-time Pro Bowler have anything left in the tank? Everyone is about to find out.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum