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November 18, 2016

Eagles vs. Seahawks: Five matchups to watch

Eagles NFL
111716MarkSanchez Matt Rourke/AP

The last time the Eagles played the Seahawks, Mark Sanchez got to second base with Russell Wilson.

The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, who may be their most difficult opponent this season. Here are five matchups to watch.

1) The Eagles' defensive line vs. the Seahawks' offensive line

In the Eagles' game against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season, they were facing a team with a mess on their hands at offensive tackle. The Vikings had lost both LT Matt Kalil and RT Andre Smith for the season and had to patch up those holes with backups and guys signed off the street.

In Smith's absence at RT, Jeremiah Sirles filled in and was dominated all day by Brandon Graham. Sirles had two previous career starts. At LT, the Vikings had a mix of T.J. Clemmings and newly signed former No. 1-overall pick Jake Long, who hadn't played at all in 2016 and only played in four games (none of them starts) in 2015 with the Falcons. They both played against the Eagles, and both were beaten badly.

As a result, Sam Bradford was bludgeoned for three hours as the Eagles defensive line wrecked the game.

Much like in that game, the Seahawks have an inexperienced player at one spot, and two players competing to start at the other. At LT, undrafted rookie free agent George Fant was a basketball player at Western Kentucky, and hadn't played football since junior high. Now he's protecting Russell Wilson's blind side, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN. Fant is athletic, but unrefined. At RT, Bradley Sowell will reportedly compete this week with Garry Gilliam to start against Philly on Sunday, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, on the interior, Fletcher Cox could be a nightmare matchup for rookie RG Germain Ifedi.

Jim Schwartz, however, said that there's a significant difference between the Seahawks and Vikings.

"I think it's a completely different situation because the quarterback is so different, he said. "Sam Bradford we knew very well, wasn't going to move around a whole lot. It's a completely different dynamic this week. Every week, Russell Wilson has gotten healthier. Last week he looked like he was back to himself. I don't know how much his knee injury is still bothering him, but it didn't look like a lot.

"It's not just a matter of beating the offensive linemen. Now it's a matter of chasing the quarterback and getting the quarterback on the ground and holding up in coverage. It puts a lot of pressure on your coverage. The ball is not coming out quick, so we've got to do a good job of covering, and to be able to exploit those kind of matchups."

If the Eagles are going to upset the Seahawks on the road, their defensive line is going to have to dominate up front and make some plays.

2) The Eagles' receivers vs. the Legion of Boom

The Seahawks' biggest strength is of course their defensive secondary, which includes All-Pros Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor. The Eagles' biggest weakness is their wide receivers, who struggle gaining separation, and often drop passes even when they do get open.

In a way, the Seahawks' biggest strength is perhaps wasted to some degree, seeing as the Eagles' receivers don't really make plays in the first place.

3) The Eagles' rushing attack vs. a stacked box

When the Eagles have been successful offensively this season, they have done a good job running the ball. Unfortunately for them, the Seahawks do an outstanding job stopping the run defensively.

 Seahawks run defenseYards per rush Rank 
 2016 3.5T-3 
 2015 3.6T-3 
 2014 3.4
 2013 3.9T-7 

With receivers who are not going to be threatening to the Seahawks' excellent secondary, you can bet that Seattle is going to stack the box to stop the run.

4) The Eagles' familiarity vs. the Seahawks' familiarity

Last Sunday, the Eagles faced a Falcons defense that runs many of the same concepts as the Seahawks. In a way, the Eagles will benefit to some degree from that familiarity. However, as offensive coordinator Frank Reich pointed out, the Seahawks will have the advantage if seeing how the Eagles tried to beat those concepts last week.

"There's an advantage both ways," said Reich. "Seattle's defense, they get to see what we designed against their particular scheme because their scheme is a little bit unique, the zone coverage that they play is very similar. So we designed a couple things last week that we have to change up, do something a little different, find a couple other wrinkles to attack their zone defense and the challenges that it presents, but certainly it helps us, as well. We know what worked, we can switch things up, make things look different, find ways to get the same thing done, just in a slightly different way, and so I think that's what we try to do."

The Eagles are severely overmatched on offense against this Seattle defense. It will be an enormous challenge for the Eagles' staff to scheme up concepts that will work on Sunday.

5) The special teams battle

The Eagles have the No. 1-rated special teams units in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders, which should come as a surprise to nobody. The Seahawks have had mostly good special teams units over the last three years.

 YearEagles Seahawks 

Let's just call this matchup what it is – the Eagles are facing a team that is better than them in a hostile environment. If they're going to pull off an upset, it would help enormously if they could make a big play on special teams, as they have done with regularity over the last three years.

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