The Eagles hope to get their high-volume running back, Jordan Howard, back and return to their new “recipe,’’ a ball-control offense with a heavy dose of 12-personnel, when they host the Seattle Seahawks at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Here’s an in-depth look at the game.
When the Eagles run
The Eagles (5-5) are sixth in the league in rushing attempts per game (29.1). But without Howard, who missed the New England game with a stinger, and Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, who left the game in the second quarter with a concussion, they ran the ball only 21 times (for 81 yards).
Rookie Miles Sanders is an explosive runner, but Howard is a better between-the-tackles pounder. Howard, acquired in an offseason trade with the Bears, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry with six touchdowns. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry on first down. Without him last week, the Eagles averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on first down and faced a ton of second- and third-and-longs. As of Friday, Howard still hadn’t been cleared for contact and was listed as questionable. Jay Ajayi, who was signed last week, was active for the Patriots game but didn’t play. He likely will get some carries if Howard can’t go again.
The Seahawks (8-2) are 22nd in opponent rush average (4.5). They’ve allowed 12 rushing TDs, third most in the league. They held the 49ers to 87 yards on 27 carries in a 27-24, Week 10 win but gave up 199 rushing yards to Baltimore and 157 to Cleveland.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz is coming off his poorest performance of the season. He completed just 20 of 40 passes in the seven-point defeat to the Patriots and averaged only 5.35 yards per attempt. He’s 18th in passing (91.4), 31st in yards per attempt (6.6), and 27th in completion percentage (61.2).
He has just two interceptions in the last eight games, but his touchdown percentage is the lowest since his rookie year. He averaged a TD every 16.1 attempts in the Eagles’ first four games but just one every 28.3 in the last six.
His wide receivers have been virtually useless. Vertical threat DeSean Jackson managed to stay healthy for all of one game. The unit is dead last in the league in yards per target (6.1) and 31st in yards per catch (10.8).
What the Eagles do have is two very good tight ends: Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. In the last six games, they’ve used 12-personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends, 2 wide receivers) 52.7% of the time. Ertz, who caught 116 passes last season, was targeted 22 times in the last two games and had 18 catches for 194 yards and 12 first downs.
The Seahawks defense is good, but it’s not the Legion of Boom. Key for the Eagles will be neutralizing their best pass-rusher, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. It will help greatly if Johnson is able to play.
When the Seahawks run
The Seahawks are fifth in run-play percentage (46.4). Running back Chris Carson is a big (6-foot, 218-pound), tackle-breaking runner who is seventh in the league in rushing with 853 yards. He is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and is second to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry in average yards after contact (3.71). Carson’s 50 rushing first downs are the third most in the league, behind the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook (54) and the Colts’ Marlon Mack (52).
The Seahawks are sixth in the league in rushing (133.2 yards per game). That number includes quarterback Russell Wilson’s significant contribution to the run game. He’s averaging 5.1 yards on 50 rushing attempts.
Those carries are a mixture of scrambles and designed runs. Interestingly, Wilson has only 14 rushing first downs, one fewer than Wentz.
The Eagles have one of the league’s best run defenses. They are fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (86.0) and sixth in opponent rush average (3.8). They’ve given up just five runs of 10 yards or more in the last three games after giving up 10 of them in ugly back-to-back losses to the Vikings and Cowboys.
When the Seahawks throw
Wilson is having an MVP-caliber season. He leads the league in passing (114.9), touchdown passes (23), and interception percentage (2 in 327 attempts). He’s been sacked 27 times, seventh most in the league.
But he actually has the third-lowest sack percentage of his career. His extraordinary ability to extend plays puts a lot of pressure on both the pass-rushers trying to bring him down and the defensive backs trying to hold their coverage on the back end.
Wilson’s top target, wide receiver Tyler Lockett, is expected to play Sunday after suffering a leg contusion against the 49ers two weeks ago. He has 62 catches and six TDs. Rookie D.K. Metcalf is raw but extraordinarily talented. The 6-3, 228-pounder, who ran a 4.33-second 40 before the draft, was targeted 19 times in the last two games and had 12 catches for 193 yards. He’s averaging 17.0 yards per catch and has five TDs.
With most of their cornerbacks finally healthy, the Eagles have held their last three opponents to 5.1 yards per attempt and a 51.4 completion percentage. Their pass rush has been more consistent than it was earlier in the year. But it will be tested by the elusive Wilson.
The Eagles’ Jake Elliott is the only kicker in the league who has yet to miss a field-goal attempt. He’s 13-for-13, though he’s had just one attempt longer than 42 yards (53 vs. Vikings). Punter Cam Johnston is third in the league in gross average (47.8) and fourth in net average (43.1). He has just three touchbacks and 15 punts inside the 20 in 42 attempts.
With Darren Sproles out for the season, Boston Scott is handling punt returns. The biggest concern with Scott is his inexperience in handling punts, particularly in unpredictable December conditions. He struggled fielding a couple of punts in the wind last week. He also had a fumble on a kickoff return.
The Eagles’ coverage teams have been just OK. They are 17th in punt coverage (7.6) and 22nd in kickoff coverage (24.2).
Seahawks kicker Jason Myers has missed 5 of 19 field goal attempts and is just 5-for-10 from 40-plus yards. Punter Michael Dickson is 12th in gross average (46.3) but 22nd in net average (40.7). He’s put 18 of his 45 punts inside the 20, but he has had just eight fair catches, fifth fewest in the league.
Punt returner Tyler Lockett is averaging just 5.1 yards per return. The Seahawks are 15th in punt coverage (7.1) and 26th in kickoff coverage (25.4).
Early games on the East Coast don’t seem to bother the Seahawks. They are 5-0 over the last two years in 1 p.m. kickoffs. Wilson has won all three career starts against the Eagles, all by double-digit margins. He has yet to throw an interception against them.
Seahawks 24, Eagles 21
Eagles defensive line v. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: Wilson’s elusiveness is going to present problems for the Eagles’ pass rush. He not only can move the chains with his legs, but he also can extend plays and give his receivers extra time to get open. He has faced the Eagles three times in his career and been sacked just five times. The Eagles’ D-linemen need to be disciplined in their rush and stay in their lanes. ADVANTAGE: Seahawks
Eagles CBs Ronald Darby/Jalen Mills vs. Seahawks WRs Tyler Lockett/D.K. Metcalf: Darby’s and Mills’ returns have made a world of difference for the Eagles’ pass defense. The Eagles have held their last three opponents to 5.1 yards per attempt. Metcalf is the wild card here. He’s got size (6-3, 228) and tremendous speed (4.33 40). The Eagles need to keep him in front of them, which won’t be easy if Wilson is able to extend plays. ADVANTAGE: Even
Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Seahawks S Bradley McDougald: Ertz had 18 catches for 194 yards and 12 first downs in the last two games. But the Patriots made him a non-factor on third down last week by putting their best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, on him. McDougald isn’t Gilmore, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll likely will use double teams and bracket coverage to hinder Ertz. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Keys to the game
Get Seahawks in third-and-longs. Easy to say, hard to do. The Seahawks have faced just 43 third-and-7′s or more this season. The only teams with fewer: the Ravens (41) and the Raiders (40). Key will be limiting Carson’s run yards on first down.
Run the ball. This was supposed to be the plan last week against the Patriots. But without injured Jordan Howard, the plan went sideways. The Seahawks are 22nd in opponent rush average. Ball control and 12-play drives are doable against them.
Takeaways. This could be a tough one. Wilson has thrown just two interceptions all season and didn’t throw one in three previous meetings against the Eagles. And the Eagles did not have an interception in their last three games. But the Seahawks do fumble. Only the Giants have lost more fumbles than the Seahawks (11). Carson has five fumbles this season and has lost three of them.