When the Eagles play the Seattle Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday, they’ll face off against an NFC foe that they last met six weeks earlier on the same field. Of course, the home team hopes the outcome will be different than the 17-9 loss that was marked by five turnovers and an all-around dreadful offensive showing led by Carson Wentz.
But the Eagles are a different team now, not only in terms of their rotating cast of healthy players but also in offensive approach, coach Doug Pederson pointed out Monday at his weekly day-after-game debriefing.
“I think we understand as a staff who we are, quite frankly, with the personnel we’ve got," Pederson said. “[We’re] using their strengths to our advantage.”
They’ve also tapped into one of their signal-caller’s strength: making plays outside the pocket.
Against Seattle last time, Wentz often appeared glued to a collapsing pocket, and it didn’t help that the right side of his offensive line was worse than patchwork.
Andre Dillard started the game at right tackle, a position he was playing for the first time ever, but performed so poorly he was benched in favor of Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Matt Pryor played right guard after Brandon Brooks left the game with severe anxiety (expect some shuffling this week, as well, with the season-ending shoulder injury to Brooks).
Since then, however, Wentz has improved in improvisational situations, even though he doesn’t quite consider himself a mobile quarterback.
“I think mobility can be a factor every game, honestly. I think each week it kind of just plays it out as it may," Wentz said two weeks ago before the Cowboys game. “We’re not out here scheming up quarterback runs and all those things, but when I need to take off, I will. I’m not afraid to.”
Expect to see more of that fearlessness this Sunday, Pederson said, in order to prevent the Seahawks’ defense from getting to Wentz the way they did during their last visit to Philadelphia.
“We’ve got to continue to find ways to do that, and help the offensive line that away, as well,” the coach said. “That’s what Carson’s good at.”
Pederson said he’s proud of the way Wentz has adjusted despite having so many newcomers around him. While he threw two interceptions against Seattle, the quarterback has had none during the Eagles’ four-game winning streak.
“I think just Carson understanding the guys around him,” Pederson said. "I think, all and all, just learning from the season, learning from our mistakes. It’s really helped him and helped our offense.”
Pederson’s hopeful it’ll continue to help in the second matchup with the 11-5 Seahawks. In the first, the Eagles’ defense did a solid job containing the ever-elusive Russell Wilson. But sloppy offense allowed the Seattle quarterback to walk out of Lincoln Financial Field that day with a perfect 4-0 record against the Eagles.
Since then, Seattle has dealt with injury issues of its own.
They’ve lost their top two running backs, Chris Carson (hip) and Rashaad Penny (ACL), for the season
On defense, safety Quandre Diggs missed two games with an ankle injury but is expected to return to the field by Sunday. Meanwhile, former Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks reportedly tore his ACL in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers and is out for the rest of the season.
“Scheme-wise they haven’t changed," Pederson said. “With personnel, obviously, their offense has changed a little bit. ... They still have one guy, Russell Wilson, who’s electric and can beat you.
“We have to go back and look at that tape and make those corrections."