Murphy: Four ways the Eagles will beat the Seahawks, if they do
I've spent the morning immersed in research, one question my pursuit: How do you beat the Seahawks in Seattle? I ended up where I started. One answer: You don't.
But that's not good enough this week, with the 5-4 Eagles traveling west for a chance to re-re-establish themselves as legitimate contenders in this year's NFC. So here it is, not a blueprint, but an outlining of scenarios that leaves the Eagles with a victory that only two other non-NFC West teams have managed to achieve since Russell Wilson's rookie season in 2012.
1) The Eagles run-block like they did against the Falcons.
The last 11 teams to beat Seattle have averaged 30.5 rushing attempts and 31.3 pass attempts in those victories. This includes the last two teams to beat the Seahawks at their home stadium, the Panthers last season and the Cowboys years before. Carolina's run-pass split was 33-36, and Dallas' was 36-32. While there are some situational factors that play into the numbers of runs and passes called, neither of these games was a blowout, so it is probably fair to say that balance is an ideal thing to achieve against Pete Carroll's defense, particularly when you consider how much his press-Cover 3 relies on safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Take, for example, the victory Doug Pederson witnessed when he faced the Seahawks in 2014 as a member of Andy Reid's Chiefs coaching staff, albeit in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium. When looking back at that game, the first thing that jumps out is Kansas City's near abandonment of the passing game. Alex Smith attempted just 16 passes that afternoon, completing 11 for 108 yards.
Reid called nearly twice as many runs that day, with Jamaal Charles getting 20 carries for 159 yards, De'Anthony Thomas getting 3 for 22, and Knile Davis getting 5 for 10. The Seahawks were without all-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and space-eating defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, for what it is worth.
2) Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews make a bunch of tough catches in the seams.
You might note some synergy between this one and scenario No. 1. The Seahawks' in-your-face technique at the line of scrimmage makes it tough on the short passing game, while Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas tend to take away two thirds of the deep part of the field. The way to beat the Seahawks is in the seams, which might actually put the Eagles in a better position than most offenses, given Carson Wentz's incredible arm strength and his willingness to trust his receivers to make a play.
Question is: Can they make those plays? In the Seahawks last eight losses, opposing tight ends have combined for 46 catches, 580 yards and seven touchdowns, with big games by Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert and Jared Cook among them. In the aformentioned Chiefs win over the Seahawks, eight of Alex Smith's 11 completions went to tight ends or running backs, including a 23-yard pass to Travis Kelce that helped set up a touchdown.
Same goes for Matthews, who could have some more opportunities to make the kinds of catches we saw him both convert and drop in recent weeks (a 20-yarder in front of the deep safeties in the win over Atlanta, a drop of a similar pass in a loss to the Giants).
3) The front four gets to Russell Wilson before he gets to them.
To the naked eye, the biggest problem with the Seahawks' offense this season -- apart from their disastrous offensive line -- has been Wilson's ankle injury, which has robbed him of the two attributes that put him in that top tier of quarterbacks. Not just his ability to carry the ball himself, but also his ability to extend plays in the face of pressure and allow his smallish receivers to get open after their initial routes.
In nine games, Wilson has just 60 rushing yards on 31 carries, this from a guy who has averaged 34.1 rushing yards per game in his career. The play-extending attribute is harder to quantify, but it has been easy to see.
Judging by his performance against the Patriots on Sunday night, Wilson is slowly getting back to full health. If he is the Wilson of old against the Eagles, it will be interesting to see how his scrambling ability plays against an Eagles front four that has been nothing short of dominant all season. Jim Schwartz's aggressive man-to-man style could play well against those smallish receivers, provided the front four can force Wilson to throw before they're able to slip free.
4) The linebackers and safeties neutralize Jimmy Graham and C.J. Prosise.
Graham isn't what he used to be, and he has been pressed into blocking duty the past couple of years because of the Seahawks' struggles up front. But he is still a tough matchup, particularly when you combine him with Prosise, a third-round rookie out of Notre Dame who is coming off a breakout performance against the Patriots in which he gained 153 yards on 24 touches (17-66 on the ground, 7-87 through the air). The Seahawks are averaging just 3.3 yards per rush attempt, but they've begun to emphasize Prosise more.
Here's an interesting thing: After Sunday, the Eagles will have faced the three worst rushing teams in the NFL (Vikings, Giants, Seahawks), four of the bottom six (Detroit), and five of the bottom eight (Steelers), with Baltimore (28th out of 32) still to come.