Eagles-Seahawks predictions from The Inquirer's Eagles beat reporters:
Can the Eagles run the ball effectively against the Seahawks defense?
Jeff McLane: Of all the major matchups, I think the Eagles' run game vs. the Seattle run defense will have the most impact on the outcome. If LeSean McCoy and company can move the ball on the ground I think it will be difficult for the Seahawks to win. In their four losses, the Seahawks allowed over 100 yards rushing in each game. It wasn't as if they were dominated on the ground.
The only game in which they permitted more than 4.4 yards a carry was in the loss to the Chiefs three weeks ago (6.3 avg.) -- and they only lost by four. But what it did was allow for great passing efficiency against arguably the best secondary in the NFL. With fewer passes, the Chargers (75.7), Rams (85.7) and Chiefs (68.8) all had higher completions percentages than their season averages. The Cowboys (65.6) were just a shade under normal.
Seattle was without linebacker Bobby Wagner, though, for the Rams and Chiefs games. Since his return, the Seahawks held the Cardinals and 49ers to 64 yards rushing in each of their last two games. They'll be without defensive lineman Brandon Mebane (hamstring) for the fourth straight game, but his loss hasn't hurt as much as Wagner's did.
The Eagles, of course, have seemed to exorcise some of the run game issues that plagued them at various stretches. McCoy has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last two games. He's looked more fluid and has done a better job once the offensive line has gotten him to the second level. But a combination of factors up front – Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis' improved health, the insertion of Andrew Gardner at right guard – have contributed as well. So, too, did the Titans and Cowboys' subpar run defenses. The Seahawks aren't anywhere near as leaky.
Zach Berman: I don't think McCoy has one of those highlight show-leading, 150-yard games against Seattle. But I also don't think it will be like Washington. McCoy should be between 75-100 yards on Sunday, and that could be enough to make the play-action more effective. The return of Wagner has made a major difference -- look at the before and after numbers -- but I still think the Eagles will be able to run between the tackles on Sunday. I expect McCoy to break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for rushing yards early in the third quarter, or even late in the second quarter.
The key could be the short-passing game, which is similar to runs. I see the Eagles trying to get McCoy and Darren Sproles involved in the passing game to help the receivers. So even if McCoy does not crack 100 rushing yards or Sproles does not have a big running game, I think both are effective with their all-purpose yardage.
Slowing Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson is easier said than done, but are there any other offensive players the Eagles should be wary of?
McLane: No. OK, next question … The Seahawks improved their locker room when they jettisoned Percy Harvin to New York, but they lost one of their few passing weapons. He wasn't playing at a very high level before the trade, but he gave opposing defenses one more player to worry about. There isn't much to scare Bill Davis' pass defense. Receiver Doug Baldwin (48 catches for 519 yards) is a solid receiver, but he runs most of his routes out of the slot and Brandon Boykin should hold his own when given the opportunity in the Eagles' nickel package. Jermaine Kearse (14.3 per catch average) runs well, but he's more of an after-the-catch receiver than a field stretcher.
The Seahawks run out of three-wide receiver sets as much as any team on first and second down. It will be interesting to see how Davis counters. Will he take Casey Matthews off the field for Boykin to match their personnel, or will he roll the dice occasionally and stay in base to stop Lynch. The danger in that is Wilson's effectiveness to either keep the ball on zone read option plays or make something happen with his arm or scrambling ability.
Berman: You bring up a key point. I'm curious how the Eagles use those sub packages. I wonder if we'll see more nickel and less dime. But I do think Boykin plays against Baldwin, who is Seattle's top receiver and has a similar body type to Boykin. Seattle's pass catchers are not dangerous enough to really take advantage of the Eagles' weakness. I thought second-round pick Paul Richardson would be more of a threat by this point in the season.
For the game, this game will be about stopping Wilson and Lynch. The wide receivers are not going to beat them as much as the quarterback and the running back.
The Seahawks have received some production from tight end Tony Moeaki the past two weeks after signing him mid-season. But if you're looking for other offensive players to watch, it's the backup running backs. Robert Turbin and Christine Michael are both talented players. Michael had a 45-yard rush against the Giants and also flashed at times in the preseason. They won't get enough carries to be true difference-makers, but they are under-the-radar offensive options who could see some work.
Who are is stud and dud for the Eagles?
McLane: Mychal Kendricks has quietly had a strong season since returning from a calf injury. He makes eye-popping plays on a weekly basis and I think he will central to keeping Lynch and Russell in check. Kendricks has the instincts and maneuverability to meet Lynch before he gets moving. He has the athleticism to run Wilson down outside the pocket. He may spy the Seahawks quarterback on occasion, but I see Davis using Connor Barwin in that role – as he did against Cam Newton – more often.
It's amazing we haven't mentioned Mark Sanchez yet. I don't think he'll be asked to win the game on his own, but he will have to make some throws and I can see a turnover or two against that Seahawks secondary. I won't go as far as to say he will be a dud, but passing downfield will be a struggle for the Eagles quarterback.
Berman: My stud is Sproles. He has not been used as often as he was earlier this season – he had 26 offensive touches in the first two games and 52 offensive touches in the next 10 games – but I think this could be an interesting matchup for him. Seattle has had some running backs put up solid receiving numbers out of the backfield this season, and Sproles can be used in that role on Sunday. That's one way of avoiding the cornerbacks, too, as I said above. Sproles' role is to present matchup problems. When the Eagles might not have favorable matchups elsewhere, Sproles would be a good place to turn.
My dud is Riley Cooper. His yards per catch have declined this season, but this is a game in which they could use the 2013 version because of how tough Maclin's matchup is with Richard Sherman. However, the Seahawks' other cornerbacks deserve credit. Tharold Simon is developing into a good player, and his size neutralizes Cooper's size. Cooper has not made many big plays this season, and I don't know if one is coming on Sunday.
What is your prediction?
McLane: I've gone back and forth on this game numerous times, but I think the Eagles have the matchup edge. Their defensive weakness is in the secondary, but the Seahawks aren't explosive through the air. The 'X' plays that have killed Davis' unit at times this season shouldn't be there. Lynch is a beast, pardon the pun, but he can be contained. He eats defenses up with five-, six-, seven-yard gains, but I don't see the Eagles run defense giving up that on a consistent basis. Casey Matthews is certainly a concern. But the other six up front aren't. Wilson is the 'X' factor if Lynch can't get going. But I can't see the Seahawks scoring more than 21 points.
Seattle's pass defense is playing at a high level. Earl Thomas-Kam Chancellor is the best safety tandem in the league. Those two are especially effective helping against the run. It could be a struggle on the ground, but I think McCoy can break off a few big ones. The Seahawks are also susceptible on special teams. Their punt cover unit is 29th in the league. I think Sproles has a big return on Sunday. I think the Seahawks aren't the same team on the road. I think the Eagles bus continues to roll. Eagles 27, Seahawks 20.
Berman: After predicting the correct result in eight consecutive games, I was wrong last week. Similar to the Cowboys game, this one is a tough call. When I look at the teams that the Eagles have a hard time with, it's usually those with top passing offenses that challenge the Eagles' secondary. The strength of the Eagles' defense actually plays into what Seattle does best, and the Eagles showed last week how effective they can be against the run.
If this game is played in the teens, the Eagles will lose. If it's played in the 20s, the Eagles will win. I think it's played in the 20s and the Eagles win.
Chip Kelly usually finds ways for the offense to move the ball, and that will continue. They cannot afford silly turnovers and must take advantage of red-zone opportunities, but the Eagles are legitimate contenders that have played well at home. That continues Sunday. Give me Eagles 24, Seahawks 21; the Eagles match last season's win total and play for their second consecutive division title next week.