Bowen: Eagles staying grounded at Seattle
IS THE formula for offensive success the Eagles followed against Atlanta last Sunday repeatable, this week at Seattle? After all, the opposing defensive schemes are very similar, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn having gotten that job in 2015 after winning a Super Bowl as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.
IS THE formula for offensive success the Eagles followed against Atlanta last Sunday repeatable, this week at Seattle?
After all, the opposing defensive schemes are very similar, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn having gotten that job in 2015 after winning a Super Bowl as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.
The personnel, certainly, is a little different. You probably didn't notice anyone who looked much like Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas roaming the Atlanta secondary. But the secondary might be, well, secondary. The Eagles beat the Falcons by running the ball, 38 times for 208 yards, 5.5 yards per carry. Seattle is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, but remember, the Falcons had good run defense stats, as well, until they faced the Eagles.
Then there's this: The last four teams to play the Seahawks are 1-2-1 against them, nobody losing by more than seven points. And those four teams - Arizona, New Orleans, Buffalo and New England - ran the ball 138 times, passed it 154. That's balance.
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich left no doubt Thursday that he sees sticking with the run as essential to his players hanging in at CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks are 4-0 this season and 31-5 since 2012.
"I think you can," Reich said, when asked if a team could go into Seattle with a running mindset, despite the stats. "I think that's the key, what you said there. It's a mindset, and that's really - it might play out, you never know how it's going to play out. You go up against a team that's this good against the run in their home place, and you still have expectations to run the ball efficiently, run it enough to win. That looks different from game to game. But I think what you're saying is a good thing, that we've gotta go in with the mindset that we can run the ball effectively against this group."
Rookie running back Wendell Smallwood, who gained 70 yards on 13 carries against the Falcons, noted that Seattle's secondary actually is a big part of its success against the run.
"Their safeties (Thomas and Kam Chancellor) are aggressive, their corners, 25 (Sherman), he loves to tackle. They play aggressive. A lot of two-gapping, putting a lot of guys in the box," Smallwood said.
But the Falcons, Smallwood said, do a lot of the same stuff, with different players.
"Very similar to Atlanta," he said. "The closest I've ever seen two teams in the NFL . . . I think we're going to have to take the same approach and be aggressive, from the first snap to the last snap."
Ryan Mathews was the bulwark against Atlanta, 109 yards on 19 carries, his most productive game since 2013. Mathews, often banged up, said Thursday he came out of it feeling fine.
"It felt good getting into a rhythm, just running behind the big guys," he said. "They (Seattle) are a good defense. They're real physical. It's going to be a hard game."
Right guard Brandon Brooks said: "We've got to do what makes us go," which is taking some pressure off rookie quarterback Carson Wentz by running effectively, getting into third-and-manageable situations, as they did against the Falcons.
Reich said the similarity of the back-to-back opposing defensive schemes wasn't without some dangers for the Eagles.
"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 (to Atlanta)," he said. "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."
Of course, the Eagles are battling the fact that while they've been 4-0 and dominant at home, winning by an average margin of 17.5 points, they've lost four in a row on the road since that Monday night win at Chicago, albeit by an average margin of 4.75 points. Doug Pederson talked about that this week.
"I think when you're on the road, you try to press just a little bit - you try to get that quick early lead, try to take the crowd out of the game," Pederson said. "You maybe do some things that are uncharacteristic of what you do at home, and we just can't do that. We've got to stick to the gameplan. We've got to approach it much like a home game and trust the players, trust the plan. Let the game sort of come to us a little bit, as opposed to trying to make something happen."
In three of the four successive road losses, the Eagles trailed 14-0 in the first quarter. The only game that didn't follow that pattern was the overtime loss at Dallas, in which the Eagles blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead, with the help of some questionable Pederson playcalling. Games where they take care of the ball early, they generally are in a position to win.
"We have got to handle the crowd noise better," Pederson said this week. "There are quite a few factors that we've got to address and clean up, going into these road games."
Seattle, with its "12th Man" tradition, is as noisy a venue as the league offers. The Eagles have done more than their share of false-starting, even at home last week, when Pederson had Wentz vary the cadence. Effectively using the silent count at CenturyLink will be a test of the offense's maturity and focus.
"We need to take an initiative and just eliminate that kind of stuff," said left guard Allen Barbre, who returns to the lineup this week after missing two games with a hamstring problem. Barbre was a Seahawk for parts of 2010 and 2011. "We need to clean ourselves up. That's just uncalled for - that's just careless mistakes that we can't afford to have. You're not going to be successful when you're consistently doing that. The good teams don't do stupid stuff like that."
Seattle puts in its media notes that its opponents have committed an NFL-high 150 false-start penalties at CenturyLink since the 2005 season.
"They pride themselves on trying to get false starts, as a crowd," Barbre said. "I think you've just got to go in there and play smart football."
SOME FANS seem to think the Eagles will get blown out this week. I don't. For one thing, this team hasn't been blown out - even that awful game at Washington was a seven-point loss. For another, though Seattle might end up representing the NFC in the Super Bowl again, it isn't blowing away a lot of teams. The Atlanta squad the Eagles just beat went into CenturyLink and lost by two points last month. Two weeks ago, the Seahawks' home margin was six points over Buffalo.
The Eagles' defensive line can stuff the Seahawks' running game and get after Russell Wilson, though getting after him isn't beating him, necessarily. It's going to be really hard for the weapons-challenged visitors to score touchdowns, especially since we don't know how healthy Jordan Matthews (back spasms) or Zach Ertz (hamstring) will be, but if Carson Wentz doesn't throw picks, I think the Eagles will give a solid accounting of themselves.
I say, just close enough to haggle over this or that playcall, as in just about every loss this year.
Prediction: Seahawks 19, Eagles 15.