Eagles fly west for a battle of birds: Philly’s defense will face a tough test taking on the elusive Russell Wilson on the road

By Evin Hartsock, Managing Editor

      After advancing to 10-1 on the season after a 31-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears at home, the Philadelphia Eagles head out west this week to face one of their biggest challenges so far this season, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.

      The Eagles roll into Seattle with one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz who added to his MVP resume on Sunday as he threw for 227 yards, three touchdowns, and completed 62 percent of his passes. Just as the passing game was successful for Wentz, so too was the ground game as the Eagles continue to be one of the league’s best rushing teams. Philadelphia put up 176 rushing yards on a Chicago defense that is better than their record shows, led by 95 yards on 15 carries from running back LeGarrette Blount.

     The backfield duo of Blount and Jay Ajayi showed off their explosiveness as they both broke off for runs of 30-plus yards, largely in part to the impressive play of the Eagles’ offensive line, which has managed to continue to play at an elite level without all-pro left tackle Jason Peters.

     Normally facing the Seahawks defense (once named “The Legion of Boom”) would be a concern for most teams, but this is not the Seattle defense of old. Star cornerback Richard Sherman is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles, and both safety Kam Chancellor and defensive end Cliff Avril are out for the year with neck injuries. The list of ailments goes on for the Seahawks, as they could also be without cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and DeShawn Snead, who tore his ACL in Seattle’s playoff game against Atlanta last season.  

     Although Seattle’s defense is ranked eighth in total defense, it may not be too much of a threat for Philadelphia. The Eagles have already toppled the defenses of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, which rank second and third in total defense. With such drastic injuries in the Seahawk’s secondary, they could have a long day ahead of them dealing with Wentz and the Eagles’ array of receivers that includes Alshon Jeffery, who has gotten hot as of late, with five touchdowns in the last four games.

     With the secondary banged up, the Seahawks will have to rely on their defense, which ranks ninth in the league. However, handling the Eagles’ ground game, which ranks second in the league will be a challenge.

     While the contest against Seattle looks favorable for the Eagles offensively, the real test will be for their defense and handling quarterback Russell Wilson, who is having an MVP-worthy season. Wilson has become the number one option for Seattle’s offense due to its lack of a run game. So far, he has thrown for 3,029 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In addition to his passing numbers, he has also been successful in the running game. Wilson has averaged 6.2 yards per carry, with 401 rushing yards and four touchdowns so far.

     Wilson’s ability to take over a game, combined with his dual threat of throwing the long ball and escaping the pocket to break off on long runs could cause the Eagles’ defense some trouble; however, they have proven they have the ability to handle Wilson. Philadelphia’s defense has not faced a true dual-threat quarterback since Carolina’s Cam Newton in Week 6, but that outing was quite successful for them. Despite giving up 71 rushing yards to Newton, Philadelphia’s defense was able to prevent any large chunk runs and forced three interceptions.

      As talented as Wilson is, a large reason that he has to run so much is due to the fact that the Seahawks have no solid run game. Seattle is ranks twentieth in rushing, which is largely because of their poor offensive line. Due to injuries and free agency, Seattle’s offensive line has been sub-par this year and they’ve lacked a solid running back since the days of Marshawn Lynch. Wilson has been sacked 26 times already this season and that total could rise even more this Sunday after Philadelphia’s impressive pass rush gets their crack at Seattle’s line. The Eagles’ rank sixth in total sacks at 31 and the front line of Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Tim Jernigan has been extremely successful at pressuring quarterbacks this season. Even if Wilson can escape the pocket, the Eagles have been stopping the run better than anyone in the league, only allowing an average of 65 yards a game.

       The Eagles’ defense had one of its best performances last Sunday as they completely dominated the Bears. Philadelphia was able to completely neutralize Chicago’s young running back tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to a combined negative five rushing yards. The entire team only had six total rushing yards and was unable to find the end zone on the ground.

      One aspect of Philadelphia’s game that raised some concern was the play of its secondary, especially due to the high number of injuries that department of the defense had to deal with early in the year. Those concerns have since been silenced, as corner Ronald Darby has returned from an ankle injury and played well in his appearances since returning. The entire secondary, featuring the likes of Malcom Jenkins, Patrick Robinson, and Jalen Mills have been the best secondary unit statistically since Week 8 of the NFL season. The secondary has continued to improve over the course of the season, giving the Eagles solid play they can rely on.

      The primetime match-up means different things for both teams. For the Eagles, it’s a chance to continue to solidify themselves as one of the best teams in the league and continue to try to solidify the top seed in the NFC. If Dallas loses to the Redskins tonight, the Eagles will clinch the NFC East for the first time since 2013. For Seattle, this game could be a must-win, as they are still a game back from the Los Angeles Rams and continue to claw to earn a playoff spot in the tight NFC race. The Seahawks margin for error will be quite slim if the Rams continue to produce wins the way they have so far this season.