The Injury Bowl or The Bird Bowl. Either term is acceptable, because both describe these two teams in a nutshell; they’re both birds, and have had injury-riddled seasons for the past few years. The Eagles and the Seahawks made the playoffs last season, with Seattle losing on Wild Card Weekend to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Nick Foles-led Eagles won against the Bears (because of Cody Parkey) on Wild Card Weekend only to lose against New Orleans because Alshon Jeffery couldn’t catch a pass. However, unlike last season, this is the most injured Eagles team the NFL has seen in a while.
Carson Wentz’s weapons as of right now are former AAF receiver Greg Ward, practice squad members Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis, to go along with an injured Zach Ertz and a healthy Dallas Goedert. Without further ado, what can both teams do to win on Wild Card Weekend?
Seattle needs to protect their quarterback: period. If this does not happen, the Seahawks will be going home after today. Philly’s pass rush is no ordinary one, and with the Seahawks playing a traffic cone at left tackle, Russell Wilson’s blind side is at large risk if Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat start teeing off. Wilson cannot be running around forever against the Eagles’ front if he wants to win, because that plays right into the hands of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s aggressive nature.
Furthermore, double-team Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Most Seahawks fans regretfully watched 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones bull-rushing then-backup center Joey Hunt into Wilson’s lap. That cannot happen with Fletcher Cox, or he’ll wreck both the run game and the passing game, leading to a stagnant Seattle offense.
Not only does Seattle need to protect their quarterback, but they also need to attack Schwartz’s aggressive man-coverage tendencies by throwing the ball deep. Philly’s biggest weakness this season by far has been its cornerback play, regardless of who has been on the field. D.K. Metcalf is one of the freakiest wide receivers in football, so use his straight-line speed to expose Philly’s man coverage tendencies.
Opening up the quick passing game would also be an option. Show the Eagles’ secondary one thing, wait for them to bite on it, and then throw the ball deep to whoever’s open. Take free yards on 1st and 2nd down, stay ahead of the chains, and when in rhythm, take shots, and a few knockout blows should suffice in this war of attrition.
Do not underestimate this Eagles’ receiving corps. While they may not be Pro Bowlers or All-Pros, they have shown that they are enough to will Carson Wentz, and in turn this Eagles team, to tough wins.
Getting Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders back from injury is also a godsend for Philly’s offense. In order to stop mismatch weapons like Goedert, Ertz, and Sanders, Seattle needs to not call the one defense they’ve called all season-long: 4-3 Base.
That 3rd linebacker is just waiting to get picked on by Doug Pederson’s playcalling. Considering that said linebacker will probably be in coverage against Sanders, Goedert, or Ertz, handing Wentz free yards with a mismatch is not exactly the best move. Instead, play Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair a lot more in the slot, where they can anchor against the run and cover quicker slot receivers.
If Seattle still wants to play 4-3 Base on occasion, then send blitzes. Philly’s offensive line has been shaky the entire season, and without arguably their 2 best linemen (RG Brandon Brooks and RT Lane Johnson), backups Matt Pryor and Halopoulavati Vaitai should see significant playing time. Consistently bringing pressure against a depleted line is the best way for Seattle to protect their terrible secondary.
Run the ball. Seattle ranks 22nd against the run this season, and with the trio of running backs they have (Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, Miles Sanders), those guys need to feast against a bad Seahawks front-7. Let Jason Kelce dominate the line of scrimmage, and then use play action to get your tight ends open.
Sanders and Scott also need many targets in the passing game. With arguably the worst receiving corps in the entire playoffs, getting the ball to everyone else seems to be the Eagles’ only recipe for success. Screen passes, checkdowns, do whatever it takes to get the rookie runners in space. Their presence also helps Wentz get settled in his 1st playoff matchup.
The Eagles also need to use tight ends as if they use receivers and backs. Goedert and Ertz need to be involved in the quick passing game, they need screen passes, and they need to line up as if they are receivers. If Pederson gets the man coverage looks he wants, it becomes a whole lot easier to identify what Seattle’s defense is running because the Seahawks cannot disguise without putting themselves in a matchup disadvantage.
The two aforementioned tight ends also need to be able to help in pass protection, especially against pass rushers like Jadeveon Clowney. With a shaky at best offensive line (with the exception of Kelce), protecting Wentz is a priority. The Eagles’ tight ends are not only valuable pass catchers, but very valuable pass protectors, and it needs to stay that way for Philly to be successful on offense.
Disguise something. Anything. Jim Schwartz has a very annoying tendency to reveal man coverage tells before the snap, which gives opposing offenses free yards when they call plays to break man coverage. So, the most important tell for Schwartz today is to make Philly’s coverages very ambiguous. Making mistakes in playcalling hurts the Eagles’ ravaged secondary as much as mistakes in execution, so help them out.
Speaking of the Eagles’ secondary, do not bite on underneath routes. Seattle has killed teams this season throwing the ball deep, and the last thing the Eagles’ corners need is to be caught inside on a double move, because Wilson is one of the best deep-ball passers in this game, and 10 times out of 10, he won’t miss.
So, Schwartz cannot call coverages that allow his corners to stay exposed, and those corners cannot bite on every inside move they see. With the speed that Seattle has on offense, that is for sure the recipe for disaster.
Seattle will win this game. This run for Philly has been magnificent, but they have not played a team like Seattle. The injury bug will finally take its toll when Philly neither has depth nor good play from receivers and corners. Wilson and Brian Schottenheimer should be able to establish the run early, allowing Schwartz’s defense to reveal its tells early. When that happens, Wilson will take advantage, and the Eagles will be playing catch-up for most of the game.
Final Score: Seattle 24, Philly 14.