It's been a wild, crazy Week 12 so far. The Monday Night Football game is an interesting one, with two teams that are technically in the playoff race. One of them is actually among the best teams in the NFC, but the other just happens to play in the NFC East. That's right, we've got the Seahawks traveling to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Eagles.
Let's break down the matchup.
How to watch
When the Seahawks have the ball
The Seahawks are coming off a long break here, having last played 11 days ago. Their Thursday Night Football victory over the Cardinals allowed them a measure of revenge for an earlier loss, and also pushed them past the Cards in the division standings while snapping a three-losses-in-four-games skid.
It'll be interesting to see whether the shift in strategy we saw last game to a slower, more run-oriented attack is something that sticks for this matchup. Some of that shift was likely due to the return of Carlos Hyde, which meant the Seahawks no longer had to rely on inexperienced or inadequate backs like DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, and Alex Collins. Some of it was likely due to the fact that Russell Wilson had turned the ball over 10 times in the team's previous four games. And some of it was likely because Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer aren't actually all that comfortable with the whole Let Russ Cook movement.
They would be ill-advised, though, to shift too far away from what has been working for them for most of the season. Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf are the three best players on this offense, and it's not all that close. Hyde and Chris Carson have run well, but even those runs have not been nearly as efficient as have Wilson's passes. Just because Wilson tried to do too much for a few games while the team was short on backfield playmakers doesn't mean they should take the ball out of his hands.
That's especially true in this matchup. The strength of the Eagles' defense is the front four, and they're far better against the run (11th in Football Outsiders' DVOA) than they are against the pass (20th). Philadelphia's secondary has proven flammable throughout the season, ranking 19th or worse on throws to every position: 19th against No. 1 wideouts, 28th against No. 2's, 20th against the slot, 27th against tight ends, and 30th against running backs. In other words, Wilson should be able to have a field day picking these guys apart all evening.
It seems at least somewhat likely that Darius Slay will track Metcalf all over the field, in what's becoming a bit of a trend in recent weeks. Because Tyler Lockett spends a lot of time in the slot, he is more often able to avoid opposing teams' top corners, while Metcalf gets the one-on-one treatment on the perimeter. Metcalf can beat anybody and everybody you put in front of him, though, and Wilson should not be afraid to test Slay down the field.
Metcalf (6-4, 229 pounds) has an enormous size advantage on Slay (6-0, 190) and should be able to beat him to 50-50 balls in the air and gain inside position when leveraging on short and intermediate routes. Lockett, meanwhile, will presumably see a lot of Nickell Robey-Coleman in the slot. NRC is a solid slot corner, but with his 4.53-second 40 time he is not match for Lockett's speed. The Seahawks should try to hit him with at least one of their beloved slot fade throws to try to get a big play down the field.
How much success Philly is able to have thwarting the Seahawks' scoring attempts will likely depend on two things: how often the Seahawks try to force the run, and how often they can get pressure on Wilson not just when he sets up at the top of his drop, but immediately after he moves to escape from the rush. It's not enough to get in his face; you have to prevent him from stepping up and/or getting to the perimeter if you want to keep him from making plays.
When the Eagles have the ball
I'm not sure there's been a more disappointing player in the league this season than Carson Wentz.
Through 10 games, Wentz has the Eagles at just 3-6-1. He's completed only 58.4 percent of his passes (career-worst), which have yielded an average of 6.2 yards per attempt (career-worst). He's taken a league-high 40 sacks, getting dropped on 9.6 percent of his dropbacks. His 14 interceptions lead the NFL, and his 3.7 percent interception rate exceeds that of his last two seasons combined (1.2 percent and 1.7 percent). He has exceeded a 60 percent completion rate just three times, thrown for more than 270 yards just once, gone a full game without turning it over only one time, and has yet to throw for three touchdowns in a game. His passer rating, QBR, and yards per game averages all sit at the lowest point of his career as well, while he is now apparently in danger of losing entire series' worth of snaps to rookie backup Jalen Hurts, instead of merely the occasional play here and there.
Wentz has been dealing with an under-manned supporting cast, to be sure. Brandon Brooks saw his season end before it began. Andre Dillard did as well. Jason Peters lasted just three games before getting injured, and is now hurt again. (He may or may not suit up for this game.) Lane Johnson played hurt essentially the entire year, and is now on injured reserve. Alshon Jeffery missed the first nine weeks of the season, and has played only 25 snaps all year. DeSean Jackson got hurt in Week 3, came back in Week 7, and promptly got hurt again. Both Miles Sanders and Jalen Reagor have been in and out of the lineup all year. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert have scarcely been healthy at all, let alone at the same time. '
The Eagles, of course, drafted Wentz to be a player who could overcome deficient surroundings. He even showed that type of talent, briefly, early in his career. But it's been a while since he did, and this year, he's more often dragged the offense down than he has propped it up -- and it can't all be blamed on injuries to his teammates.
All that said, it's difficult to draw up a better matchup than the one he has on Monday night. The Seahawks do not pressure the passer: the league average quarterback has been pressured on 35 percent of his dropbacks, but the Seahawks have gotten after the opposition only 30 percent of the time. The Seahawks seemingly cannot cover: they rank 27th in Football Outsiders' pass defense DVOA, and rank outside the top half of the league on throws to No. 1 receivers, No. 2 receivers, slot receivers, and running backs. They've not been much better even with Jamal Adams in the lineup. Carlos Dunlap had a huge game rushing the passer last week, but had not made nearly as much of an impact in his first two contests.
There should theoretically be opportunities for the likes of Reagor, Goedert, Jeffery, Travis Fulgham, Richard Rodgers, and Greg Ward to find openings in this porous pass defense. The questions surround whether Wentz can actually take advantage of them. He's far too often stared down open receivers and neglected to throw the ball, instead hanging onto it to wait and try to find something even more wide-open later in the down, only to instead get rocked or take a sack.
Given his struggles, it's easy to say that the Eagles should instead lean on Sanders, Boston Scott, and the run game, but there are a couple of issues with that strategy shift. The first is that the Eagles are ridiculously injured up front, as previously mentioned. The second is that while Seattle has been dreadful against the pass, the Seahawks have actually done quite well stopping the run. The way to beat this time is to drop back and throw the ball as often as possible. Philadelphia has struggled to do that against similarly-vulnerable defenses, so perhaps that's why Doug Pederson and company are apparently planning to put Hurts on the field more often. He probably can't do worse than what Wentz has been doing.
Prediction: Seahawks 30, Eagles 20