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2019 Wild Card Key Matchups: Seahawks at Eagles

Taking a look at three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Eagles.

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The Seahawks kick off their postseason with a wild-card game at Philadelphia on Sunday, a rematch of a Week 12 meeting that Seattle won 17-9. Both teams have changed a decent amount since that game, however, and the Eagles (9-7) have won four in a row, so the Seahawks know they can't assume that past success will translate to a win if they aren't at their best.

"This is a good club," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "That's why they won the division. They also finished great. Coming off four straight wins to get it done is really a great accomplishment for these guys."

If the Seahawks are going to win in Philadelphia for the second time this season, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game:

1. Seattle's downfield passing game vs. Philadelphia's secondary.

The Eagles limited Russell Wilson to one of his worst games, statistically speaking, when these teams played in November, but one of Seattle's two touchdowns did come on a shot down the field, a 33-yard flea-flicker to Malik Turner. 

And had Wilson and DK Metcalf connected on a couple of deep passes that just missed, it could have been a big game for Wilson, who earlier this week noted, "we missed on a couple of opportunities, and if we hit those, it changes the circumstances of the game."

The Eagles have a very talented defense to be sure—they've held seven of their last nine opponents to 17 or fewer points—but they are also susceptible to the deep ball, as was evident in Turner's touchdown catch, as well as the times Metcalf got free deep on a couple of near misses. 

As The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia detailed this week, the Eagles have struggled against outside receivers this season, allowing 144.9 receiving yards to receivers lined up outside, the most in the NFL, 31 explosive receptions (T-29th), 17 touchdowns (32nd), and 9.09 yards per target (27th). 

The Eagles' susceptibility to the deep ball has less to do with a lack of talent as it does a commitment to stopping the run and aggressive approach that can lead to both a lot of sacks and the occasional big play down field.

"Sometimes, it's nice when they're pressuring, because once you hit it, there's a lot of green grass," Wilson said. "I've always said that to you guys. The key is making sure we hit those plays because if we can do that, that's the challenge in this game."

Wilson throws one of the best deep balls in football, and has weapons, Metcalf and Tyler Lockett in particular, who can stretch the field. If Wilson has time to operate—and that's not a given consider the Eagles recorded six sacks in the previous meeting—there will be opportunities to make plays deep.

"This guy is very dynamic," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Wilson. "Not only in the pocket but outside the pocket and can extend plays. We've got to look at that tape defensively and see what went well. Obviously, we gave up the trick play and kind of the difference in the football game. It'll be different this time too. We know that they like to get him out of the pocket with designed rollouts, and play-action. We've got to be on point with that. You can't lose sight of the contain element, or if you're attached to a certain receiver on a scramble drill. You've got to maintain your coverage element, otherwise he'll beat you. He'll find the open receiver. Just things that we have to work on this week in practice and prepare like we did before."

2. An up-and-down Seahawks pass-rush vs. a banged-up Eagles offensive line.

Seattle's win over the Eagles in Week 12 was the second straight game in which the Seahawks pass rush played a big role in a victory, and it looked like Seattle's defense was finally finding its groove in that all-important element of the game. 

In their previous game, the Seahawks recorded 5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits against the 49ers, then against the Eagles they had three sacks and nine quarterback hits, contributing to a five-turnover game by Philadelphia's offense. The fact that the Seahawks did that kind of damage against the Eagles without Jadeveon Clowney was even more encouraging, but the Seahawks haven't been able to recapture that level of pass rush since that two-game stretch, recording five sacks in their past five games.

Clowney, who has been battling through a core-muscle injury since Week 10, will play this week, so that will be a big help for Seattle's defense looking to get back to the level of play it demonstrated in November.

"We need more," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said when asked about the pass rush. "We need more. It's a whole lot easier to call a game when it's second-and-17 or third-and-18 rather than second-and-2 or third-and-1. Those minus plays, those negative plays are very important for us."

The Eagles have done a better job protecting Wentz of late, allowing just one sack in each of the past two games and two sacks in Week 15, but they head into this game with some significant injury concerns on the line. Pro-Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks was placed on injured reserve last week with a shoulder injury, and Pro-Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson is questionable with an ankle injury after not practicing Friday.

3. Carson Wentz's ball security vs. Seattle's defense.

The last time these teams met, the aforementioned pressure played a big role in the Seahawks forcing five turnovers. Wentz was intercepted twice in that game and was credited with two lost fumbles—though one of those was on a fumbled handoff exchange when Shaquem Griffin blew up a running play—but for the most part he has done a very good job taking care of the ball this season.

For all of the Eagles' injury woes on offense, Wentz has still played well, throwing 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, and during the Eagles' four-game winning streak to close the season, Wentz threw seven touchdowns without an interception. 

"We had five turnovers," Pederson said of the previous meeting. "I think we had two interceptions and three fumbles. That just demoralizes you in our execution and things of that nature. You can't do that and expect to win against good football teams, against a Russell Wilson-led football team. I thought our defense played pretty well. Kept us in the ball game. We just didn't make enough plays. We look at it from that standpoint that if we just take care of the football in any football game, at least it gives you an opportunity."

The Seahawks defense, meanwhile, has not forced a turnover in the last two games, Seattle's only two-game stretch without a takeaway this season, and is looking to get back to its level of play when it had multiple takeaways in five straight games.

The Seahawks and the Eagles will meet this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for wild card weekend during the 2019 NFL Playoffs. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.

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