The Seahawks are coming off a very impressive win in New England, and nine games into the season, they feel like they're, "just starting to hit our stride." The Seahawks are back home this week, but staying on a roll won't be easy against the Eagles, who despite a modest 5-4 record, are one of the more balanced teams in the NFL when you factor in what they're doing on defense and special teams. Footballoutsiders.com currently has the Eagles as the No. 1 team in the NFL based off of their signature metric, DVOA, while the Seahawks, who have finished as the No. 1 DVOA team for four straight years, currently rank second.
"It's a big challenge for us," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "You see a lot of potent football players. They got guys in a lot of really great spots, loaded up in places where they can make plays… We got a great matchup."
Here are three key matchups that could make the difference in a battle between two talented NFC teams:
1. Philadelphia's Defensive Line vs. an Improving Seahawks Offensive Line.
Seattle's young offensive line has without a doubt taken strides this season, both in terms of protecting Wilson, and as was evident last week, in the way Seattle ran the ball. But building off of that success won't be easy Sunday against a talented Eagles front that is arguably a bigger test than what the Seahawks have faced in recent weeks.
"Their front four guys are really good," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "All the way across the board. Fletcher (Cox) is a terrific player, Bennie Logan can play, they're all really loaded up. They bring the heat. Their style, (Defensive coordinator Jim) Schwartz really has always had his guys come off the football and rush the passer first and really attack. That's what really jumps out, is that they're really good up front."
With rookie George Fant continuing to grow at left tackle, and with rookie right guard Germain Ifedi improving every week, and with the unit as a whole making progress under the leadership of center Justin Britt, there is plenty of reason for optimism when it comes to Seattle's line going forward, but on Sunday that group will have a big challenge on its hands.
"They're talented," Carroll said. "I think talent is one thing, and just the tenacity they have. Really the two guys off the edge, they have great motors, they don't quit, they work hard each and every play. They don't take plays off. They have two of the better tackles, a Pro Bowl tackle with Cox inside. It's a really good front four and they have a couple solid backups that can help them in there. It's going to be a good test for us."
2. A Surging Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin vs. the Eagles Secondary.
When the Seahawks offense took off in the second half of last season, quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Doug Baldwin were a nearly unstoppable duo. Over the final seven games of the 2015 season, Wilson threw 24 touchdowns and just one interception, and 11 of those went to Doug Baldwin, who finished the season with a of league-high 14 touchdown receptions. So when Wilson hooked up with Baldwin for three touchdowns in last week's win over the Patriots, it might have not only been a great game for those two, but a sign that another prolific stretch is coming for two of Seattle's best players.
Wilson has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions over the past two games, while Baldwin had six catches for 89 yards the week before his three-touchdown game. When you factor in Jimmy Graham's outstanding play this season, Tyler Lockett's improving health, and the progress of the running game, which will get Thomas Rawls back this week, there's plenty of reason to believe Seattle's offense is setting up another big finish to the season.
"I've been getting that sense for the past few weeks," Wilson said. "Like I said to you guys last year at one point, I feel like we're right around the corner, and sometimes you're really close and you kind of just know it. Especially when you're studying, when you're in the film room, practicing and dedicated to the craft, you know great things are going to happen. We have great football players, we have great coaching staff, we have the best fans in the National Football League. We want to continue to play great football. You have to take it one game at a time, it's not too far down the road. We play a very tough football team this week. We respect that the Philadelphia Eagles are going to be a great football team, it's going to be a great challenge."
3. Eagles Rookie Quarterback Carson Wentz vs. the Moment.
Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft, is enjoying a very impressive rookie campaign, one that has seen him put up spectacular numbers at times while helping keep the Eagles in playoff contention. As Carroll pointed out this week, Wentz came out of the gate on fire, with the Eagles not limiting their offense early in the season like the Seahawks did with Wilson in 2012.
"He's totally equipped to play," Carroll said. "They haven't had to simplify it to the point where they take it down a notch for a rookie. He's able to make checks and kill calls and change plays one side to another. He's dealing with protections, he can throw a variety of throws, he can run well. He's a good athlete, he can make good decisions in space and he knows how to do that. He throws well on the run, he's a really good player and he's going to be a great player as he just gains the experience.
"He may have started faster (than Wilson). Those first three games they came out of the chutes and I think it was three games in a row of over 100 QB ratings. I don't think he had a pick in the first three or four games, he just started really fast."
Wentz and the Eagles did come back to earth a bit after that fast start, however, with the Eagles losing four of six following a 3-0 start, and Wentz throwing five interceptions in those six games after not getting picked in his first three. Wentz and the Eagles bounced back with a strong performance in last week's win over the Atlanta Falcons, but Philadelphia is 1-4 on the road this season heading into one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL.
"You've got to keep your poise," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "The challenge is—and we'll simulate it, we'll go inside (for practice), we'll crank the noise up—but it's really hard to totally simulate this environment. But that's the fun part of it, it really is. When you've been around this league and you kind of get in environments like this, as challenging as it is, it's fun. This will be a good experience for Carson. In one respect it's just another road game, it's just the next opponent on your schedule, but everybody knows when you go to Seattle that it's a tough environment to play in, mainly because they've got a good football team."
Wentz has heard enough about CenturyLink Field and Seahawks fans to know he's heading into a difficult environment, but he's looking forward to that challenge.
"I've heard it's loud," Wentz said. "I've heard it's arguably one of the loudest places in the NFL. I think we're all excited for it. We're excited for that atmosphere. It's going to be a physical football game, a fun football game on Sunday afternoon. Like I said, its going to be loud and I know the Seahawks fans are very passionate, very into it, so I think it will be a lot of fun."
And of course there's a bigger challenge facing Wentz than just the crowd; he has to deal with one of the best defenses in the NFL, a defense that is feeling very confident after beating Tom Brady and the Patriots last week.
"Defensively they are playing extremely fast and they're aggressive on defense," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "They're keeping these teams in a lot of third-and-long situations. Then of course you factor in the crowd in those situations, it just makes it that much harder to execute on offense. You probably hear it every week, if you can handle the crowd noise, at least you give yourself a chance to execute plays. Seattle is playing well, coming off a great win the other night at New England, that was huge for them."
The Seahawks and the Eagles have played 14 times, splitting their all-time series 7-7. The two teams will face off again this Sunday during Week 11 at CenturyLink Field.