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Clayton: 5 Things to watch for Seahawks vs Eagles

The Seahawks offense can't let the Eagles run away with it early; a first-possession TD is pivotal. (AP)

Last November, Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles came to Seattle. Despite a 3-0 and 4-2 start, the Eagles weren’t ready for the prime time. Wentz was a promising rookie, but the receiving corps was undermanned and the team didn’t have enough good running backs. The starting cornerbacks were Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin; neither of whom is in the league at the moment. The Eagles left the stadium with a 26-15 loss.

What a difference a year makes.

The Eagles are 10-1. Wentz is the top candidate for MVP. The roster is deep in running backs, better at receiver and have made strides in the secondary.

O’Neil: Seahawks will start memorable December with win over Eagles

Without question, the NFL’s best team is ready for Sunday night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. Here are five things to watch:

Stopping Carson Wentz. Wentz didn’t do poorly last year against the Seahawks; he completed 23 of 45 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. But he was a rookie and the Seahawks picked him off twice. Since then, he’s grown and could cause many problems for Seattle — especially considering the fact that this team had trouble earlier in the season against mobile quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota.

Wentz is mobile and has a strong arm. The biggest improvement is his ability to get the ball downfield — that’s where the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith help. Wentz’s yards per attempt have jumped for 6.2 to 7.5, and he has thrown 28 touchdowns in 11 games (compared to 16 touchdowns in 16 games last year).

The road is a little tougher for him. His quarterback rating is 113.2 at home compared to 94.4 on the road, where he completes 56.6 percent of his passes. The Seahawks’ crowd could affect him.

If the Seahawks let the Eagles get off to a fast start, they probably won’t be able to come back as well as they did in the Monday night game against the Atlanta Falcons. Minus a running threat this year, the Seahawks simply can’t get an opening touchdown drive on offense, and if there is a first-quarter score it might be more likely to come from the defense. The Eagles lead the league with 78 first-quarter points, 51 of them coming on their first two possessions.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson, like most coaches running the West Coast Offense, scripts the first 15 plays. The Seahawks have to find a way to rip up the script.

With Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman out of the season, the strength of the defense now comes the defensive line. It has to be a concern that the Seahawks won’t have Dion Jordan and Nazair Jones because of injuries. They need as much help as possible against an Eagles offensive line, with three blockers playing at a Pro Bowl level: right tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce and right guard Brandon Brooks.

Michael Bennett needs a big game against Eagles left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who placed Pro Bowler Jason Peters when he went on injured reserve. Last Sunday against San Francisco, the defensive line dominated. Sheldon Richardson said after the game the line has come together — and that’s a must
Three former Eagles. Matt Tobin, Marcus Smith and Byron Maxwell played for the Eagles. Smith said this week he circled Dec. 3 on his calendar because he wanted to show the Eagles how he’s advanced since leaving the team. Smith was a former first-round pick, but was drafted by the Eagles and forced to play in a 3-4 defense (though he is better as a 4-3 defensive end). He signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks with the hopes or reviving his career. The plan appears to have worked, and he’s shown some pass-rush.

The biggest name to watch is Byron Maxwell. In two games, Maxwell has shown excellent coverage skills and he’s regained the footwork necessary to play in the Seahawks’ defense. The Eagles didn’t play him in as much man-coverage as he likes (nor did the Miami Dolphins). The Eagles made Maxwell a $10.5 million cornerback and then traded him — so he’d probably like to show something Sunday.

Can the Seahawks get anything out of the running game when Russell Wilson isn’t the main runner? It could be tough. The Eagles are the best run-stopping unit in football. They are only giving up 65.1 yards per game and 3.5 per carry. The trade to acquire defensive tackle Tim Jernigan was a steal for the way he’s helped stop the run.
The Seahawks are pretty much down to Michael Davis and J.D. McKissic. Eddie Lacy may have gotten 47 yards on 17 carries, but he’s lacks speed. They have pretty much forgotten Thomas Rawls. C.J. Prosise is on the injured reserve. The run blocking has improved since the Duane Brown trade, but something needs to happen with the backs.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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