NFL Preview - Seattle (8-4) at Philadelphia (9-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll knows a lot about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Carroll coached Sanchez when the two were at USC and will face his former pupil when the Seahawks visit the Eagles Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I think he's playing fast," Carroll said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence in the system. It's obviously a system that helps the quarterbacks perform at a high level. The fact that Mark's come off the bench and performed at a high level is really a statement about the program as well as the players. I think that's what we're seeing."
Sanchez, of course, replaced Nick Foles (broken clavicle) under center in a win at Houston on Nov. 2 and has started the last four games (3-1). The Eagles have won two straight and four of the last five games, and took sole possession of first place with a 33-10 road win over the rival Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and ran for another, while LeSean McCoy eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with a season-high 159 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 25 carries. McCoy has cleared the 100-yard rushing mark in each of the past two games and is making it easier for Sanchez and the pass attack. In his last eight home games, McCoy has rushed for 825 yards and six touchdowns.
McCoy (6,491) needs 48 rushing yards to break Wilbert Montgomery's team record of 6,538 yards, which he has held since 1984. He ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards (1,018) and second in carries (242).
Jeremy Maclin had eight catches for 108 yards in Dallas and rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews found the end zone for the fifth time in the last five games. Philadelphia amassed 464 yards to Dallas' 267 and improved to 9-3.
The Eagles will face a much-improved Seattle defense, which is first in total yards allowed (285.8), third in both passing yards (199.4) and points allowed (18.4) and fifth against the rush (86.3). Seahawks talkative, talented and confident cornerback Richard Sherman is arguably the best at his position.
"We certainly have a healthy respect for the fact that (Sherman) is one of the finest corners in the league," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday, "but I do think we've got some good receivers who can go out and match up."
Shurmer's offense went just 1-for-5 in the red zone against the Cowboys, so it's important to come away with touchdowns on Sunday if the opportunity presents itself. The Eagles are fourth in both scoring (31.2) and total yards (416.2) and fifth in passing (286.0).
It will be tough sledding for the Eagles against this defense. The Seahawks have recorded back-to-back 19-3 wins over Arizona and San Francisco, and have won five of their last six games to erase a 3-3 start.
The Seahawks also played on Thanksgiving and recorded a 16-point victory on the road against the 49ers. Sherman picked off two passes and has three this season for the Seahawks, who have allowed just 204 yards the past two weeks.
"Every win is important," Sherman said. "This win is no more important than any other win this season."
Sherman was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Sherman has 23 interceptions, the most in the league during that span. His 23 picks are the most by a player in his first four seasons in the past 25 years.
Seahawks dangerous running back Marshawn Lynch posted 104 yards on 20 carries and is nearing his fourth straight 1,000-yard season at 956 yards. Lynch should reach that mark easily against Philadelphia's 12th ranked run defense, which is allowing 107.7 yards per game. However, the Eagles held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to a season-low 73 yards.
Lynch has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two meetings against the Eagles, and needs one touchdown for 10 or more in the last four seasons. The man known as "Beastmode" has 17 TDs in the past 16 games, including the playoffs.
The Seahawks are 8-4 and one game behind Arizona for the NFC West lead. They will try to stop Philadelphia's 10-game winning streak at home and trail the all-time series, 7-6. Seattle has won three of the last four meetings between the teams and is 2-0 at Lincoln Financial Field.
In a 31-14 Seahawks victory at home on Dec. 1, 2011, Lynch ran for 148 yards and two scores and the defense recorded four interceptions. Seattle is unbeaten in its last three trips to the City of Brotherly Love.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Besides trying to contain Lynch, the Eagles have another challenge in Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson has a strong arm and can run, two perfect traits for Carroll's offense. He is second on the team in rushing with 679 yards and threw for 236 yards and a TD against the 49ers.
Wilson hasn't thrown an interception in the each of the past three games and is focused on keeping the Seahawks in control of their own destiny. If the Seahawks win out they'll capture a second straight NFC West title. They will play the Cardinals on the road Dec. 21.
"We want to keep building and keep growing," said Wilson, who is 8-2 in the month of December. "We're going in the right direction. We have a lot more left and a lot more to do. It's one game at a time, one practice at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. We're looking forward to that."
Wilson makes plays with his ability to escape the rush and has great pocket awareness. When he's scrambling for an open receiver, defenses tend to break down and fall behind.
Unless you live in or are from the Emerald City, Seattle's receivers are not a household name. But that doesn't mean the Eagles can take them for granted. Doug Baldwin (519 yards, 2 TD) leads the team in yards and catches with 48. Jermaine Kearse (414 yards, TD), Luke Willson (190 yards, TD) and Robert Turbin (159 yards, 2 TD) match up well with Philadelphia's secondary, which is allowing 258.6 yards this season.
For how poorly the Eagles' defensive backfield has been, it's playing better in recent weeks. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Fletcher Bradley can make it easy on the defense if they shut down Seattle's pass attack. Lynch leads the team with three receiving touchdowns and is dangerous on screens.
The Eagles will need to apply pressure up front and not let Wilson out of their sights. Wilson has been sacked a lot this season because of his elusiveness and went down seven times against Arizona and four more times in San Francisco. He has been sacked at least twice in each of the last four games.
Philadelphia is second in the league with 42.0 sacks and linebacker Connor Barwin is second with 12 1/2. Barwin was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month and posted 6 1/2 sacks, 24 tackles and a forced fumble in five November games. Barwin is the first Eagle to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Month since former safety Brian Dawkins won the award in December of 2008.
Barwin has 10 1/2 sacks in the past four games at home and will be one of 11 guys focused on stopping Lynch.
"He's not just power," Barwin said. "He is a complete player. You have to account for him in every phase of the game. He will make you miss, too. He really does it all."
Eagles defensive back Nolan Carroll said Lynch's feet are always moving after contact, so it's important to get him down immediately.
"Watching him on film, you can tell that he runs hard, but when you feel that first pop, and it kind of goes through your entire body, then you know he's really running hard," Carroll explained.
Lynch has an NFL-best 1,113 yards rushing since 2011. McCoy is right behind Lynch with 1,029 yards on the ground.
The Eagles are hoping linebacker Emmanuel Acho will return from a groin injury to stabilize Philly's defense. Casey Matthews did an admirable job as his replacement, but Acho is more talented. Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan, and linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have to cover tight and apply pressure so the secondary doesn't get buried.
It's tough for a team to make a cross-country flight and have enough energy to burn on the field. The Seahawks, though, are a different breed and things are beginning to click for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Seattle faces a daunting task in south Philly and can change the playoff landscape with a victory. In what should be a low-scoring affair, which features two of the league's top running backs, the Seahawks have their sights set on another NFC West title and will move closer to that goal.
"You just want to keep winning, one game at a time," Wilson said. "Go 1-0 every week and have a championship mindset. You just want to keep building, one week at a time."
Seattle's championship mindset has accrued 28 wins in the last 36 regular season games.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Seahawks 24, Eagles 20
12/07 09:05:27 ET