Game day here in Philadelphia has dawned sunny and cool, 39 degrees just before noon with a forecast for possible wind gusts of 20-30 miles per hour inside Lincoln Financial Field during today's 1:25 p.m. (Seattle time) game between the Seahawks and Eagles.
Forget that don’t-fraternize-with-opponents-before-a-game stuff. When Pete Carroll walks onto the field here today he’s going to seek Mark Sanchez.
He’s going to walk up this former protégé and …
“Punch him?” Carroll joked about his former USC quarterback now leading the Eagles (9-3) against Carroll’s Seahawks (8-4).
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“No, maybe he’d give me a shot in the ribs or something,” Carroll continued about the 28-year-old QB with whom he and USC won the 2009 Rose Bowl. “There’s no question, though, that we have great familiarity. I think the world of him and I’m really excited for his opportunities and all that.”
Then, in the next breath, Carroll cut to the Seahawks’ chase of a playoff spot.
“We’d like to bang him around a little bit if we get a chance,” he said.
That’s the game plan for the league’s top-ranked defense here, where NFC East-leading Philadelphia has won 10 straight home games: gang up and throttle LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s third-leading rusher, and put the game in the sometimes-error-making hands of Sanchez in his fifth start in two years.
Sanchez, the deposed New York Jet, has lost two fumbles and thrown six interceptions in the 41/2 games he’s played since Nick Foles injured his shoulder in Philadelphia’s win at Houston in early November.
Yet the Eagles have won four of the five games Sanchez has played, behind McCoy and a big-risk, big-play defense that gets sacks and forces almost as many turnovers as the offense gives away.
“It starts with McCoy, first and foremost,” Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said of the slithering Eagle who has 1,018 yards rushing, most of those outside off cuts and jukes. “If we can make this game lopsided and put the ball in Mark Sanchez’s hands, it will all be about getting the pass rush and making him nervous back there.”
I go more into how the Seahawks can do that in today's game-advance story that appears in the News Tribune.
--Here are my keys to the game, key players and the pick:
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (8-4) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (9-3)
1:25 p.m., Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
TV: Channel 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM
The series: The Eagles lead the series 7-6. Seattle has won three of the last four meetings. This is the first time in seven years the Seahawks have played in Philadelphia. The last time Seattle lost there: Starter Dave Krieg and Kelly Stouffer combined to complete just 17 of 40 passes, Steve Largent had just one catch and the Seahawks lost 31-7 at Veterans Stadium -- which was demolished in 2004 and is now parking lot U outside the new stadium.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Slow down “Shady”: LeSean McCoy, whom Pete Carroll and many other know as “Shady,” has already gained 1,018 yards this season. He shreds teams outside and jukes flailing defenders in the open field. Missed tackles were Seattle’s downfall in losses at San Diego and Kansas City. But the return to health of Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor has fixed much of that problem. McCoy is going to test Wagner, Chancellor and that tackling like no one yet this season. If the Seahawks pass that test, they will win.
Another Wilson night at the Improv: We saw it last week on his stop, spin and throw for a big gain to Marshawn Lynch. We saw it when he was sacked seven times against Arizona a few weeks ago -- when he should have been dumped at least eight more times. Russell Wilson has mostly been able to offset porous pass protection with spectacular scrambles and how’d-he-do-that passes. Philadelphia leads the NFC with 42 sacks with swarming blitzes. It’s prime time for more improvisational heroics from No. 3.
Keep following the recipe on Sproles: Darren Sproles has more than 14,000 all-purpose yards since 2007, the most in the NFL. But in three career games against Seattle he has zero yards on four punt returns with two fair catches, seven carries for just 29 yards and 13 catches for 74 yards. He has two of his five career TDs on punt returns this season. If Seahawks punt gunner Ricardo Lockette can get past the Eagles at the line and sprint free to Sproles, and if that tackling is sound on defense, one of Philadelphia’s biggest weapons will shoot blanks against Seattle. Again.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
54 Bobby Wagner LB 6-0 241 third
The signal-caller, the play-maker, the glue that has bonded the defense now must tackle McCoy.
41 Byron Maxwell CB 6-1 207 fourth
If Jeremy Lane (glute) doesn’t play he will likely be the nickel – often – vs PHI’s spread receivers.
83 Ricardo Lockette WR 6-2 211 fourth
On Jon Ryan’s punts can Lockette sprint down and get to Sproles before the dynamo gets going?
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Year
25 LeSean McCoy RB 5-11 206 sixth
NFL’s No. 3 rusher with 1,018 yards is a different kind of trouble. Speedy, elusive, lethal.
18 Jeremy Maclin WR 6-0 198 sixth
71 catches, 1,088 yards, 9 receiving TDs. Any question to whom Sanchez is throwing?
98 Connor Barwin OLB 6-4 264 sixth
Second in NFL with 12½ sacks. Will be speeding off Okung’s, Britt’s flanks.
The pick: Seahawks, 23-20.Time to see if the champs are truly back. Wagner, Chancellor and a revitalized defense plays its most impressive game yet.