It’s just two days until the game that could easily decide the second seed in the NFC this year: Seahawks vs. Eagles. Despite the fact that this game is occurring at Lincoln Financial Field and not at the home of the 12th man, everyone outside of the Eagles still seems to be picking the Seahawks as the guaranteed victors. I’m not saying it’s a bad prediction, but it may be unfair to completely rule out the 9-3 Eagles from beating the defending Super Bowl champs. Here are three players that need to step up this Sunday in order for the Eagles to have success.
1. TE Zach Ertz
There’s no doubt that Richard Sherman will be covering Jeremy Maclin for most, if not all of Sunday’s game, which means Maclin’s probably in for a rough night statistically. If Sanchez were smart, he’d just cut his losses and not throw to him unless Sherman falls down and is sucked into the turf. Byron Maxwell, the cornerback on the other side, is also very good and will give Jordan Matthews a tough matchup as well. This means that Ertz needs to have a big game.
Ertz started the season looking like he was going to be a top 5 tight end in the league this year, combining for 163 yards and a touchdown in his first two games. After that though, he’s caught just one touchdown in the next 10 games, going for over 50 receiving yards just once. Against the Cowboys, he didn’t even have a catch. He’s still on track to have a better season than last year, but that doesn’t mean much considering fellow TE Brent Celek is on pace to have his worst season since 2009. Celek doesn’t even have a touchdown yet this year. The Eagles have continued to struggle in the red zone, so maybe it’s time to look Ertz’s way. If he can get a touchdown or two, it would make the rest of the team’s jobs much easier.
2. LB Casey Matthews
Matthews was seen as possibly the worst player on the roster when the 53-man roster was officially announced, but I didn’t really care because I “knew” he wouldn’t play. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong…that is, about him not playing. With DeMeco Ryans out for season, Matthews has had to step up and play a ton at the inside linebacker position. With that position usually comes a lot of tackles, but that has not been the case for Matthews. He had a great game against Carolina with seven tackles and a forced fumble, but since then, he’s combined for just five tackles in the last four games. That’s pretty bad.
With the amount of time the Eagles are out on the field, it’s imperative that somebody is making the tackles. When linebackers are making the tackles, it usually means the running back isn’t getting huge gains. Marshawn Lynch is likely going to be a big part of Seattle’s offensive attack, and Matthews needs to do his best to fill the holes and stop the run. They did a great job of shutting down DeMarco Murray for the most part, but Lynch will be a different type of test.
3. P Donnie Jones
This seems like a silly player to have as a key to the game, but Jones’ punting could have a huge impact in terms of field position. Just a few years ago, Jones was an All-Pro punter for the Texans. The Eagles began to focus more on bolstering their special teams recently, and Jones was one of the first pieces to that puzzle. He has normally been very solid and has continued to do a pretty good job for them this year. He’s actually second in the league in punts inside the 20 (25 out of 54), but surprisingly his net punt average is terrible, coming in at 37.3 yards. Why is that?
Well, for one thing it could be that he’s forced to make a lot of short punts where the offense stalled around midfield, which isn’t his fault. If he punts from the opponent’s 45-yard line and pins it at the 10-yard line, it’s a great punt. But that also means the net is only 35 yards, which is very low. Punts like this could be very important Sunday in a game that could easily be very low-scoring. Seattle forces lots of punts with their defense, and the Eagles need to be prepared to accept that. If Jones can be solid and punt the ball deep or pin them inside the 20 a lot, it will help their defense a lot.
I’m going to refrain from making an actual prediction of the game, but I do believe the Eagles have a fair shot at winning. They have a better record and are playing at home, where they’ve been undefeated thus far. They’ve also never scored less than 27 points at home this year. I expect that to change, but who knows how. It should be an excellent battle.