Seahawks-Eagles: Three Key Matchups

Sunday's matchup isn't just exciting because of the playoff implications. Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly are two of the most innovative coaches at any level in football and their genius will be tested. Making the treat all the more delectable are the talented players - like middle linebackers Bobby Wagner and Mychal Kendricks -- whose one-on-one matchups will prove critical this week.

As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game. No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis. Scout.com brought in greater Seattle resident and NFL scout Rob Rang to help determine the individual matchups that will determine whether the Seahawks will win or lose this week.

Here are his thoughts on the three critical one-on-one matchups for this week's game.


Eagles RB Darren Sproles vs. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner

Given the success that Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have enjoyed in Chip Kelly's offense, it is easy to be lured by the sirens of Philadelphia's passing attack. The real key to Kelly's offense, however, remains the relatively simple zone-reads he employs in the running game - just like he did to such great success at Oregon.

LeSean McCoy is one of the game's most dynamic runners. His lateral agility and acceleration make him a nightmare to tackle even in close quarters. The nickname "Shady" is appropriate - finding him is like looking for relief from the sun in the Sahara. He's the quickest back the Seahawks have faced since Kansas City's Jamaal Charles gashed them for 178 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in a Week 11 loss.

Even scarier, is the fact that Sproles is even quicker. Downright terrifying (at least from a Seahawks perspective) is that Sproles is also a better receiver and doubles as Philadelphia's punt returner. Sproles and the Eagles' special teams unit as a whole could play a significant factor in determining this week's winner. This matchup is all the more disconcerting from a Seattle perspective given the possible absence of Jeremy Lane, arguably the team's best special teams defender. (More on Lane later).

The Seahawks face enough zone-read in practice against their own offense that they should be in better position than most defenses to handle Philadelphia's scheme. Bobby Wagner plays a critical role in this area as his awareness helps his teammates line up correctly before the snap.

Given the fluidity of the Eagles backs, however, even defenses lined up correctly are often simply beaten one-on-one. The Seahawks are generally one of the best open-field tackling teams in the NFL. They weren't against the Charles and the Chiefs and it resulted in a loss. Anything but a championship effort from Seattle's linebackers in this regard against the Eagles' running backs will result in the same.

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Eagles MLB Mychal Kendricks

Though many of the principles preached by the Seahawks' Tom Cable match up with Kelly's designs, Lynch's brute strength, of course, make him a much different back than McCoy and Sproles. Lynch can certainly make defenders miss - it might be the most underrated element of his game - but his ability to accelerate through contact is his unique trait and the key to Seattle's offense. As you will no doubt hear a few times during Sunday's broadcast, the Seahawks ability to run the ball effectively and eat clock could complement their own defense against the Eagles' explosive offense.

As a former standout at Cal, himself, Mychal Kendricks knows Lynch (also from Cal) better than most. For those unfamiliar with Kendricks, he's a similar player to Wagner - instinctive and highly athletic. Whereas Wagner has developed into a more explosive tackler since joining the Seahawks, Kendricks was more physical in college - perhaps the reason the Eagles selected him No. 46 overall in 2012 - one pick ahead of where the Seahawks nabbed Wagner.

While the 6-0, 240 pound Kendricks is a heavy hitter, his aggression can't get the better of him. He is very effective in shooting gaps to make the eye-popping play but in doing so he leaves potential cut-back lanes. Further, Kendricks is a good but not elite wrap-up tackler, among the reasons why he ranks last among Philadelphia's starting linebackers with a -0.9 grade against the run, according to the statistics kept by Pro Football Focus.

The Eagles' speed at linebacker and versatility along the defensive line could make it difficult running on the perimeter. The Seahawks could find holes right up the middle, however.

Eagles WR Jordan Matthews vs. Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell

During his weekly press conference, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn mentioned that he and the staff watched tape of the Eagles with Nick Foles at quarterback as well as with Mark Sanchez, who, of course, will start. Given this fact, Quinn likely noted the emergence of Philadelphia's rookie wideout Jordan Matthews, whose 356 yards out of the slot the past four weeks leads all NFL receivers.

Normally, Jeremy Lane would be tasked with slowing down Matthews. With Lane a game-time decision due to a glute injury, Maxwell will likely slide inside to nickel, matching up with Philadelphia's prized rookie. Like Lane, Maxwell has the physicality, aggression and fluidity to handle this move. Further, it allows the Seahawks to play Tharold Simon outside where his greater size (but lesser agility) is best utilized.

With All Pro Richard Sherman on the other side, opposing quarterbacks have targeted Maxwell a bit this season. Despite what some might suggest, Maxwell has fared well, allowing just one touchdown and intercepting two passes. He's highly aggressive and has drawn seven penalty flags this season (again, according to PFF), but this aggression could pay off against Matthews, who struggled a bit at the 2014 Senior Bowl against physical defensive backs.

SeahawkFootball.com Top Stories