Kelly and Carroll clashed in the Pac-12 and face off Sunday at the Linc.
By David F. Cohen
There is nothing like Eagles excellence in December to get Philly excited.
And as good as the Birds have been playing, talk radio is still getting calls from nervous nellies:
Who have the Eagles beaten?
The Cowboys aren’t really a top-notch team.
Chip Kelly is preparing to exit Philly and go back to college.
All are ridiculous, and the fact is the Eagles are 9-3, atop the NFC East, and their ground game and defense are the talk of the town — and the league.
Dominating those facets remain the calling cards of theSeattle Seahawks, helping them regain control of their fate in the NFC West.
Both teams are coming off easy Thanksgiving Day wins over division rivals, leaving former Pac-12 coaching foes Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly extra time to prepare for a compelling encounter in their first NFL matchup Sunday when Seattle visits the Linc.
Hours after Kelly’s team rolled to a 33-10 holiday victory in Dallas, Carroll’s club manhandled San Francisco in a 19-3 win. The Eagles (9-3) grabbed a share of the league’s best record, and the Seahawks (8-4) moved within a game of West-leading Arizona but defeated the Cardinals four days earlier and play them again in Week 16.
“We had a really nice Thanksgiving around here,” Carroll said. “… Our players had a nice ballgame and a nice break here, too, getting ready for this week. So we’re in good shape and looking forward to a terrific matchup. Exciting time of year.”
With middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor recently returning after missing time with injuries, Seattle’s vaunted defense appears to be getting even stronger. That unit, allowing a league-low 285.8 yards per game after also ranking No. 1 last season, has surrendered two field goals and an average of 184.0 yards in the past two games.
Richard Sherman had two interceptions against the 49ers to earn NFC defensive player of the week honors after Chancellor won it for his eight-tackle effort against Arizona.
“We’re having a good time. We’re dedicated to one another right now,” Sherman said. “When you’re on the field playing for one another, we’re playing like some 9-year-old, 10-year-old kids, not worried about the outcome, not worried about individual stats or anything like that. … When a team’s playing like that, we’re really hard to beat.”
However, the offense the Seahawks face Sunday is more formidable than the ones they’ve recently shut down. Whereas Arizona and San Francisco are among the bottom-third of the NFL in total yards, Philly ranks fourth in that category (416.2 per game) and in scoring (31.2).
The Eagles have topped those averages in the last two games as LeSean McCoy totaled 289 yards rushing. He’s averaged 6.3 per carry in that span, compared to 3.7 through the first 10 games, while doubling his season total of 100-yard games to four.
“I think when people talked about him (negatively) earlier in the year, I felt very confident with him. I think that is showing,” Kelly said of McCoy, who last week notched his fourth 1,000-yard campaign in five years.
The Seahawks have held four of their past five opponents under 65 yards rushing, and they’ve forced 11 turnovers in the past six. They’re 5-1 in that span while limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 65.0 rating, with only Eli Manning throwing for more than 200 yards.
“You (can’t) spend too much time worrying about one guy, they have so many playmakers,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “… We’re gonna have our hands full, gonna have to really turn it up.”
Sanchez was 9 of 22 for 124 yards in his only matchup against the Seahawks and Carroll, his former college coach, in a 28-7 loss with the Jets in 2012.
Kelly handed Carroll one of his worst losses at Southern California in their only collegiate matchup in 2009. Oregon won 47-20 against a fourth-ranked Trojans team and totaled 613 yards – the most ever gained on one of Carroll’s USC defenses.
“They’re really explosive. They’ve got a real style about them,” Carroll said of Kelly’s offense. “You have to mention Chip, and his concepts and approach, when you talk about this offense because it is what he has constructed over the years. It’s innovative and it’s well run and designed beautifully.”
Likewise, the Eagles should have their hands full with Seattle’s top-ranked rushing offense (168.6 ypg). While Russell Wilson has run for nearly twice as many yards (679) as any other quarterback,Marshawn Lynch is fifth in the league with 956 and leads with nine touchdown runs.
Lynch, approaching his fourth straight season of 1,000 yards and 10 TDs, has surpassed 100 yards in three of the past four weeks.
Philly, though, has steadily gained confidence against the run with averages of 90.3 yards allowed and 3.6 per carry over the past seven games. The Eagles held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to 73 yards on 20 attempts on Thanksgiving – he ran for 115 against Seattle on Oct. 12.
Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis, though, said “nobody runs the ball harder” than Lynch.
“It’s nice that we’re facing those two big downhill runners back to back. We know what it’s about,” Davis said. “It takes a swarm tackle. You can’t arm tackle Marshawn Lynch. It’s got to be a full body swarm with all the effort to the ball.”
Success in the ground game often limits Wilson’s drop-backs. He’s had 22 attempts in back-to-back weeks, completing 32 without an interception, but was also sacked 11 times.
That could be a problem against a Philly pass rush which has an NFC-best 42 sacks, including a conference-high 12 1/2 by Connor Barwin.
He’s had 10 1/2 in the last four games at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles have won 10 straight in the regular season.
Lynch rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-14 win in 2011 in these teams’ last matchup. Seattle has played only three games in Philly over the past 25 years and won them all.