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December 6, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Seahawks prediction time: Lines will play a big key Sunday

In all the attention placed this week on Mark Sanchez’ reunion with Pete Carroll or LeSean McCoy vs. Marshawn Lynch, the battle in the trenches has gone a little unnoticed.

As in every game, though, the play up front will go a long way toward determining the outcome. And this contest features some particularly intriguing subplots up front.

To start, how will the Seahawks fare against an Eagles’ defense that has 42 sacks this season, second in the NFL? That includes 22 in the last three home games for Philadelphia, contests in which the Eagles have largely gotten out to leads and then been able to pin their proverbial ears back and rush with abandon.

In any situation, though, the Eagles’ front is generally aggressive, something the Seahawks said they noticed on film this week.

“They do a lot of movement stuff and we really have to be on it protection-wise and everything to prevent that,” said Seattle guard J.R Sweezy. “They are just going to keep sending stuff really until something ¬†happens so we just really have to be on our stuff’.”

Protecting against aggressive pass rushes has been an issue at times for Seattle this season, notably giving up seven sacks in a win over Arizona two weeks ago. But that game came with Patrick Lewis at center and Alvin Bailey at left guard. Those spots are now manned by more veteran players in the recently-returned Lemuel Jeanpierre at center (replacing Max Unger for at least one more week) and James Carpenter at left guard.

One of the biggest benefits of experience is the ability of the line to communicate prior to the snap, which will be especially critical on the road.

“Our communication will have to be better (than against Arizona),” Sweezy said. “If we are on the same page we are hard to beat. It’s just getting on the same page is the key and basically the five O-linemen, if we set the protection right, we will protect Russ (Russell Wilson) and we have to be on that.”

Sweezy said Sunday’s battle of the lines will be more mental than physical.

“They are a physical bunch but we are, too,” he said. “So it works out. … the guys we have now, everybody is able to step up and full a role and do whatever is asked of them.”

The battle on the other side — Philly’s O-line vs. Seattle’s defensive front — looms just as intriguing.

One key to the Eagles’ recent offensive surge — 31.5 points per game in the last four — is the return to health of left guard Evan Mathis (rated the ninth best guard in the NFL this year by Pro Football Focus) and center Jason Kelce. Also playing well of late is right tackle Lane Johnson, who missed the first four games of the season due to a suspension, and right tackle Jason Peters, ranked the No. 2 tackle in the NFL by PFF. It’s a line designed to be able to run the up-tempo, no-huddle

“They’ve got good athletes up front,” said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril. “Those guys are lighter than your usual O-linemen so they can move left and right pretty well.”

A key, Seattle defensive players said, will be not getting out of their gaps, which was the real issue in the loss to Kansas City (along with some sloppy tackling).

There are some aspects of the line play that I think favors the Eagles — especially, a sack-happy front going against a Seattle OL that has at times this year struggled to pass protect.

But as you can tell from reading our predictions, I am calling for a 23-21 Seattle win. I think Wilson will again make the escapes he needs often enough to make plays ¬†for the offense. And I think the Seattle defensive front seven matches up well with the Eagles — it’s power teams that might worry the Seahawks more, I think — and will create enough havoc to force Sanchez into enough bad plays to turn the tide Seattle’s way.

As always, feel free to let me know what you think as kickoff now nears roughly 21 hours away.


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