By ZACH BERMAN / PHILADELPHA INQUIRER
Chip Kelly visited the Seattle Seahawks’ practice facility in November 2010. Oregon had a bye week and Kelly liked to spend that time seeing how other teams practiced. Pete Carroll was in his first season coaching the Seahawks after leaving Southern Cal, so Kelly dropped in on his former Pac-10 rival.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Kelly said. “I visited the 49ers after that. I visited Air Force. Whenever we had an open date during the season at Oregon, when we weren’t practicing, I tried to go visit somebody that was close. Obviously, almost everybody else we were playing, so there weren’t a lot of options.”
Three seasons later, Kelly came to Philadelphia and Carroll led Seattle to its first Super Bowl title. Now the Eagles and the Seahawks are among the NFC’s top teams. On Sunday, the coaches will face each other for the first time since Oregon upset Southern Cal on Halloween in 2009.
Kelly spent the weekend studying the Seahawks and gave the players four days off after a 33-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The Eagles’ players will return for work at 8 a.m. Tuesday to begin a normal game week.
They will be rested for one of the most difficult games on their schedule. The Seahawks are 8-4 and feature the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Kelly said the Seahawks have the “best secondary that we play,” calling Richard Sherman “probably the top corner” in the league and Earl Thomas “probably the top safety in the game.”
“They’ve got players at every single position on the defensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “There’s a reason they won the Super Bowl last year and there’s a reason they held the last two teams they played to three points [each]. They’ve got a lot of really talented players over there.”
Sherman has three interceptions this season and leads the league with 23 since entering the NFL in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, the former fifth-round pick is the prototype that the Eagles seek at that position. Sherman plays the left side and will cover Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin on Sunday.
Thomas could have been picked by the Eagles in 2010 when they traded up in the draft, but they selected linebacker Brandon Graham instead. Even Thomas thought he would come to Philadelphia. He is a three-time All-Pro with 16 career interceptions.
The Seahawks held the Cardinals and the 49ers without a touchdown in the last two games, although they had a rough patch in October when they lost consecutive games. Their four losses this season are already more than they totaled last year, but Kelly disagree with the idea that they have struggled.
“Struggling for them is probably giving up 14 points,” Kelly said. “I think a lot of people would take struggling if it’s playing that well. But they’re really clicking right now.”
Kelly’s math was off — the Seahawks allowed 58 points during the back-to-back losses — but he’s right about them clicking at this point. However, the Seahawks have not scored more than 20 points in the last three games, so their offense is not a high-powered attack like the Eagles’. They still average 24.8 points per game, which is ranked 11th in the NFL.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson drew interest from the Eagles during the 2012 draft. Wilson was selected in the third round, 13 picks before the Eagles chose Nick Foles. Kelly coached against Wilson in college and said the Eagles cannot simulate his ability to both run and pass in practice. Wilson leads all quarterbacks with 679 rushing yards this season.
“He’s not looking to run, but if you give him the opportunity to run, I think he makes really, really good decisions when he’s flushed from the pocket,” Kelly said. “He’s always got his eyes up. He’s always looking for open receivers. If they’re not there, he takes what the defense gives him. He never takes a big hit. I think he’s got a real, real good feel of how to play quarterback on the move.”
Sunday’s game will have major postseason implications. The Eagles are leading the NFC East and the Seahawks are one game behind the Cardinals for first place in the NFC West.
If the Eagles win on Sunday, they could clinch the division with a Week 15 win over Dallas and would have a playoff-seeding tiebreaker over Seattle. If the Eagles lose to the Seahawks, they would not have a tiebreaker over Arizona or Seattle. Both the Eagles and Seahawks enter the Sunday with nine days between games.
“We’ve just had more time to digest tape in terms of getting ready for Seattle,” Kelly said. “I’m sure they had the same thing.”
The Seattle Times is trading stories throughout the week with the Philadelphia Inquirer, so look for more stories from Philly’s perspective on the Take 2 blog.
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