The Seahawks have a huge matchup on Sunday with the Eagles, and to get a scouting report on Seattle's upcoming opponent, I talked to Bleeding Green Nation's Brandon Gowton. My questions are in bold, his answers follow. Make sure you head to BGN and follow them on Twitter here.
1. For Seahawk fans that haven't been following closely, how has Mark Sanchez looked since taking over for Nick Foles? What things does he need to improve on and what have his strengths been?
Mark Sanchez has been up and down in relief of Nick Foles. He looked great while starting against the Panthers and Cowboys but struggled with turnovers against the Packers and Titans. Overall, I would say his play has been pretty encouraging relative to expectations. The offense looks really sharp at times with him at the helm. Sanchez has no problem running Chip Kelly's up-tempo pace. In fact, anecdotally at least, the offense looks a little faster when he's running it.
I've really been impressed with how Sanchez has handled pressure. He's done a really good job of throwing on the run. His pocket presence has also stood out. Whereas Nick Foles was too often back-pedaling into oblivion, Sanchez has shown the savvy to step up in the pocket and deliver strikes down the field. He especially loves working the middle of field.
The only problem with Sanchez working in-between the numbers is that he's shown a bad habit of sailing passes intended for his targets. Those passes can be dangerous when there's a safety waiting behind for an easy interception.
2. More in general, for the offense, what have been the strong suits and where has Chip Kelly's group struggled of late?
The Eagles struggled to run the ball efficiently earlier in the season. A lot of that had to do with the fact their offensive line was missing a number of players. Philadelphia has used a total of eight different starting offensive line combinations this season. Now with the line mostly healthy, the run game has really come alive. LeSean McCoy has gone over 100 yards in his past two games. Running the ball effectively prevents Sanchez from having to carry the team through the air.
The biggest struggle for the Eagles on offense has been their red zone efficiency. Philadelphia went 1-5 against Dallas and ranks 29th overall on the season with only a 43.48% conversion rate. The Eagles just aren't executing when they get down there and the struggles go beyond one single factor.
3. Defensively, what are the Eagles' strengths and weaknesses this season? Do they defend the run well? How are they against the pass? Bright spots? Glaring liabilities?
The Eagles are very good at shutting down the run. Philadelphia's front seven dominated a Cowboys offensive line that was getting a lot of hype for the way they've been blocking for NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray. The Eagles' front seven also goes a long way in covering up the team's biggest weakness, which is pass coverage. Outside of Malcolm Jenkins, who has been great, the Eagles' secondary is fairly lackluster. Starting cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are very up and down. They obviously couldn't hold a candle to Richard Sherman. Philadelphia needs to rely on their pass rush in order to put less pressure on their coverage unit.
4. How is Philly's injury situation looking right now? Anything major on the radar this week?
Nothing major to report. Nick Foles is still out. Casey Matthews is still filling in for DeMeco Ryans, who was placed on injured reserve in Week 9. Andrew Gardner is starting at right guard in place of the injured Todd Herremans. Elsewhere everyone is relatively healthy.
5. How has the Eagles' 2014 Draft class fared this season? Any major contributors?
It's a mixed bag. First round pick Marcus Smith II has been moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker due to the plethora of injuries Philadelphia has experienced at the latter position. Smith II isn't really seeing the field, though, and that understandably has people frustrated.
Second round pick slot receiver Jordan Matthews is a stud. He's really come to life ever since Sanchez took over at quarterback. Matthews is easily the star of the class so far.
Third round pick Josh Huff has had a lot of struggles and hasn't played a lot but he did have a 107-yard touchdown return two weeks ago.
Fourth round pick Jaylen Watkins has mostly been inactive, and the same goes for fifth round defensive end Taylor Hart. Fifth round safety Ed Reynolds II is on Philadelphia's practice squad. Seventh round pick Beau Allen plays a very limited role as the team's backup nose tackle.
Huge thanks again to Brandon for answering my questions -- make sure you head over to Bleeding Green Nation to check out more on the Eagles.
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