- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Even with all the teaching he’s done to change the way tackling is handled in the NFL, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll still believes in the importance of the big hit.

So when Earl Thomas raced across the field and leveled Rob Gronkowski with a shoulder tackle to the midsection last week, Carroll was ecstatic about the result of the play, and the message it sent that the game can still be physically brutal but in a safe way.

“Neither one of the players got hit in the head. Still the jolt was significant, but if we could show kids how we want them to hit and play this game, and college kids, that’s how you do it,” Carroll said. “It’s the new way, it’s the new way to make hits.”

The duo of Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor are just two of the challenges rookie Carson Wentz has to face when the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Seattle on Sunday. Wentz has passed plenty of tests in his first NFL season, getting Philadelphia into the playoff conversation at 5-4 after last week’s home win over Atlanta.

But even Wentz acknowledged there’s little that can prepare him for the experience of facing the Seahawks’ defense in Seattle .

“You go in there confidently. You don’t worry about the extra outside noise and all those things,” Wentz said. “You just go in there and play ball.”

The past two weeks have indicated another second-half surge could be on the horizon for Seattle. After holding off Buffalo in a Monday night victory, the Seahawks went across the country on a short week and won at New England , stopping the Patriots at the 1-yard line in the final seconds. They kept a two-game lead over Arizona in the NFC West.

It ranked among the more impressive regular-season wins since Carroll arrived in Seattle and showed flashes that a plodding offense could be on the verge of a breakout.

“It’s a process,” said Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who had three TD catches last week. “We’ve still got some young guys. Our offensive line was pretty much all in new spots, Russell was dealing with some injuries, so there are a lot of things that go into it. It’s not just a normal routine. … I do expect us as the season goes on to continue to get better. That’s one thing I expect.”

Here’s what else to watch as the Eagles and Seahawks meet for the 15th time:

ROAD WOES: The Eagles are 4-0 at home and have outscored opponents 108-38, but they’re 1-4 on the road with four straight losses after winning at Chicago on Monday night in Week 2. They fell behind 14-0 in three of those four losses and rallied to either have a lead in the fourth quarter or have the ball with a chance to go ahead on the final drive, only to lose.

“I think when you are on the road, you try to press just a little bit,” coach Doug Pederson said. “You try to get that quick, early lead, try to take the crowd of out of the game. You maybe do some things that are uncharacteristic of what you do at home, and we just can’t do that.”

The Seahawks are 31-5 at home since 2012, when Wilson became the starting quarterback.

SPLITTING CARRIES: Seattle will have running back Thomas Rawls in the lineup for the first time since Week 2, when he suffered a hairline fracture in his leg. The return of Rawls led to the release of leading rusher Christine Michael earlier this week, but it’s unclear how the carries will be split between Rawls and rookie C.J. Prosise.

Prosise energized a lethargic run game last week against New England, rushing for 66 yards and catching seven passes for 87 yards.

“A quick emergence is really exciting,” Carroll said. “He’s coming up and doing stuff. You can see how he’s capable.”

BALL CONTROL: The Eagles rank second in the NFL in time of possession (32:28) and controlled the ball for 38:10 in their win over the Falcons. Ryan Mathews had a season-high 108 yards rushing, helping keep Atlanta’s high-powered offense on the sideline. It’s no secret that a balanced attack is Philadelphia’s formula for success. Pederson doesn’t want Wentz throwing 45 passes per game the way he did in losses to the Cowboys and Giants.

WELCOME BACK: Pederson has a longstanding connection to the Seahawks. The graduate of Ferndale High School about 90 minutes north of Seattle went to numerous Seahawks games in the Kingdome as his family had season tickets. Pederson even got to play a high school playoff game in the Kingdome.

“You just kind of walk on that turf and you go man, one day it would not only be great to play in this game, and who knew back then that you’d be a head coach in the league,” Pederson said.


AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.


For more NFL coverage: https://www.pro32.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL.

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