PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When Mark Sanchez left USC for the NFL, Pete Carroll criticized his quarterback’s decision.
Five years later, there are no hard feelings. Sanchez and Carroll will hug it out before the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks meet Sunday in a matchup with strong playoff implications.
“We just disagreed and it became something that seemed bigger than it really was,” Sanchez said. “I love Coach Carroll. I always have and I always will. I think he’s one of the best, not just coaches, but people I’ve been around.
“He’s more than just a coach, he’s a teacher and I took that as a form of respect as him wanting me back on his team and that means the world to me because I had so much fun playing for him.”
Sanchez was drafted No. 5 overall by the New York Jets in 2009 and led them to consecutive AFC championship games his first two seasons before he was booted out of the Big Apple after things went downhill.
He has revived his career in Philadelphia after replacing the injured Nick Foles and is coming off an outstanding performance in helping the Eagles (9-3) rout the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Carroll, who led the Seahawks (8-4) to a Super Bowl victory last year, is proud of Sanchez’s success.
“We just had a difference of opinion at the time,” Carroll said. “I love Mark and he’s always been a great kid and I’ll always be close to him, follow him, and cheer for him.”
The Seahawks also are coming off an impressive road win at San Francisco on Thanksgiving. The teams could end up playing again in Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Some things to watch in the teams’ first meeting since 2011:
TESTING SHERMAN: The Eagles say they’re not afraid to throw Richard Sherman’s way. Sherman, a two-time All-Pro cornerback, had two interceptions against Colin Kaepernick last week.
“We’re going to run our offense,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “We certainly have a healthy respect for the fact that he’s one of the finest corners in the league, but I do think we’ve got some good receivers that can go out and match up. That secondary, that whole secondary, is outstanding.”
Sherman will mostly line up against Jeremy Maclin, who already has his first 1,000-yard season.
“He’s explosive,” Sherman said. “He runs good routes. He plays hard. He has speed. He has deceptive speed some will call it. You always need to be aware of him down the field.”
TACKLING MARSHAWN: Marshawn Lynch leads the league with 21 rushing TDs in December since 2009. He has 253 yards rushing in two games against the Eagles and needs 44 yards and one TD to reach 1,000 yards and 10 TDs for the fourth consecutive season. The Eagles held DeMarco Murray to his fewest yards this season, 73, last week. Lynch presents a different challenge.
“Nobody runs the ball harder,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “He comes downhill every play. He runs angry. He’s a talented back, and he looks for contact. He’s going to get his yardage. He gets the hard yards.”
SHADY’S BACK: LeSean McCoy ran for 159 yards in Philadelphia’s 33-10 win at Dallas and became the first Eagles player with four 1,000 yard seasons. After a slow start, he’s running more like the guy who was an All-Pro last year when he set a single-season franchise rushing record. McCoy has a tough test against the Seahawks, who have the fifth-best rushing defense.
WINNING THEIR WAY: Carroll and Chip Kelly have found success in the NFL after leaving their Pac-12 schools, but the two coaches have contrasting styles. Kelly runs an up-tempo, fast-paced offense while Carroll’s teams win because of a dominant defense and grind-it-out offense.
“I think the world of Chip,” Carroll said. “He’s done an extraordinary job. He’s affected the whole landscape of college football and now he’s affecting the NFL ranks in great fashion.”
Kelly visited the Seahawks to watch them practice on a day off while he was at Oregon and left with a strong impression of Carroll.
“I was impressed with how organized his practices were, what attention to detail he has and the small minute things that people think may be minute but they can be the difference in winning and losing a game, how he covered situational football all the time, how he puts his teams in competitive situations,” Kelly said.
WILSON’S SCRAMBLING: Russell Wilson has 679 yards rushing and leads the league with an average of 7.5 yards per carry. He’s running the ball far more this year than he did his first two seasons, but insists his first priority is to hand the ball off on those zone-read plays.
“I’m not trying to bang into a whole bunch of guys. I’m trying to get down and make the smart play,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to hand the ball 100 percent of the time to Marshawn Lynch. If for some reason there’s nobody out there, I take it. I can run, but I’m not a runner.”
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