The Philadelphia Eagles are underdogs again and dog masks are expected to fill the stadium at Lincoln Financial Field.
One more win and they’ll be in Super Bowl LII. It’s time to null the skol!
EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. VIKINGS PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 97.6 PASSER RATING (7/32), 234 YPG (13/32)
MIN- 73.0 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (3/32), 192 YPG ALLOWED (12/32)
Nick Foles did enough last week. Can he do it again against the best defense in the NFL?
Foles finished 23-of-30 for 246 yards against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday. He had a shaky first half, throwing up a duck on the first play of the game, which drew a pass interference. He also missed an open Zach Ertz in the flat and overthrew an open Trey Burton, but Foles picked it up in the second. Doug Pederson called a lot more run-pass options in this game, which allowed Foles to make more decisive decisions with the ball and he was getting out of his hands a lot quicker. He looked a lot more confident than a few weeks ago, when he was asked to go through his progressions more.
Another completion to Jeffery, this one moves the sticks on 3rd+8. Good job of moving in the pocket. pic.twitter.com/8ma5sGTydK
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) January 13, 2018
The Vikings, however, have two great linebackers in Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks that can buzz and take some of the quick slants and short passes of the RPO game out of the equation. We’ll see if Pederson has any wrinkles up his sleeve.
RPOs allowing Foles to be more decisive when throwing the ball and a couple solid completions to Jeffery pic.twitter.com/hJehNF1Fek
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) January 13, 2018
The best individual matchup will be between wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings’ secondary struggled with the physicality of Michael Thomas last week and Jeffery has some similar traits. Jeffery, however, relies on his size, strength and ridiculous catch radius to snag passes because he doesn’t create a lot of separation. The former Chicago Bear has 45 career receptions for 685 yards and seven touchdowns against Minnesota, but only one of those scores have come against Rhodes, who has two career interceptions on passes intended for Jeffery.
Pederson commented on the showdown Thursday.
I’ve gone back and looked at that matchup in particular just to see the battle that went on and the types of things that Alshon did against him, and the coverage technique that he used. Does it apply to this game? Maybe a little bit. I think Alshon’s a better player. I think Rhodes is a much better player, obviously, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s going to be another great matchup again Sunday evening.
Minnesota certainly has the talent and depth to combat with all of the Eagles’ weapons. Rhodes will be on Jeffery, Trae Waynes on Torrey Smith and Terence Newman and Mackensie Alexander will man the slot against Nelson Agholor. Harrison Smith, one of the best if not the best safeties in the NFL, will be sticking Zach Ertz and those linebackers I mentioned earlier, Barr and Kendricks, will be a handful for Philadelphia’s running backs attacking the flats.
Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is coming off one of his better games but now he faces by far the stiffest competition he’s seen in defensive end Everson Griffen, who tallied 13 sacks on the regular season. Big V, meanwhile, has surrendered nine sacks on the year. Look for Pederson to help his left tackle out. Lane Johnson also has a tough matchup on the other side in Danielle Hunter. Philly needs to keep the pocket for Foles clean because he has just a 23.5 passer rating when under duress.
The Vikings lead the NFL in third-down defense (25.1%) and are second in red-zone defense (43.2%). Foles explained what makes their defense so special.
They are not thinking, they are reacting. They are a reactionary defense. The second the ball is completed, the guys are shooting to it, making tackles really quick. Yeah, they do a really good job of limiting YAC yards and third downs, sometimes you have to check down and get those YAC yards so they do a really good job of rallying before they get the first down.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. VIKINGS RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 4.5 YPC (4/32), 132.2 YPG (3/32)
MIN- 3.7 YPC ALLOWED (5/32), 83.6 YPG ALLOWED (2/32)
Despite seeing consistent eight-man boxes against the Falcons on Saturday, Pederson remained committed to running the football. The Eagles ran it 32 times compared to 30 passes. They gained 96 yards on the ground. Jay Ajayi toted the rock 15 times for 54 yards and also added 44 yards on three catches, including a 32-yard screen with Jason Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski leading the way.
Philadelphia averaged a measly 3.0 yards per carry, but those subtle chunks of yardage allowed Foles to be put in more manageable third-down situations. Philadelphia was 6-of-13 on third down against Atlanta. It’s about to get much harder against the Vikings, however. They are right behind the Eagles and sit second in rushing yards allowed per game and actually surrender less yards per carry (3.7) than Philly (3.8).
The Eagles have the personnel to work the boundaries and in between the tackles, but Minnesota’s linebackers will make it difficult to attack the edges. Linval Joseph is a load to handle inside and Griffen does a solid job of setting the edge in the run game. But what does work in the Eagles’ favor is Minnesota’s run defense on the road. The Vikes yielded 897 rushing yards and 112.1 yards per contest away from the Twin Cities. That’s way down from their 83.6 yards per game average.
VIKINGS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 79.5 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (9/32), 227 YPG ALLOWED (17/32)
MIN- 99.1 PASSER RATING (4/32), 235 YPG (11/32)
Case Keenum’s emergence has been the most surprising of any player I’ve watched this season. It helps having Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, in my opinion the best wide receiver duo in the NFL at the moment. Both are very efficient route runners and will give Eagles cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills fits if Keenum is given time.
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2018
I REPEAT, IF KEENUM IS GIVEN TIME!
That’s because Keenum has been pressured more than any other quarterback this season, while the Eagles have applied more heat than any defense this season. The most important key to winning Sunday for the Birds will be to get after him and force turnovers to set up the offense with some short fields.
Minnesota’s offensive line is significantly better than it was last year, with the additions of left tackle Riley Reiff and drafting of center Pat Elflein bolstering the unit. It’s still, however, a weak link on the team and the line suffered a big injury a few weeks ago when left guard Nick Easton was lost for the season with a fractured ankle. Mike Remmers moved from right tackle inside to left guard and Rashod Hill took over at right tackle. Hill had a lot of difficulty handling star Saints defensive end Cam Jordan last week and a matchup against Brandon Graham and Chris Long won’t be any easier. We might also see TE stunts run so the Eagle can exploit Hill and get him on Fletcher Cox 1-on-1.
Cox comes off a dominant outing where he had five run stops, seven tackles and a sack. He’s also had enough of being disrespected, tweeting out this gem earlier in the week.
When will it stop tho ??? ???… all music to my ears I done had enough!!!!
— fletcher cox (@fcoxx_91) January 17, 2018
Where the Eagles have experienced trouble since Jordan Hicks’ injury has been covering tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield. Minnesota has one of the better tight ends in football in Kyle Rudolph and Jerick McKinnon is a threat coming out of the backfield.
VIKINGS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 3.8 YPC ALLOWED (6/32), 79.2 YPG ALLOWED (1/32)
MIN- 3.9 YPC (23/32), 122.3 YPG (7/32)
The Vikings led the NFL in rush attempts with 501. While they only averaged 3.9 yards a pop, consistently running the ball on first and second down was a reason why they also led the NFL in third-down conversion percentage. It puts Keenum in more manageable third-down situations.
The Eagles, though, obviously are No. 1 in run defense and one thing to keep an eye on Sunday will be the average third-down distance. Minnesota likes to use a quick passing game and it runs a lot of crossing routes on third down, utilizing its one-two punch of Thielen and Diggs. When it’s 3rd-and-5 or fewer, it makes it much easier to move the sticks on those crossing routes, but if Minnesota is in third-and-long, those crossing routes won’t pick up first downs because Diggs and Thielen will be tackled before the sticks.
Latavius Murray is used as the inside runner and goal-line back, while McKinnon catches a bunch of passes and works the perimeter.
The winner of the turnover battle normally decides the outcome in playoff games, but I believe that will be even more important in this one. The Eagles’ defense has to get after Case Keenum and force some turnovers, which I think they will. I believe Philadelphia’s offense will struggle, but my bold prediction for this game will be that the defense will score more points than the offense. When Keenum is pressured and contained inside the pocket, that’s when he tends to make mistakes. He backpedals and tosses up lollipops, which will be very dangerous if he decides to throw a couple up into the Philadelphia wind. I believe the Eagles will force a couple turnovers, with one of those lollipops being taken back to the house.
You can follow Adrian Fedkiw on Twitter (@AdrianFedkiw) and e-mail him at [email protected]. Subscribe to The Bitter Birds on YouTube here. Follow Philly Influencer on Twitter (@PHL_Influencer), Facebook and Instagram.