Eagle Eye View: Eagles vs Vikings NFC Championship Game
19 January 2018 Opinion
Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings is going to be a defensive battle and the prime time game of the playoffs this weekend. This is for all the marbles to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Both teams have overcome a lot this season and have the weight of their hopes and dreams on the backs of backup quarterbacks.
Let’s take a look at the rosters for this Championship match up:
Nick Foles is not Carson Wentz and we do not need him to do be in order to get the victory over the Vikings Sunday. As head coach Doug Pederson has reiterated over the last few weeks, “Nick’s just gotta play Nick’s game and let it rip.” Overall, Foles has had his ups and downs but against his most difficult challenge to date, he had a strong performance against the Falcons in the divisional round. He got some lucky breaks but it became clear (to me at least) that he is leading this offense. He looked stronger in the pocket this past Saturday than I’ve seen all season and I feel that is the key to getting him settled in for Sunday’s intense challenge. If Foles can get a feel for the pocket and the offensive line can put on the solid performance they did last week, he will be ready.
Case Keenum is playing at a higher level than most other quarterbacks did all season long. He has been a problem for defenses with his mobility, quick thinking and strong arm. Sometimes just getting hands on him isn’t enough so when pressure gets to him Eagles defense needs to take him down. He really has had a spectacular season and needs to be taken just as seriously as Matt Ryan was last week. Eagles defense will need to be disciplined in order to make him uncomfortable and make costly mistakes to our advantage.
Big V is usually the guy I pick on here since he is the backup left tackle and the weakest link on the line. However, this week I’m really going to need him to step his game up. So much in fact, I’m willing to BUY his jersey for someone if he has the game of his life. I really want to buy his jersey for someone to rock remembering this game and his performance in it (see tweet below for details). He is going against Everson Griffen, one of the best in the game the last few seasons. Griffen will give him fits but with Wis next to him, Big V plays so much better. I’m confident in him being able to handle his assignment if he stays committed to the task in front of him. The OL had a great performance against a talented Falcons front but the bar has been raised as they prepare to take on the number one overall defense in the league and second best run defense (behind the Eagles defense). Danielle Hunter will have to battle with Lane Johnson but we know Johnson has faced the top guys all season long and can help Foles stay upright. The edge rushers need to be handled when it comes to pass protection and the Eagles interior line will need to be creative in order to open up lanes and get the ground game going.
If Big V does not allow Foles to be sacked by Griffen this weekend and the Eagles win… I will buy one person who retweets this before the start of Sunday’s kickoff a Halapoulivaati Vaitai jersey. I’m not kidding. #FlyEaglesFly
— Kelly (@football_Kelly) January 18, 2018
The Vikings offensive line is much improved from last season as the team heavily addressed it in the offseason, much like the Eagles did. The team signed both starting tackles in free agency: Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. They also drafted Pat Elflein in the third round and he has been a solid center for the team this season. Fletcher Cox even praised Elflein suggesting he was “one of the best offensive linemen on the Vikings.” But here is the thing, their OL has had to shuffle players around a lot this season due to injury and continued to vs the Saints. Many believe that since left guard Nick Easton went on IR at the end of December, they’ve been trying to figure out the best way to address it. We saw Rashod Hill line up against Cam Jordan and struggle mightily at the right tackle position last week. Hill has filled in when injuries occurred during the season but otherwise, he is just a backup caliber player. IF the Vikings choose to use the same lineup against the Eagles, I would be excited for what Graham could do against him and how the Eagles defensive tackles handle Remmers, who moved to playing left guard.
The Eagles defensive line knows how important they are in order for this game to go the Eagles way. Schwartz made the bold decision to only have 3 active defensive tackles against the Falcons last week and I fully anticipate him doing the same this week in order to keep his starters on the field for more snaps. The rotation was nice during the regular season to keep players fresh but now it is time to dominate and every single play will matter in order to eliminate the Vikings’ offense from being successful in our house. Cox had a stellar performance and lived up to his paycheck last weekend. With the Vikings offensive line in flux, I believe Schwartz will bring the pressure from all sides of Keenum and Eagles front will have the talent to bring him down.
Both teams are relatively healthy when you ignore the players who have been placed on injured reserve for the season. The one player that has some uncertainty going into this Sunday’s game is depth DT Shamar Stephen, who was hurt in the divisional match up against the Saints. He exited the game and has not practiced all week due to a knee injury. I know you are wondering why I’d focus on a backup player but he has played a lot for the team this season and this could put a wrinkle in their plans to win in the trenches defensively and hurt their effectiveness stopping the run. I’ve already tipped my hat to the talent of this line, there isn’t much lacking there and Eagles will need to be prepared to go to battle in the trenches against them.
#Vikings are expected to be without top backup DT Shamar Stephen (knee, ankle). Leaves them with just 1 backup DT: rookie Jaleel Johnson, who only played in 4.1% of the defensive snaps in the regular season. Stephen played in 38.6% of the defensive snaps.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) January 19, 2018
I cannot praise the Eagles secondary enough for their performance against the Falcons last week. They really stepped up when the pressure was on their shoulders, especially Jalen Mills. They’ll have their plate filled again come this Sunday. The Vikings receiving core has been catching everything thrown their way this season. With a strong performance upfront, I see opportunities and areas in Keenum’s play that Eagles can exploit to create turnovers and help the offense.
The Vikings secondary is strong. One of the best in the league– the number 2 ranked passing defense to be exact. Foles will need to be smart with the ball to eliminate costly mistakes against this team. They should be respected but they aren’t perfect and can be thrown on. Foles will just have to evaluate the match ups at the line and take his opportunities down the field when they present themselves.
Jay Ajayi and company need to protect the ball when they’ve got it in their hands this weekend. There is no room for error against this Vikings defense. They will try to stand you up and strip the ball at whatever cost. The guys need to be focused and true to their game plan in order to execute properly vs this Vikings team. With versatility on Eagles side, Pederson can be creative with ways to attack and I’m looking forward to what he has in store. I firmly believe that Ertz, Agholor and Jeffery will be play makers in this game. Jeffery has matched up against Rhodes in the past and it will be a physical battle; however, Foles seemed to spark an obvious connection with Jeffery in the Falcons game that I’m looking forward to see expanded on this coming Sunday. In my opinion, Agholor has the prime match up to exploit the Vikings secondary. Pederson knows how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands. Expect him to see a lot of action Sunday against Newman in the slot. We are seeing a new version of Ertz. Most fans praised how he looked at the end of his past seasons but it was “when it no longer mattered”. Fans have seen that player this entire season but now he is becoming very physical. He’ll be locked in for this moment Sunday. Should be fun to watch these guys take ownership of the offense as a team on Sunday.
The Vikings have a ton of talent at the receiving position. They’ve been making it happen all year. Diggs, Thielen and Rudolph are the core guys and they’ll need to be locked down in order to really make Keenum really uncomfortable. The running backs are versatile with Murray and McKinnon offering different things to their offense. Overall, I think the Eagles can handle the run game by setting the edge and getting into the backfield as they did all season. Remmers playing left guard vs the Saints seems to struggle in run protection and I expect it to be even worse vs a stronger defensive front.
If the Eagles defense can continue its dominance upfront, Keenum will be running for his life. Eagles defenders realize his ability to extend plays with his legs and will need to wrap him up and take him down as well. The Eagles offense needs to control the time of possession and come out strong. With an OL performance like last week and Pederson’s ability to use a defense’s weaknesses against them, I’m confident the Eagles will do whatever it takes to get the job done and win this championship at home.