I’m enjoying the fact that our Eagles are in the NFC Championship game so much that I don’t want to let it go. I hesitate to talk about it much. If for some cataclysmic reason the season ended today and the Big Game were never played, I’d be satisfied with this season’s ending exactly as it is now.
Compounding my current brain freeze is the realization that the Minnesota Vikings are a very likeable team. There’s no residual rivalry, no lingering hatred or envy between the Eagles and the Vikings.
Plus, the Vikings are good. They are well-coached and embody the same unselfish “team play” concept that Doug Pederson preaches to our Eagles. If we are the hoagies in this tailgate meal, then the Vikings are the breadsticks. Breadsticks is good!
I’ve got extended family in the Minneapolis metro area and they are excited about the Vikings’ chances to get past the Eagles this Sunday. But they also tell me they will not cry if the Eagles hold serve at the Linc. They say what the Eagles have done this season and who the Eagles are character-wise is “Vikings-esque.”
Actually the two teams are quite similar in many ways.
Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports took a deeper look at how the Vikings and Eagles could be mirror images of one another, especially as both boast stout defenses and both are playing with quarterbacks who weren’t the starter when the 2017 season began.
Minnesota’s “D,” always vaunted under Zimmer, clocks in as the NFL’s best. But the Eagles aren’t far behind under Jim Schwartz, and in front of their roaring hometown crowd, there’s a case to be made for them as the most feared unit left in the postseason. Outside of the Eagles and Vikings, no teams better slowed the running game, and between the two sides, five different players earned Pro Bowl recognition for their efforts this season.
And while defense serves as the ultimate strength for both Minnesota and Philadelphia, it’s the quarterback position that has these NFC Championship Game foes just as joined at the hip.
Forget the past, which saw Eagles greats like Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb move on to the Midwest. The current teams alone have one heck of a connection at the game’s most important spot. Almost every Eagles and Vikings QB of note has ties to the other side: Minnesota’s Case Keenum, who has starred in place of the injured Bradford, once replaced current Eagles starter Nick Foles, who’s filling in for Carson Wentz, while playing for the then-St. Louis Rams; and Bradford, who began his career with the Rams, succeeded Foles in Philadelphia after the Eagles acquired him in 2015, [before] joining the Vikings via trade after Wentz’s arrival in 2016.
Minnesota and Philadelphia have met three times in the postseason but never in the NFC Championship.
That’s a good look at the “mirror image” concept by Cody Benjamin, and another reason my brain approaching this game is trapped in suspended animation.
So with such similar teams going up against each other, it would seem the only logical “game plan” for the Eagles is to wreck the Vikings’ game plan—and vice-versa.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that he believes whichever team runs the ball better will win Sunday’s NFC Championship.
Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com recently wrote that he agreed with Zimmer’s idea, noting that both the Vikings and Eagles have multiple options in the backfield.
Their roles became more defined as the season went along. Murray was a go-to runner in short yardage and goal-line situations, where McKinnon was a change-of-pace in the running game and main target for quarterback Case Keenum in the passing game.
Both players had standout games. Murray went for 113 and one touchdown against the Ravens, while McKinnon gained 114 yards receiving against the Bengals in Week 15.
In the Divisional round game against the New Orleans Saints, Murray grinded his way to 50 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. McKinnon rushed eight times for 34 yards, but was slowed to just three catches for six yards in the passing game.
The Vikings’ tandem will have its work cut out as they face the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL.
Philadelphia will counter with a trio of running backs.
On the other side, the Eagles have multiple backs who can either grind a defense down or create big plays.
Midway through the year, the Eagles traded for running back Jay Ajayi. Since arriving in Philadelphia, he’s averaged a remarkable 5.8 yards per carry and 58.3 yards per game.
LeGarrette Blount, who’s listed at 6-foot-1, 245-pounds, averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season.
Corey Clement has also been a contributor to Doug Pederson’s offense, gaining 321 yards on 74 carries.
I also like Clement as an X-factor in the Eagles’ short passing game…also Ajayi in the same role (GK Brizer correctly predicted that Ajayi would catch 3 passes coming out of the backfield in the Atlanta game). With both teams ranking in the top seven in rushing offense, and the top two in rushing defense in 2017, whichever team better moves the chains on the ground could punch their ticket to the season’s final game. But it’s never as simple as that, as we just saw Tom Brady and the Patriots disdain the run in favor of the short passing game which utterly destroyed the Tennessee Titans defense.
EYE would say the team which avoids turnovers will hold the ultimate advantage. It will be a cleanly played yet physical game, and the ball is going to pop out or be picked off at some point in the contest. Somehow we survived two turnovers in the Atlanta game. Perhaps this will be the game where the Eagles put their own turnovers in a state of suspended animation.