5 Eagles who need to step up big-time Sunday

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles

For the Eagles to break through the mighty Patriot dynasty and claim their first Super Bowl ring, it is going to require a bit of luck and a lot of focus on Tom Brady, who seems to be a shoo-in for being the first player to ever receive his own wing in the Hall of Fame.

This Eagles defense has its hands full, which is to be expected in a game of this magnitude, but a strong case can be made that the Eagles’ offense is under just as much pressure. Even legendarily talented defenses like the 2014 Seahawks found themselves bending and breaking in Tom Brady’s wake, mainly because the Seattle roster couldn’t handle the pressure from top to bottom.

In other words, they were top heavy.

The Eagles are uniquely built for depth at certain positions, but are also top heavy at others. For example, the Eagles’ defensive line has touted six to seven pass rushers for years that would rotate in and wreck opposing lines while remaining fresh and relentless throughout the game. However, in a game where Bill Belichick is on the opposing sideline, it will take a miracle for this Eagles coaching staff to hide weak links on offense or defense.

That being said, it will take just as much of a miracle for the Eagles’ to ensure perfect play from its paramount back-ups. Here are five guys you may forget NEED to play an amazing game if they have any hope of winning:

  1. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, LT
    No surprise here. Vaitai has stepped into the lineup and replaced Jason Peters with nothing but pure heart and effort. But based on what we have seen from him so far, he will prove to be the fatal flaw in the Eagle offense. Foles needs time to get through his progressions, and it will not be easy to do that when the Patriots routinely drop eight guys into coverage. Vaitai was marked as the 72nd highest tackle in the league, according to pro-football focus, and donned a rating of 41.2 during the season. Once you compare that to Lane Johnson on the other side of the line, and realize that Lane MORE THAN DOUBLED Vaitai’s rating with an 85.3, you get the idea that it will be a long day when the Patriots decide to blitz Foles’s blind side. By the way, each NFL team has two starting offensive tackles, which amounts to 64 starting tackles in the league… Let those numbers sink in for a second.
  2. Dannell Ellerbe, MLB
    Ellerbe could be the ‘X’ factor that determines how well the Eagles defense can go in this game. Having just recently signed with the Eagles in November, there is not a ton of tape on Ellerbe in an Eagles uniform, but his experience has been pivotal in his ascent up the depth chart. Now that he has become the starting inside linebacker, he will have his hands full while attempting to keep everything in front of him. He is known more for his run stopping ability than his ability in coverage, but against a team that is not married to the run, he may find himself more reliant on film study, whether that means identifying inside routes or finding any Patriot running backs that love to leak out into the flat. A bad game from a MLB could result in the Tom Brady dinking and dunking his way to his sixth ring.
  3. Malcolm Jenkins, S
    Anyone who forgets Malcolm Jenkins in this secondary is probably not paying attention but that is exactly why he needs to play the game of his life. Jenkins is the jack-of-all-trades that makes this defense functional. At any point throughout the game, Jenkins will be spotted in the slot, matched up on either Brandin Cooks or Danny Amendola, and this is NOT a favorable matchup for Jenkins to find himself in. Jim Schwartz can not totally abandon using Jenkins in the slot, but when he is forced to step up to those receivers, he is going to need Schwartz to have a master plan to prevent big third down conversions. Brady and Belichick love to take advantage of these kinds of matchups, so Jenkins is going to need to know what routes to take away before the snap, which sounds almost as difficult as it will actually is.
  4. Corey Graham, S
    It is easy to forget Graham as a vital part of this Eagles defense because Malcolm Jenkins played over 90-percent of all the snaps on defense, and Rodney McLeod played just over 81-percent of the snaps. However, Graham could be called upon at any time in sub-packages to aide in a multitude of ways. Schwartz loves to have a third safety in some of his dime packages for extra support in case the opposing offense decides to run or in case Jenkins is caught down in the slot. It would be the most unsurprising event in Eagles history if Graham was caught in ‘Cover 2’ running down the sideline with a Patriot receiver as the last line of defense. It would be just as unsurprising if that Patriot receiver beat Graham to the ball, who isn’t known for his speed. Graham will not play a whole bunch of snaps on defense, but when he has his number called, he can’t get beat. We already know why.
  5. Timmy Jernigan, DT
    Jernigan proved his worth next to Fletcher Cox this season and earned a big contract because of it. His stats do not tell the whole story of how disruptive Jernigan can be at times when Cox is being double teamed, but his lack of recordable production will have to be addressed in the upcoming game. The Patriots offensive line is not particularly strong but it is no slouch either. That being said, Brady has taken an interesting amount of hits this season, and the Eagles are primed to bring the pressure after leading the league in pressures on opposing quarterbacks by a mile. Jernigan is going to need to get home against Brady several times if Cox can’t defeat the double teams coming his way and everyone who has watched Jernigan play has no doubt that he can. On the other hand, the numbers tell a different story.
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