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Eagles/Vikings: Striking Similarities on Defense

When one considers where Vikings' coach Brad Childress got his NFL start, it's not terribly surprising to see that there are a lot of similarities between the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles.  But when you look deeper into things, particularly through the use of Football Outsiders' DVOA stat, one sees just how similar these two teams are.  For the uninitiated, here's the quick and dirty definition of DVOA:

DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.

For a further explanation of DVOA, check out this page from their site.

So, how does this help us look at this Sunday's matchup?  Well, let's take a look.

According to DVOA, both the Eagles and Vikings have outstanding defenses.  Philadelphia's defense was ranked third in the NFL by Football Outsiders against both the run and the pass, while the Vikings' defense was ranked fifth against the pass and fourth against the rush.  Now, by the conventional stats, the Eagles are ranked roughly the same by yards allowed (3rd against the run, 4th against the rush) as their DVOA has them, but the Vikings (1st against the run, 18th against the pass in terms of yards allowed) get a significant boost as far as pass defense when the DVOA is taken into account.

Their numbers in pass defense are quite similar as well. . .and you can see what both teams will likely be attempting to attack on the opposing defense.  Remember, when looking at DVOA in terms of defense, negative numbers are a good thing, while positive numbers are bad.

Category Eagles' DVOA (Rank) Vikings DVOA (Rank)
vs. #1 WRs -1.4% (13th) -15.8% (5th)
vs. #2 WRs -25.3% (3rd) -30.9% (2nd)
vs. Other WRs -51.1% (2nd) -1.5% (20th)
vs. TEs +6.9% (19th) +18.0% (24th)
vs. RBs +7.3% (18th) +9.2% (22nd)

So, as you can see, both teams are about equal in terms of defending opposing wide receivers.  If my memory serves me correctly, the Vikings allowed three 100-yard receiving games all season, but only one of them was to a wide receiver, that being the 137-yard performance put together back in Week 2 by Indianapolis' Anthony Gonzalez.  (The other 2 100-yard performances were Houston TE Owen Daniels and Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew).

But these numbers mean that there are three players on each particular team that everyone needs to pay attention to, as their successes or failures will more than likely dictate their team's success.  On Philadelphia's side, the Vikings need to be supremely aware of the trifecta of Brian Westbrook, Correll Buckhalter, and L.J. Smith.  For the Vikings, the keys will be the performances of Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and the resurgent Visanthe Shiancoe.  And I'm not going to lie to you, folks. . .Brian Westbrook scares the hell out of me in this match-up.  He's probably the best pass-catching running back in the league, and the Vikings need to have somebody on him at all times, regardless of what kind of scheme they're going with.  Chester Taylor is no slouch in his own right, but Westbrook is just in a class all by himself.

Both of these teams have solid, active secondaries, so I wouldn't expect either team's receivers to make a ton of noise in this one.  But both of these defenses also struggle against tight ends and running backs, and both teams have the personnel on offense to exploit those weaknesses.  It will be interesting to see how the teacher (Andy Reid) and the student (Brad Childress) attempt to go about making that happen this Sunday afternoon.