It’s once again time to get some intel from the folks that run the site for the Minnesota Vikings’ next opponent. This week, we’re talking with Bleeding Green Nation, the site that knows everything about the Philadelphia Eagles. Lead blogger Brandon Gowton took the time to answer some of our questions for this one. You can see the questions I’ve answered for him right here (with a comments section that’s gone. . .well, we’ll say “as expected”), and here are his answers for us.
1) Most experts thought the Eagles were dead in the water after the injury to Carson Wentz, particularly after the way Nick Foles closed the season. However, Foles had a pretty solid performance against Atlanta in the Divisional Round. Do you think he’s turned a bit of a corner following his first couple of starts this season?
I’ve never been the biggest believer in Nick Foles, so I can’t say I feel super confident in him.
His first half against the Falcons really confirmed my concerns. He wasn’t accurate. He left plays on the field. He held on to the ball for too long. He was playing scared to some extent.
Then he started to turn things around in the second half. He got in a rhythm and started delivering accurate passes. Instead of fading backwards or sideways in the pocket, he stepped up and kept his eyes down the field to make some nice throws. That was encouraging to see. If Foles plays with confidence, he gives the Eagles a chance.
I do think Doug Pederson deserves a lot of credit for Foles’ performance. It wasn’t like Foles was doing anything impressive on his own. He was mostly just executing the offense. The Eagles’ offensive line also did a really good job of protecting him. He only got sacked once and hit four times throughout the game.
If the line can continue to hold up, there’s a chance Foles can be competent enough to give the Eagles a chance. I don’t have much faith he’s going to turn in a huge performance but he can at least avoid being the reason the team loses.
2) What is the Eagles’ biggest strength? Do Eagles fans see something about the Vikings they feel they can exploit?
The Eagles’ biggest strength is their play in the trenches. Philadelphia’s offensive line has been great all year. They can open holes for the run game (third most rushing yards) and keep the quarterback well-protected (12th in adjusted sack rate). The Eagles’ big uglies straight up bullied the Falcons last week.
Jason Kelce is an AP All-Pro first-team center. Lane Johnson is All-Pro first-team at right tackle. Brandon Brooks is a really good right guard. Stefen Wisniewski is a solid left guard who made some big blocks in the screen game against Atlanta. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the weak point of the offensive line at left tackle, but he’s at least shown the ability to be serviceable.
The Vikings have a good defensive line, no doubt. But I like the Eagles’ chances right now against most d-lines in the league. It should be a great battle on Sunday.
The bigger mismatch, though, has to be the Eagles’ defensive line going up against Minnesota’s o-line. Case Keenum ranks third in percentage of plays under pressure this season, per Pro Football Focus. Philadelphia, meanwhile, generated the most pressures in 2017. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox had really big games against Atlanta. Graham going up against Vikings right tackle Rashod Hill, who struggled to handle Cam Jordan in the Saints game, is a mismatch.
I think the Birds will be able to pressure Keenum. But bringing him down will be easier said than done. Keenum’s sack percentage ranks second fewest in the league.
3) What is the Eagles’ biggest weakness? Do you feel that the Vikings have the ability to potentially take advantage of it?
Quarterback is an obvious weakness for the Eagles. If the Vikings can get to Foles, they can potentially rattle his confidence and force him into bad habits.
I know I just said I feel good about the Eagles in pass protection in the previous section, but Everson Griffen versus Vaitai (aka Big V) is a big mismatch on paper. Griffen’s a really good pass rusher and Vaitai has had some rough stretches while filling in for Jason Peters at left tackle. It’ll be a long day for the Eagles if Foles is constantly getting attacked from his blindside.
Another big concern is how the Eagles cornerbacks hold up against Minnesota’s top two wide receivers: Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs. Philly’s corners have been up and down this season. Due to their aggressive nature, they have a penchant for biting on double moves and allowing big plays. Jalen Mills has been especially guilty of this.
The Eagles rely on generating pressure in order to make life easier on their secondary. Keenum’s ability to extend plays is a concern in this regard. Jim Schwartz’s unit really struggled to defend Russell Wilson when the Eagles played in Seattle earlier this season. Keenum obviously isn’t Wilson, but some Eagles players even made the comparison between the two. Keenum is slippery and elusive based on what I’ve seen from him. The Eagles need to make sure Keenum’s mobility doesn’t negate their pressure.
4) During the divisional round games, it looked like both teams were having some problems with the footing on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field. While we know that the turf at Lincoln Financial Field isn’t down on the level of Soldier Field or FedEx Field, is this something that teams have had problems with in the past, or was it more a function of the weather conditions last weekend?
There’s definitely been some slippage. The Falcons seemed to struggle with it more than the Eagles, though Philly had some slips as well. I definitely don’t think it’s as big of an issue as those other stadiums you’ve mentioned. But it’s probably the product of both weather and wear-and-tear. This will be the Eagles’ fourth straight home game dating back to Week 16. I don’t think it’s been a huge factor for the Eagles or their opponents in the history of the Linc.
5) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball that Vikings fans might not know about but will play a big role in how the Eagles fare on Sunday.
On defense, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is a name to keep an eye on. He’ll be going up against Mike Remmers, who is playing out of position, and rookie center Pat Elflein. Jernigan is a force against the run and he can generate some interior pressure as well. If the Vikings try to give extra attention to Fletcher Cox, which is advisable, that should give Jernigan some more one-on-one opportunities. He can win those.
On offense, I’d say Vaitai is the guy to watch but I already mentioned him. So I’ll go with Nelson Agholor instead. Foles hasn’t really had a lot of success connecting with his outside wide receivers since taking over as the starter. And with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes covering Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, it’s not like those connections are primed to heat up. The Vikings seem a little more vulnerable in the slot. Agholor has been productive in that role this season. The Eagles could also look to get him involved on a jet sweep or something creative like the carry he had in the Falcons game.
6) How concerned do you think Eagles’ fans are going into this one? Do you think they would have been more or less confident if the Minneapolis Miracle hadn’t happened and they were getting a visit from the Saints on Sunday and not the Vikings?
I think there’s a healthy respect for the Vikings. Minnesota’s no joke. Their defense is great. Their wide receivers are awesome. Case Keenum is randomly good now.
With that said, I think Eagles fans feel pretty good about their team. Especially since the Eagles have the best home record in the NFL since the beginning of 2016. Plus this Eagles team just has a different feel than ever before. They continue to defy expectations at every turn.
Eagles fans seemed pretty split on who they wanted to face in the NFCCG. Some people wanted the Saints because they felt like New Orleans’ defense could be more easily exploited than Minnesota’s. But then there were people who would rather face Keenum than Drew Brees. The Saints’ comeback in that game was a perfect of example of why fans didn’t want to face Brees.
Again, I think most Eagles fans feel optimistic about the Birds. Not all of them. I’ve seen a number of Eagles fans pick against the team this week. I don’t blame them, especially since the Foles factor is still a big concern.
Bonus question: How do you see this one turning out?
This one has the makings of a hard-fought battle that’ll go down to the wire. I believe in Doug Pederson’s coaching ability and the Eagles’ strength in the trenches enough to pick them to win. I’m taking the Birds to win, 17 to 16. Jake Elliott makes a 55-yard field goal to send the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
Once again, thanks to Brandon for taking the time to answer our questions for this week’s big NFC Championship Game.