Before I get into this post, I want to give an apology to the folks over at Bleeding Green Nation, our Eagles’ site here on the SB Nation network. I didn’t realize that their “cocky” responses to the exchange of questions we did was kind of a bit that they do to all of those sorts of posts. I apologize for mischaracterizing the nature of their responses as a result. I failed to gather all of the facts, and that’s what happened as a result.
With that, this exchange of information between myself and Brandon Gowton, BGN’s lead writer, is sort of unique. Each of us has presented the other guy with three reasons why the other team will win this week’s game. Brandon has sent me three reasons why the Vikings are going to beat the Eagles, and I’ve sent him three reasons why the Eagles will beat the Vikings. You can see the reasons that I gave him for the Eagles winning on Sunday right here, and here are his three reasons that the Vikings will advance in this year’s playoffs.
1 - Everson Griffen versus Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a big mismatch.
Arguably the most concerning individual matchup for the Eagles in Sunday’s game. Griffen finished with 13 sacks in 2017. He generated 61 pressures in 484 pass rush snaps. Vaitai, meanwhile, allowed 39 pressures in 455 pass block snaps. Vaitai ranked 47th out of 55 offensive tackles in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency stat. There was a stretch later in the season where he allowed the most pressure in the league over several weeks. Vaitai hasn’t been a total disaster while filling in for Jason Peters. He’s largely been serviceable. But sometimes he just gets beat really bad. And all it takes is one of those plays to lead to a game-changing strip-sack for the Vikings.
While we’re on the topic of the Vikings’ defensive line, I also expect Linval Joseph could create some problems for the Eagles. He could limit Philly’s run game, which would put more pressure on Nick Foles to throw.
2 - Nick Foles is still a concern.
Speaking of Foles, I still don’t have the utmost confidence in him. Perhaps the second half of his outing against the Falcons was a sign of things to come for the Eagles. If that’s the case, Philly should be happy. But Foles could easily end up looking like the guy he did in the first half of the Falcons game. Too many inaccurate passes. Too much indecision. Not enough confidence or play-making ability.
The stats looked better than Foles actually played against Atlanta. He wasn’t doing anything incredible out there. He was simply executing the offense. Mike Zimmer’s defense presents a much bigger challenge than Atlanta’s predictable scheme. The Vikings are going to disguise coverages and make things more complicated for Foles. That’s bad because Foles isn’t at his best when he has to think. If Minnesota can pressure Foles early on, the quarterback’s footwork could get sloppy. Foles has a bad habit to start dropping back too far or rolling out of the pocket too early instead of stepping up.
Quarterback is obviously such a key position to a team’s success. Foles has been such a high-variance results player throughout his career. It’s possible Good Foles shows up on Sunday, but it’s also possible Bad Foles is the guy who turns up.
3 - Case Keenum’s mobility could neutralize the Eagles’ pass rush.
Facing Russell Wilson was a really tough challenge for this Eagles defense. A team that’s so used to generating pressure just couldn’t bring Wilson down due to the quarterback’s mobility. I’m not saying Keenum is Wilson, but some Eagles players actually did make that stylistic comparison this week. Despite being the third most pressured quarterback, Keenum only ranks second in sack percentage. From watching the games, it’s easy to tell he has the mobility to escape from pressure. If Keenum is able to elude the Eagles’ pass rushers, that’d be very bad for the Eagles. Philly relies on their front four to take pressure off their secondary. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Patrick Robinson can’t be counted on to shut down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs by themselves. The Eagles will need to generate pressure. Keenum’s ability to extend plays could be frustrating for this Eagles defense.
Those are some of the keys that at least one Eagles’ fan sees to a Minnesota victory on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. It’s pretty tough to argue with any of those, to be honest. If all three of the things that Brandon outlines come to fruition for Mike Zimmer’s team, they should be able to carve a path to victory in this one.