Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles Playoff Primer
January 2, 2009 by AlexV
The final game of Wild-Card weekend 2009 may be one of the toughest to predict. It exhibits two teams that struggled to secure playoff births, but at the same time are more than capable of advancing in the post season past the obvious win that one of them will be getting this weekend. The Eagles had blown a game in Washington against the Redskins in week 16 by a score of 10-3 to fall to a record of 8-6-1, and needed to beat the Cowboys in Philadelphia, and hope the Buccaneers and Bears would lose in week 17. Luckily for them, all three of those scenarios became a reality. As for the Vikings, they would have clinched the NFC North regardless, due to the Bears loss in Houston in week 17, but could guarantee the division title with a victory in the final week. Since they beat the Giants in Minnesota 20-19 on a last minute 50 yard field goal to finish 10-6, they were able to hold up their end of the bargain. Now what has unfolded for week 18 is a bout between two teams, one filled with wily veterans in Philadelphia, and another with a collection of young and perhaps budding talent in Minnesota.
One of the key factors that Minnesota can rely on to win this game is the fact that they own the league’s top rush defense giving up only 76.9 yards per game going up against an Eagles ground attack that ranked 22nd with 106.1 yards per game. Couple that with the fact the Eagles were 4th in the league in pass attempts and 22nd in rushing yards with 106.1 per game, and the Vikings have a seldom-available luxury: the chance to play an opponent who is virtually one dimensional.
One of the most commonly preached strategies in defensive football is the ability to force an opponent to be one-dimensional, i.e. try to get the opponent to beat you with the pass by loading up the line of scrimmage with an eight-man front. What we have here is a team in Philadelphia who by preference already is one-dimensional and mainly likes to pass.
The second factor that helps the Vikings is the improved play of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson since he returned to the starting lineup. In his two games to start the season, he was 30-59, good for a 51 percent completion rate with one TD, while throwing for 178 and 130 yards respectively. Now, Jackson has risen to the occasion in the last three and a half games of the season posting 740 yards, 8 TDs, and only one interception while completing 64 percent of his passes. All this has provided the stability at the QB position the Vikings were looking for in Gus Frerotte.
The Eagles strengths lie in their defense and experience. Even though the Vikings are sporting the 1st ranked run defense, their pass defense is only 18th in the league, giving up 215.6 yards per game. That does not match well with the defense of Philadelphia as they ranked 4th in run defense, 92.2ypg, and 3rd in total pass defense, 182.1ypg. That type of run defense is more-than solid and should be able to keep Adrian Peterson, the league’s top rusher with 1,760 yards, in check for the most part. And I stress “for the most part” as even though the Eagles rush D is just three spots behind the Vikings, Peterson is still the league’s leading rusher for a reason, and for that, I believe he will have at least one big run in the game.
What really stands out for the eagles defensively is their pass defense, because Jackson, although he has improved, is still only averaging 185 yards through the air in his return, which is only 2.9 yards more than what the eagles are giving up. This means that he could easily be limited to within 100-150 yards, and if the Vikings main threat is going to be one to, at the most, three big gainers from Peterson and only a game-management style of play by Jackson, things are not looking up.
Although the Vikings play at home this weekend, they face a veteran team in the Eagles who are more accustomed to playing in big games. Even if it took four straight NFC Championship games for Donovan McNabb to finally get his team to a Super Bowl, he is still much more playoff savvy than the young Tarvaris Jackson, as is the entire Eagles team. Although both teams are great at stopping the run, Philadelphia is averaging 244.4 yards per game through the air, and with the disparity in the rankings of the two clubs pass defenses being 15 spots (Vikings 18th minus Eagles 3rd equals 15), then that is where the true edge in this contest lies.
Eagles move on.