Eagles Defense vs. Vikings offense
It’s no secret what the Vikings want to do offensively – run, run, and run it some more. They do it a lot (519 times, third in the NFL), they do it well (4.5 yards per carry, sixth in the NFL), and they’ve got the best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson, to do it. Surely, Tarvaris Jackson has played well as the starter the past four weeks, going 57-89 with eight touchdowns and only one interception, totaling 740 yards. Peyton Manning he is not, but he has been managing the game well, minimizing mistakes and making plays when given the opportunity to. That being said, he did so against the Lions (27th ranked pass defense), the Cardinals (22nd ranked pass defense), the Falcons (21st ranked pass defense), and the Giants, who rank 8th in pass defense, but played without corner Aaron Ross, DT Barry Cofield, and didn’t play many of their starters in the second half. He’ll face a different test in the Eagles defense, which finished the season ranked third against the pass, and third in total sacks, with 48. One would imagine Jim Johnson will try to force the Vikings into long third-down situations, hoping to blitz Jackson into the ground. Or, he’ll spy Jackson, who is a pretty good runner, and drop people back into disguised coverages, forcing Jackson to beat the Birds with his arm. The key to this particular match-up will be whether or not the Vikings can establish their running game, and how Tarvaris Jackson will respond if forced to make plays with his arm. Adrian Peterson will probably break a run or two, but if he can’t consistently churn out yards, I think the Eagles D will keep the Vikings offense in check. Advantage – Eagles.
Eagles Offense vs. Vikings Defense
This, I fear, is where this game will become frustrating for Eagles fans. The Vikings are excellent against the run, ranking first in the NFL allowing only 79.6 yards per game. If you haven’t heard by now, Andy Reid prefers to throw the ball, and the Vikings aren’t as potent against the pass, ranking 18th. They do get after the quarterback, however – their 45 sacks this year rank them fourth in the NFL. The fear on this side of the ball is obvious – will Andy Reid completely abandon the run early, become predictable and easy to defense, and keep the Birds D on the field, which will eventually get worn down by AD and the Vikings running attack? I don’t think the Eagles will have a lot of success running the ball traditionally, so I think they will have to be creative – runs out of shotgun, reverses to DeSean Jackson, screen passes, short passes, etc. Creativity and diversity will have to be the name of the game plan, because lining up and just running at this Vikings defense will not be effective. Advantage – Push.
Nothing really stands out about either unit. I would give the Vikings a slight advantage with Ryan Longwell, who was 6-6 from 50+ yards on field goals this year. However, I think the Eagles are slightly more dangerous in the return game, especially when DeSean Jackson isn’t tenative on punt returns. Advantage – Push
Andy Reid has never lost in the wildcard round. Brad Childress has never coached in the playoffs. Minnesota is 6-2 at home, and the Birds are 3-4-1 on the road. The Eagles have a roster full of playoff-experienced players. The last time the Vikings made the playoffs in 2004, Daunte Culpepper was their starting quarterback. The team that beat them? Your Philadelphia Eagles. Even if Pat Williams plays, he will do so in pain with a broken bone in his right shoulder. Peterson has had fumblitis from time to time. The Eagles have forced 21 fumbles, recovered 14 of them, and returned three for touchdowns. Advantage – Eagles.
I think the Eagles will win this game, though I think it will be frustrating, and Andy will likely get pass happy. The Eagles will come out strong, firing on all cylinders, scoring on their first two drives. But slowly, the Vikings staunch run defense will make them one-dimensional, and they’ll go cold for much of the remainder of the game. Won’t matter too much, as the Eagles defense will stuff AD and pressure Tarvaris Jackson into an interception or two, translating into junk points for the Eagles offense. I think the Birds take this one, 24-14.