3TFO: Eagles @ Vikings, Week 15
Playing in the snow brought about two totally different results for the Eagles and Vikings last week. For Philadelphia, a blizzard came earlier than expected and it took them three and a half quarters to get going, but once they started rolling they became unstoppable en route to a 34-20 win over the Bears. The exciting “snow bowl” victory was the Eagles fifth in a row and put them in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
To continue their winning streak, Philadelphia will need to defeat the Vikings in Minnesota in what will be their first road game in over a month. Back in 2010, Minnesota did serious damage to the Eagles playoff seeding when the upset Philadelphia in a late December game, that turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia. Not many players remain from that team which the Eagles hope will lead to a different outcome.
Minnesota’s snowy adventure didn’t end quite as pleasantly as Philadelphia’s. After six fourth quarter lead changes, including five in the final two and a half minutes, the Vikings came up three points short in Baltimore. Despite the sour ending, it was the third straight week that Minnesota was in position to win in the fourth quarter and they have been playing better of late, showing no quit on the lost season. Matt Cassel will be making his second straight start at quarterback hoping to find the same magic that Joe Webb used in the upset of the Eagles in that 2010 game. If the Vikings are going to pull off the upset and once again put a damper on Philly’s playoff dreams they will need to perform well in these key areas.
A week after setting the Eagles all-time single game rushing record, LeSean McCoy will be back at it against a Vikings defense that currently ranks 27th in our team rush defense grade and is 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game. McCoy was exceptional last week, but he has been a force all season. He leads the league in rushing and is also atop the PFF running back rankings. He has forced 51 missed tackles on running plays; the third most in the NFL, many of which come in highlight reel fashion. He ranks fifth in Elusive Rating, with the ability to break a big play at any moment. There was some chatter in recent weeks about quarterback, Nick Foles entering the MVP discussion, but McCoy is the one true MVP of the Philadelphia offense. Further proving this point is that Foles has a QB rating of 136.6 on play action passes, mainly because of the fear opposing teams have in trying to contain McCoy.
Slowing down McCoy will certainly take a total team effort, but there are some players on the Minnesota defense that will be counted on in a big way. Up front, defensive tackle, Kevin Williams has been disruptive and will need to eat up blocks preventing the interior of the Eagles line from getting to second level blocks. Williams ranks 37th among defensive tackles in Run Stop Percentage, but Minnesota is fine with him taking on blocks so the linebackers are free to make the stops. Middle linebacker, Audie Cole will be making his fourth start and is yet to record a positive run defense grade for a game. In 80 run defense snaps he has made ten tackles and missed five, a tackling efficiency that ranks him 49th out of 55 qualifying inside linebackers. Outside linebacker, Chad Greenway has also struggled so far this season, ranking 27th in Tackling Efficiency and 23rd in Run Stop Percentage among outside linebackers. On paper it appears that this could be another big day for the Eagles running back.
Vikings Running Game
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are both banged up after last week’s game and their status is in doubt for this game, but no matter who plays running back for the Vikings their success running the ball is still extremely important. Obviously, if Peterson is available he is the biggest threat, currently ranking first in elusive rating, forcing 67 missed tackles. The more likely candidate to get the start is Gerhart who is believed to be the less injured of the two. Gerhart is far from a slouch and the nine missed tackles that he forced last week was the most in the league. In limited opportunities he has proven to be tough to take down this year. In his 49 touches he has forced 16 missed tackles, easily one of the best ratios in the league. Minnesota uses play action on over 30% of their drop backs, so the success of the ground game will directly impact the passing game too. The Vikings stronger run blockers are on the right side of their line and that is where the majority of their running plays go. For Philadelphia that means a busy day for left defensive end, Cedric Thornton and left outside linebacker, Connor Barwin. Thornton is currently third among 3-4 defensive ends in run stop percentage and Barwin is 14th among 3-4 outside linebackers. If the Vikings are going to get the victory they will need to control the clock and run the ball on the Eagles, no matter who the running back is.
Nick Foles vs. Vikings Secondary
Sports Illustrated cover boy, Nick Foles has been getting a lot of praise and attention while leading the Eagles turnaround this season and most of it is very much deserved. While he can’t be criticized for his performance in the blizzard last week, it was his second straight negatively graded game and he has thrown multiple dangerous passes during those games. Overall Foles’ performance has been stellar and operates Chip Kelly’s system very well. Foles is averaging 3.08 seconds to throw, down from 3.38 when Michael Vick was at the helm. The quicker decision making has put the receivers in a better situation to make plays after the catch and has improved the efficiency of the offense. Foles has also made the deep pass a major part of the Philadelphia offense again. Despite only making seven starts so far this year, Foles has completed the 10th most Deep Passes in the NFL and his 13 touchdowns on deep passes is the most in the NFL.
Trying to assist in cooling off Foles will be the Vikings cornerbacks, Chris Cook and rookie Xavier Rhodes. Cook ranks 15th allowing a reception every 11.8 snaps that he is in coverage for, but quarterbacks have a 145.5 rating when throwing at Cook, which is the highest rating of any cornerback. Rhodes is allowing a reception every 10.3 snaps that he is in coverage for, but is fairing much better, allowing a quarterback rating of 78.3 on passes thrown his way. Both will have their hands full this week with an explosive Eagles offense coming to town. They will need to prevent big plays and keep the Philadelphia receivers in front of them. If they can make Foles work hard and take away his first option, he might make a few mistakes.
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