Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows his team is going to face its toughest challenge this season Sunday in Philadelphia.
This Eagles team was one of four NFL teams to finish the regular season in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense.
The Eagles are 8-1 at home, with their lone loss coming in Week 17, when they rested several starters and fell 6-0 to the Cowboys.
“They have a great running game, a very, very good offensive line. Their backs run extremely hard and we’re going to have to tackle those guys,” Zimmer said. “They do a nice job in their play-action passes. And defensively their front is very, very good. They have [defensive tackle] Fletcher Cox and [defensive ends] Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. These guys really bring it. We’re going to have to block them this week.”
When Zimmer looked over the tape of the Eagles’ divisional victory over Atlanta last weekend, he said if it wasn’t for two Eagles turnovers that gave the Falcons good field position, it might have been a blowout.
“Against Atlanta they played great on defense. If Philadelphia didn’t fumble the punt Atlanta might not have scored all day,” he said. “That’s the kind of day it is probably going to be.”
Gauging the offense
While a lot of focus has been on the tremendous Eagles defense, the Vikings’ ability to shut down the Philadelphia offense will probably be what decides the game.
Zimmer was asked what sees from the Eagles wide receivers.
“They have some good receivers,” he said. “It’s all about getting guys in the right place and doing the right things and the quarterback getting them the ball and the line protecting. But we have good players, too.”
Nick Foles was efficient against Atlanta, completing 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards without an interception or touchdown. The Eagles clearly wanted the offense to run on short passes that led to yards after the catch.
Zimmer said Foles does some things very well but that he thinks the Vikings defense can take advantage of some other opportunities.
“He is a guy that has started some games in this league,” Zimmer said of Foles. “He is not a big-time scrambler. He has a very good arm. Big size, like an athletic basketball player more so than a running quarterback. He has a good arm, and I think when he is well-protected he makes good throws.”
The most well-known offensive weapon for Foles is wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had 789 receiving yards and eight scores this season.
Jeffery played with the Bears before this season and has faced the Vikings nine times. He has averaged 76.1 yards per game and has seven scores.
“He is an excellent receiver. Big, strong, physical guy, great with the 50/50 ball, good explosion off the line of scrimmage,” Zimmer said. “He is excellent. [Nelson] Agholor, their other receiver, has done an excellent job with run after catch. They have some excellent tight ends. [Zach] Ertz is the No. 1 receiver, catches the ball well. They use him out in space a lot. [Trey] Burton, the other tight end, they have a lot of weapons. They’re 14-3.”
Diggs steps up
When asked if he had spent any time reminiscing on the winning touchdown against New Orleans, Zimmer said it lasted only through last Sunday night.
“I watched it the one time, really. But I saw it on TV a couple of times when I got home that night,” he said of Stefon Diggs’ winning 61-yard reception from Case Keenum on the game’s final play. “That is all great, but we have to move on to Philadelphia. We’re done talking about that one particular play.”
Still one thing Zimmer did say is that it was great for Diggs to get such a signature moment.
“He was pretty good last year. He got nicked up a couple of times. He catches the ball good, runs good routes, he’s competitive,” Zimmer said of the 2015 fifth-round pick from Maryland. “He was a good receiver in college. He had some issues there his junior year and they just said you have to stay on him so he’ll continue to do good things.”
Preparing for the road
The Vikings were one of the best road teams in the NFL this year, at 6-2. Zimmer said the crowd noise in Philadelphia will be similar to what it is at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I think it will be very, very loud. They’re a very loud crowd,” he said. “They love their Eagles. We’ll have to go in there and play good.”
Does he have to implement any kind of play-calling signals for Keenum in case they can’t make plays at the line? “We’ll do what we have been doing all year,” Zimmer said. “We have played in some loud environments, and I expect us to go in there and play good.”
And while it might have been nice for the Vikings to have a home game to clinch a Super Bowl berth, Zimmer said this opportunity is all his team wanted.
“Obviously we’d like to play in front of our fans, but if you told us at the beginning of the year that we could play in the NFC Championship Game we would say, ‘Let’s go. Wherever you want us to go, we’ll go.’ ”
• Vikings defensive end Brian Robison on the opportunity in front of the team today: “I have been in this league for 11 years. I have been a part of this organization for 11 years. You don’t know if you’re ever going to have an opportunity like this again. A lot of these young guys take it for granted, but you cannot ever take these opportunities for granted.”
• The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a nice story about Vikings wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell, who lived in Philadelphia for most of his life.
• You wonder if quarterback Sam Bradford, who played for the Eagles when they were 7-9 under Chip Kelly in 2015, is able to help the Vikings in scouting Philadelphia.
• One of the special parts of the Eagles offense is their run-pass option. Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said: “It’ll be tough on our guys, but they have done a good job picking up what we’re asking them to do during the course of the week and hopefully we can go out and execute on Sunday.”
• Vikings special teams coach Mike Preifer on if he talks to kicker Kai Forbath before a big kick: “No, Kai doesn’t need to be talked to. He knows what the deal is. All I tell him to do, if I talk to him, is relax, take a deep breath, and do your job.” Forbath delivered two long fourth-quarter field goals last week and might have been asked one more time had Stefon Diggs been forced out of bounds on his final catch.
• Former Gophers cornerback Jalen Myrick was a seventh-round draft pick for the Jaguars last year. He appeared in five games during the regular season, and last week, he played in the 45-42 victory over Steelers, recording a tackle on special teams. In addition, former Minnesota State Mankato offensive lineman Chris Reedis in his third season with Jacksonville. He made three starts and appeared in six games during the regular season, but he is questionable for the AFC Championship Game at New England because of a knee injury.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org