Battle in Trenches Should Decide NFC Title Game
PHILADELPHIA – Two of the top defenses in the league will share the same field this Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Meanwhile, both offenses will feature quarterbacks who did not start the season for their respective teams.
How will this game be decided? Likely by the big guys trying to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles are led on the defensive line by Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox does not always post the big stat lines. He frequently gets double-teamed freeing up his teammates to make plays. However, it was Cox putting up the big numbers in the NFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons. He racked up seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss and a pair of quarterback hits.
“That is the best I've seen him play and I know he's only going to get even better,” Defensive End Brandon Graham said of Cox. “I think Fletch just works hard every day, and we all hold each other accountable out there on the field. You know, sometimes when you in them games, when you make that first play, it's just adrenaline and then you just get in your rhythm. And I think Fletch got in his rhythm early and he couldn't be stopped.”
“A lot is made of Fletch in the pass game and rightfully so, he's a good pass rusher,” Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz stated. “He made a couple plays in the run game that were big time. He also made some plays chasing some wide-receiver screens, and Fletch is a great athlete. He's got speed. He's done that since he's been here.”
The rest of the Eagles Defensive Line follows Cox’s lead and benefits from his presence. Defensive Tackle Tim Jernigan has been a huge offseason pickup while Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, and rookie Derek Barnett have also played very well. Graham led the team with 9.5 sacks.
There is a lot of talk nationally about just how dominating the Vikings Defensive Line has been this season. That has put a bit of a chip on the collective shoulders of the Eagles Defensive Line.
“I think this is a good opportunity for us to prove who the best defensive line and front is,” Graham said. “Because we are playing against the best and now we got to go out there and show up and if we say we are the best, we got to go out there and prove it. I think that's our mindset this week is to go out there and prove it and have more intensity than their defense and then we'll see what happens.”
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles offensive success or failure will likely hinge on the play of the Offensive Line. That line is anchored by a pair of Pro-Bowl players in Guard Brandon Brooks and Tackle Lane Johnson. They will be tasked with taking on a Vikings Defensive Line anchored by Everson Griffen. He finished the regular season tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 sacks. Griffen also earned a nickname as a ‘game-wrecker.’
“He's definitely a premiere pass rusher and player in general,” Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich explained. “He's had a great year. He's been a great player for a long time. So you've got to account for him. You've got to know where he's at. He's earned the respect of being called a game wrecker. He's put that on his resume for sure.”
The Eagles’ Offensive Line is well aware of who the Vikings have lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage. It does not phase them, they remain focused and confident heading into the NFC Championship Game.
“I think that we have really good players,” Center Jason Kelce stated. “We’ve been pretty solid in pass blocking all year long with the guys that we have and with the coaches who have put us in good situations.”
“They have had a great couple of weeks of practice and preparation,” Pederson said. “Stout [Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] does a great job putting the run plan together and just getting back to that physical style that they are used to and are accustomed to.”
Both offensive lines will have their work cut out for them. This game will feature the top two rushing defenses in the league. The Eagles allowed 79.2 rush yards per game while the Vikings gave up 83.6 yards per game. It will also feature two of the top three teams in the league at defending third down. The Vikings are tops in the NFL allowing just 25.2 percent of third downs to be converted. The Eagles are third in the league holding opponents to 32.2 conversion percentage.
Expect a low-scoring game on Sunday. The Vikings lead the league allowing just 15.8 points per game. The Eagles are fourth in the league giving up 18.4 points per game.