Scheme is Key for Eagles Against Talented Vikings Defense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's not supposed to be easy when you reach this point of the season and the Eagles are well aware of the hurdle that faces them in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Minnesota Vikings will bring the NFL’s top-ranked defense to Lincoln Financial Field and while Philadelphia possesses one of the best home-field advantages in football, the thought in this leagues is defense always travels.
And Minnesota's D is as good as it gets in today's offense-tilted environment, an often smothering combination of coaching, scheme, experience and talent that has been historically good on the game's most important down, allowing an almost inconceivable 25.2 percent conversion rate on third down.
It all starts with the head coach Mike Zimmer, regarded as one of the best defensive minds in football who's forte during a long coaching career has been his blitz schemes, built around the often-copied sugaring of the A-gaps with two wildly athletic linebackers, as well as his ability to coach up cornerback play. The team "blitz doctor" and "cornerback whisperer" are often affixed to Zimmer's name.
Then you have the talent which bursts with Pro Bowl-level players at all three levels.
Up front it's weak-side edge rusher Everson Griffen, a player Doug Pederson has called a game-wrecker this week, as well as Linval Joseph, the imposing run-stuffer regarded as the strongest man in a league full of strong men, and rangy strong-side end Danielle Hunter, a physical freak.
At linebacker, it's the 6-foot-5 three-time Pro Bowl-selection Anthony Barr and , Mychal's little brother Eric Kendricks, both among the fastest LBs in football and among the few that can threaten the gaps on either side of center Jason Kelce and still bail out and execute underneath coverage in the passing game.
On the back end are two All-Pros, physical lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes and the most well-rounded safety in the NFL Harrison Smith, who can take over a game in coverage, as a blitzer and in run support.
“I think they are the best defense we’ve faced this year," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think one of the reasons why is they can get pressure with four and cover with seven. Any time you can get pressure with four and cover with seven, that’s kind of been the key to our defensive success.”
The third part of the equation for the Vikings is that virtually all their key components on the defensive side have been together with Zimmer for three years so the chemistry is special and you rarely see mental mistakes and blown coverages.
Despite the bad matchup on paper, however, Reich is confident the Eagles will be able to at least get some things going as look as they can get Nick Foles into a comfort zone. That likely means more RPOs and quick throws to combat the pass rush.
“I think, like last week, we need to get in a rhythm," Reich admitted. "... We have a challenge in front of us to be able to put together drives, find some big plays in those drives and be smart with the football."
Pederson and Reich have been masterful developing game plans all season long and that has to continue if Philadelphia wants to prevent Minnesota from being the first team to play in the Super Bowl on its home field.
“I think one thing is we have to scheme, and our players, we all together, have to ways to make a few chunk plays here and there,” Reich said.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen