How the Eagles Will Win the NFC Championship
The NFC comes down to this. The Minnesota Vikings travel to Philadelphia to square off against the Eagles, for a trip to Minneapolis and a chance at the Lombardi Trophy.
The Eagles, once again underdogs, will need to execute better than last week if they want to emerge victoriously.
Despite embracing their underdog status since quarterback Carson Wentz went down, it must’ve felt good for the Eagles to get the monkey off their back and send the Atlanta Falcons home packing. Doug Pederson was excellent play calling on Saturday, using a variety of RPO’s, featuring quick slant patterns that it seems Foles was fairly comfortable with it, a few trick plays, and most importantly, stuck to the running game (maybe not so much in the second half though). The Eagles won ugly. It took several field goals, a few improbable defensive stops, and one defensive play that put their whole season on the line, but they stood tall. This week, the strategy has to be the same.
Red Zone Offense
This may seem a bit surprising, considering the Eagles are second in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage, but that number has slipped to 33 percent in the Eagles last three games. The Vikings, meanwhile, are also number two in red zone defense, the Eagles had to settle for a trio of field goals last week, and a touchdown on their last drive would’ve basically put the Falcons out. They have to capitalize those chances against a stout Vikings defense.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey has to use his big body and size to create space and passing lanes for Foles in the end zone. All year they have veered away from the fade, so quick slants across the middle may be their best option.
Use Jay Ajayi as the Workhorse
All year, the Eagles have implemented all three of their backs pretty consistently, giving them a chance to rack up yards in the run game and also get out and catch some passes and screens. That needs to stop. You’re now one game away from the Super Bowl, you can’t worry about guys getting rested. You have to play the players that give you the best ability to win. Jay Ajayi is the running back doing that.
After a costly fumble on the Eagles first drive of their matchup with the Falcons, Ajayi came back with something to prove amassing 50 yards from scrimmage in the first quarter. Following that, Ajayi was barely seen for much of the first and second half, so much so, beat writers had to confirm he wasn’t injured. LeGarrette Blount took most of his carriers and to his credit, he did score the Eagles lone touchdown, but he also only ran for 19 yards on nine carries and just doesn’t have the burst Ajay has. I still think third-string running back Corey Clement is useful on third downs and is nearly as good Ajayi in the screen game. I just don’t see how Ajayi should not get at least 20 carries this game.
Force Case Keenum to Make Mistakes
Quarterback Case Keenum was an afterthought for many after his bizarre stint with the Los Angeles Rams came to a close. With an injury-prone starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, and a currently injured backup, Teddy Bridgewater, it made a lot of sense for the Vikings to target someone like Keenum, and boy has it panned out for them. He has thrown for nearly as many touchdowns (22) this year, then he has his other five years in the league combined. Somewhere deep down, there is still the original Case Keenum we know. The one that threw eleven interceptions last season while only starting nine games, the one whose quarterback rating only eclipsed 50 his first year, the one who can make mistakes.
If anyone can make it happen, it’s the Eagles. The defensive front will have to be disruptive as they have been all season and they must force turnovers. They had multiple dropped interceptions against Ryan and they can’t afford those drops against the Vikings. Keenum certainly had his fair share of questionable throws in their thrilling win against the Saints. I’m sure the Eagles are praying he dares to make those same throws.