Defense Wins Championships: Why the Philadelphia Eagles Will Beat the Vikings
I had visions of watching the "Williams Wall" shutting down the running game completely on the Eagles' first drive of the game, leading to both a three-and-out and Andy Reid giving up on running the ball right from the beginning, which is exactly what killed them in Baltimore and in Washington.
However, the more I think about it, the more I realize something very important here: It doesn't matter what the offense does. The Vikings will not beat the Eagles because they will not be able to score against the Eagles' defense.
Now, in my own defense, I'm not saying this simply because I'm a homer. That's not to say I'm not a homer, but the stats support what I'm saying. So before you write that reply to discount what I'm saying as homerism, hear me out.
In the 2008 season, only two defenses in the NFL ranked in the top five in all of the major statistical categories: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles ranked second in sacks, fourth in points allowed per game, third in total yards per game allowed, third in passing yards per game allowed, and fourth in rushing yards per game allowed (just for the record, the Vikings only ranked in the top five in two of these categories. They ranked fourth in sacks and first in rushing yards per game allowed).
But here's a more interesting stat to look at: The Eagles ranked first in the league in the month of December in points allowed per game. The number? Seven. The Eagles only allowed, on average, a touchdown per game in the final four weeks of the season.
The Vikings? 16.8, or roughly two touchdowns and a field goal.
Now, this still might leave open the question of the offense. The argument to be made here is that the Eagles' rushing game will be shut out, causing the Eagles to pass the ball on almost every down, which will surely result in a loss, as it did against the Redskins and the Ravens.
I'll agree with half of that. The Eagles most likely will not be able to run the ball against the Vikings. In fact, the Eagles will probably throw the ball over 40 times and rush less than 20 times.
Why am I making the argument that the Eagles will win, then, you might ask? Because the Ravens and the Redskins have arguably two of the best secondaries in the league. When the Eagles stopped running the ball, the Ravens and the Redskins both stopped blitzing for the most part and focused solely on shutting down the Eagles' passing game. Both teams did so to perfection (the Ravens were helped further by the ineptitude of Kevin Kolb in the second half).
Quite simply, the Vikings will not be able to stop the Eagles' passing game because their secondary just is not good enough. This is evidenced by the 215.6 passing yards allowed per game by the Vikings' secondary during the regular season—good for 18th in the league.
Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator who is widely regarded as one of, if not the best in the league, will have his unit ready. His gameplan against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings will most likely be very similar to the one used to beat the Giants: if you can stop the run, you can stop the entire offense.
In Week 14, the Eagles' defense held the Giants, who average over 150 yards per game on the ground, to only 88 yards rushing. He was able to blitz Eli Manning heavily and blitz him often because his secondary was able to effectively shut down the Giants' receivers, holding them to only 123 yards in the air.
The Vikings are not the Giants. Adrian Peterson runs the ball better than anyone on the Giants roster, but he also fumbled the ball nine times during the season, five of those coming in December. If he can't hold onto the ball better against the Eagles, he will get eaten alive by their defense, which forced five turnovers against Dallas in Week 17.
While much has been made of the Vikings' run defense, which allows just less than 80 yards on the ground per game, the Eagles' run defense is similarly stout, averaging just over 92 yards on the ground per game.
If the Eagles can stop Peterson the way they stopped Brandon Jacobs and force the Vikings to pass the ball, the Vikings are essentially done. In the game against the Giants, Eli Manning, who is a much more experienced quarterback than Tarvaris Jackson, was held to just 13 passes for 123 yards.
Although the Eagles didn't register a sack on him, they were in his face the entire game, causing him to throw erratically and make poor decisions. Despite the blitzes being sent at Eli, which often involved seven or eight men, the secondary was able to completely shut down the Giants' receivers, who are still very good despite the loss of Plaxico Burress.
The Vikings don't have the same caliber of receivers that the Giants have.
Bernard Berrian is a one-dimensional deep threat who will likely be doubled with a safety above him for the majority of the game to eliminate the deep pass.
Bobby Wade is a good receiver who has the potential to make plays against the Eagles, as is Visanthe Shiancoe, but they are a task the Eagles are up to if they play defense the way they did against the Giants and against the Cowboys, who both arguably have better receivers than Minnesota.
Tarvaris Jackson will see blitzes come his way that he's never seen before. Jim Johnson's scheme puts everyone in the position to make the play at any time depending on the call. He aims to overload the offensive line and send more defenders from more places than the line can handle.
He rotates two full defensive lines depending on the situation that are both equally effective at doing their jobs. There just isn't any way to prepare for what he brings, and judging by what he did to the defending Super Bowl champions and the team that was widely expected to be this year's champions, the Vikings won't know what hit them.
The Eagles' defense has the ability to totally dominate the Vikings' offense. If the Eagles can put up 20 points on the Vikings, they will win very easily.
Prediction: Eagles, 24-13.
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