Eagles

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Vikings

5 key Eagles matchups vs. Vikings

The Eagles are just one game away from heading back to the Super Bowl. 

There's just one team standing in their way: the second-seeded Vikings. 

The Vikings probably feel pretty lucky to be in the NFC Championship Game after it took a miracle on the last play to get past the Saints, but they're not just one win from the Super Bowl — they're one win from playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium. It's hard to imagine a team needing any more incentive to get to the biggest stage in the world, but the chance to play at home could be it. 

The biggest story on the Vikings is Case Keenum, who came in as the backup and has played out of his mind all season. Everyone has waited for him to come back to Earth and it hasn't happened yet. The Eagles will need to keep him in check, but there are other matchups that might loom even larger.

Here's a look at five of them: 

Alshon Jeffery vs. Xavier Rhodes
Jeffery didn't have a catch in the divisional round game until the final drive of the second quarter, but it was a huge 15-yard catch that put the Eagles into field goal range. He then heated up in his first-ever playoff game and finished with four catches for 61 yards to lead the Eagles in receiving. Jeffery hasn't been the volume receiver many fans probably hoped for when he signed, but he is clearly their best receiver and has made some big plays this season. 

Jeffery is certainly familiar with the Vikings. Because of his time in Chicago, Jeffery has faced them nine times in his career. He has 45 catches for 685 yards and seven touchdowns against them. He has more touchdown catches against them than any other team. Three of his seven best career games have come against the Vikings. 

But Rhodes is pretty damn good. He's arguably the best cornerback in the NFL and has been a shutdown guy all year. 

These two have had their battles. In eight games against each other, Jeffery has been targeted 32 times, according to ProFootballFocus. He has 19 catches for 235 yards and a touchdown. But Rhodes has won his battles too; he has one pass defensed and two interceptions while covering Jeffery. 

"We had some good battles," Jeffery said. "He's a great competitor. We like to compete against one other. Strong, physical. I look forward to the battle." 

Jerick McKinnon vs. Eagles' linebackers
The Eagles have the best run defense in the NFL, so maybe the key to this game isn't stopping Latavius Murray, the Vikings' best running back. The bigger test will probably be against McKinnon, who is a receiving threat out of the backfield. 

Sure, the Eagles lucked out by not having to worry about the Saints' Alvin Kamara, but McKinnon can be a handful as a receiver too. This season he caught 51 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns. Though, he caught just three passes for six yards against the Saints last week. 

At times, the Eagles have struggled to cover running backs. This will fall on all their linebackers, but Mychal Kendricks is the one to keep an eye on. Kendricks has great straight-line speed, but him covering running backs 1-on-1 will always be a mismatch. He struggles with their lateral play. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Everson Griffen 
Unlike many of the top pass-rushers in the NFL, Griffen doesn't primarily rush against the right tackle. That has been an advantage for the Eagles throughout most of this season because right tackle is where All-Pro Lane Johnson resides. It'll be up to "Big V" to slow down Griffen, who had 13 sacks this season. 

Over the last four seasons, Griffen has 43½ sacks. Over the past four seasons, just three players (Von Miller — 48.5, Ryan Kerrigan — 47, Chandler Jones — 46.5) have more sacks than Griffen. Griffen had one sack against the Saints in the divisional round, while Vaitai played well against the Falcons. 

"We've faced some tremendous defensive ends all season long and this will be [Vaitai's] greatest challenge in this game," Doug Pederson said. "But I have a lot of confidence in V and what he's done this season and he'll get a good week of preparation and be ready to go."

Joe Berger vs. Fletcher Cox
Cox had a monster game against the Falcons after putting some extra pressure on himself heading into that one. He told NBC Sports Philadelphia that as the highest-paid unit on the team, the defensive line needed to step up. The group did and Cox was at the forefront of that. He has the ability to wreck games and the Eagles are going to need another elite performance from him on Sunday night. 

This season, Berger gave up three sacks, two QB hits and 18 QB hurries, according to ProFootballFocus, so Cox will have some opportunity to get after Keenum. But Cox also needs to continue to be stout in his run defense. 

Pederson said Cox was a "man on a mission" against the Falcons. The Eagles need him to bring it again. 

Jay Ajayi vs. Vikings' run defense
Ajayi finished the game against the Falcons with 98 yards from scrimmage, but that's actually lower than what he probably should have had. After one quarter, Ajayi had already rushed for 49 yards on seven attempts. The Eagles got away from Ajayi in the second quarter, which Pederson said was just a flow-of-the-game situation, but it would make sense for them to use him against the Vikings on Sunday. 

The problem is that it won't be an easy game for Ajayi. While the Eagles had the best rushing defense in the NFL this season — giving up 79.2 yards per game — the Vikings weren't far behind at 83.6. They held the Saints' two-headed rushing attack of Kamara and Mark Ingram to a combined 68 yards and held the entire Saints team to just 80 yards on the ground. Now, a big part of that was that the Vikings got up early and forced the Saints to pass their way back into the game. But they're still nasty against the run. 

The good news for Ajayi is the way he picked up yards against the Falcons should be at least somewhat sustainable against the Vikings or any team. Of his 54 rushing yards, 39 came after contact, according to ProFootballFocus. Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount were excellent after contact this season. Ajayi averaged 2.8 yards after contact per attempt, while LeGarrette Blount averaged 3.6, the third-best average in the NFL. 

Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

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Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

While many folks are off for Presidents Day, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is hard at work trying to figure out how to replace Frank Reich. 

Pederson is spending his Monday interviewing running backs coach Duce Staley and wide receivers coach Mike Groh for the Eagles' vacant offensive coordinator position, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN's Tim McManus first reported the news Monday. 

It's possible one or both coaches could take over in some sort of offensive coordinator role. 

Reich left his post as offensive coordinator earlier this month when he accepted the head coaching job in Indianapolis. While it might not seem like an OC who doesn't call the plays has a big role, Reich was a good sounding board for Pederson and seemed to be very-well trusted by the head coach. He also helped put the weekly gameplan together. 

It makes sense that the Eagles don't want to go outside the organization to hire an offensive coordinator. Pederson trusts Staley and Groh and the chemistry inside the NovaCare Complex was tremendous during the Eagles' run to Super Bowl LII. 

Either way, Pederson is going to oversee the offense and call plays. Staley or Groh, if one or both are promoted, will handle some extra responsibility, but it'll still all be on Pederson. 

While Staley has been with the Eagles as a coach since 2011, working his way up from a quality control coach to running backs coach in 2013, Groh is a newcomer. He was added to the staff before the 2017 season to take over for Greg Lewis after the Eagles fired him. Groh did an impressive job last season, particularly with helping transform Nelson Agholor from a bust to one of the team's more explosive weapons. 

LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

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LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

LeGarrette Blount is fresh off of his third Super Bowl title and second in two years with two different teams. 

It sounds like he doesn't really want to go to a third team in three years. 

Blount, 31, played on a one-year deal worth around $1.25 million with the Eagles in 2017, but is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year starts on March 14. He made it pretty clear on Sunday that he wouldn't mind coming back to Philly for another run. 

"It's early so we'll see," Blount said on NFL Network. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there. They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys. 

"I can't say enough about Duce (Staley), just for the simple fact for how well I was coached there and how good he helped me understand things. I feel like Duce is one of the best running back coaches, one of the best coaches I've ever had in my entire life. I obviously want to be a part of that for a while, so we'll see how it goes."

Blount began the year as the Eagles' top running back, but lost some of his role once the team traded for former Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi. But Blount still played a significant role in the Eagles' run to winning Super Bowl LII. 

During the season, he was the team's top rusher with 173 carries for 766 yards and two touchdowns. But then in Super Bowl LII, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, helping the Eagles to a 41-33 win over his former team, the Patriots. 

The Eagles are going to bring back Ajayi and second-year player Corey Clement. After that, things get murky. Blount and Darren Sproles (coming off injury) are both set to become free agents. 

Blount wasn't shy about his love for the Eagles during his interview on Sunday. He cited trust and how they handled the Ajayi trade with him as big reasons why. 

"They talked to me throughout the process of it happening," Blount said. "They were like, 'we're trading for Jay Ajayi, we just want to let you know.' Like I said, that's obviously another big thing for me, the honesty in that building and how open they are and how they don't keep any kind of secrets for you. They just tell you how it is. It's a big respect thing. Duce was the first person to reach out to me and be like, 'hey, we traded for Jay Ajayi. I just want to let you know.' Again, man, that's why it's a place that I love and I hope to stay there." 

Late in the six-and-a-half minute video, the crew brought out Clement while Blount was answering a question about the rookie. Blount laughed during the middle of his answer, but then got back on track and praised Clement. The two became very close during the 2017 season. 

After Blount's answer, Clement got to chat with his teammate and said getting to work with Blount was a "tremendous opportunity" and would clearly like to keep the core group together in the running back room next season. 

Obviously, it's not up to Clement, but Blount will play a big role and we already know what he thinks of the Eagles.