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. 

Top pending free agents from NFC East

Top pending free agents from NFC East

By now, you know which Eagles are set to become free agents on March 13 (see story), but do you know how they stack up against the other pending free agents in the division? 

The Eagles are set to lose some pretty significant pieces compared to the rest of the division. 

With less than a month until the start of free agency, here’s a look at the top 10 free agents from the NFC East: 

1. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Cowboys 

Lawrence isn’t just the top pending free agent in the NFC East, he might be the top free agent in the NFL. It’s either him or Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney. Lawrence won’t turn 27 until April 28 and he’s already turned into a perennial Pro Bowler. His career got off to a relatively slow start, but his last two seasons have been great. In the last two years, Lawrence has had 25 sacks. Just three players in the NFL (Aaron Donald, Chandler Jones, Ryan Kerrigan) have had more in that span. Lawrence has also been very good against the run and has had 29 TFLs in the last two years. The Cowboys can’t afford to let him go. 

2. Nick Foles, QB, Eagles 

After the Eagles picked up his option year and then Foles immediately told the Eagles he’d pay back $2 million to buy his freedom, the former Super Bowl MVP is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Eagles could prevent that by slapping a franchise tag on him, but if they don’t, he’ll be free to choose his next team when he becomes a free agent on March 13. (The tagging window is from Feb. 19 through March 5.) There probably aren’t a ton of landing spots left for Foles, but a couple of them might be in the division. Jacksonville and Miami make some sense too. 

3. Landon Collins, S, Giants 

Collins just finished out his rookie contract as a second-round pick and has been a Pro Bowler his last three years. He hasn’t stayed at his All-Pro level from 2016, when he was on the short list to be the Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s still been pretty damn good. The Giants probably can’t afford to let him walk, so if they can’t get a long-term deal, they’ll probably have to slap a tag on him. 

4. Brandon Graham, DE, Eagles 

BG is 30 now and is coming off a season where he had just four sacks, but he’ll still be a highly sought-after free agent. The former first-round pick has played all nine of his NFL seasons in Philly, but will likely get to test the free agent waters. Graham isn’t the top DE in this free agent market, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get a big deal. 

5. Preston Smith, LB, Redskins 

The former second-round pick hasn’t lived up to his potential with 24 1/2 sacks in four seasons, but he’s just 26 and has been a pretty big part of Washington’s defense. Washington probably still has some hope that Smith has room to grow. 

6. Golden Tate, WR, Eagles 

He came over from Detroit halfway through the season and the Eagles struggled to get him involved. Eventually, Tate did make a game-winning catch in the playoff game against Chicago, but is that enough for the Eagles to want to re-sign him? A YAC master, Tate will be 31 by the start of next season and had gone over 1,000 yards in three of his four previous seasons before 2018. 

7. Ronald Darby, CB, Eagles 

Darby tore his ACL against the Cowboys in November and is still recovering, which might delay his signing. In two seasons with the Eagles, he’s had two pretty significant injuries; the dislocated ankle in 2017 and the ACL tear in 2018. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty good. The problem might be that the Eagles now seem to have some depth at corner. Maybe they still try to bring him back. 

8. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Redskins

Washington traded a fourth-round pick to the Packers at the deadline to bring in Clinton-Dix, who then played nine games with the Skins. He was a Pro Bowler in 2016, but has had an up and down career overall. But after releasing D.J. Swearinger, it might be important for Washington to keep Clinton-Dix. 

9. Jordan Hicks, LB, Eagles 

Because of his injury history, Hicks is one of the hardest free agents to figure out. When he’s on the field, he’s been a really productive player, but he has also missed 21 games over his first four years because of injury and that doesn’t include missing the Super Bowl run in 2017 after tearing his Achilles. 

10. Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys 

It’s hard to believe, but Beasley just finished his seventh NFL season. He’s been unhappy with his usage in Dallas, which could mean he’ll be ready to get out of town. In 2018, he had 65 catches for 672 yards and three touchdowns. His best season came in 2016, when he caught 75 passes for 833 yards and five touchdowns. 

Notable mentions: David Irving, DT, Cowboys; Jamison Crowder, WR, Redskins; Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles; Russell Shepard, WR, Giants

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Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

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USA Today Images

Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

In the wake of news that the NFL had settled collusion cases brought forth by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, fellow activist and Eagle Malcolm Jenkins has weighed in. 

Despite some disagreements between the men in the past, Jenkins has always maintained that Kaepernick and Reid belonged in the league and thought NFL owners colluded to keep Kaepernick and Reid out of the NFL. 

Reid is now employed by the Carolina Panthers, but Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. 

You’ll remember in October, Jenkins and Reid got into a heated exchange before the Eagles-Panthers game at the Linc. And after the game, Reid called Jenkins a sellout and a coward (see story).  

That day, Jenkins refused to get into a war of words. 

"I would never get up here and say anything bad about somebody who I know [their] intentions were about helping their communities, especially another black man," Jenkins said on Oct. 21, after the game. "I'll leave it at that."

The exchange between Jenkins and Reid that day stemmed from lingering animosity about the way the Players Coalition — led by Jenkins — brokered a $90 million deal with the NFL to help with projects dealing with racial inequality. 

On Friday afternoon, the NFL released the following statement: 

"For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party."

Because of the confidentiality agreement, we don’t know how much this settlement is worth, but it’s likely to be very significant. It’s also unclear if the NFL admitted any wrongdoing in the settlement. 

The grievances began when Kaepernick and Reid claimed they had been blacklisted by the NFL for demonstrating during the national anthem. Kaepernick began those protests by sitting and then later taking a knee. 

Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem but stopped once his Players Coalition brokered that deal in 2017. Jenkins raised his fist in the Eagles’ preseason opener in 2018, but did not during the 2018 season. Jenkins has said many times he wants the focus to be on work in the community and not the demonstrations. 

A tweet earlier on Friday falls in line with that. 

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