NFC defenders take spotlight in Philly
One team has a suffocating defense. The other has the NFL’s No. 1 unit.
Defense should win at least the NFC championship.
Two of the league’s elite defenses go at it tonight when the Philadelphia Eagles (14-3) host the Minnesota Vikings (14-3) in the conference title game.
“They have a great defense, we have a great defense,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “Whoever is most complete will win.”
The Vikings allowed the fewest yards (275.9) and fewest points (15.8) per game. The Eagles were fourth in yards allowed (306.5) and fourth in points (18.4).
May the best defense reach the Super Bowl.
“Typically, when you’re good defensively, you’re going to stay in the ballgames,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Then you have a chance to win them at the end.”
Minnesota has three Pro Bowl players on defense: end Everson Griffen, outside linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Safety Harrison Smith and Rhodes are All-Pros.
“It’s just a smothering defense,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “[Griffen] is a game wrecker. They just mix it in. You don’t know necessarily what’s coming. Rhodes is a tremendous corner, safeties are playing extremely well.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and safety Malcolm Jenkins are Philadelphia’s Pro Bowl picks. Defensive end Brandon Graham had an excellent season and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are solid.
Hearing about Minnesota’s defense all week is extra motivation for Philadelphia, which is a home underdog for the second straight game.
“When you’ve got the No. 1 defense coming in statistically, obviously, it fires us up,” Cox said. “We know going into this game that whoever’s defense plays better is going to win the game. The way we’re prepared, we won’t change nothing that we do. We’ll just go out and be ourselves.”
BATTLE OF THE BACKUPS
Case Keenum and Nick Foles were teammates in St. Louis in 2015 and began this season as backups. Keenum had a breakout season for the Vikings after Sam Bradford was injured. Foles is 3-1 since MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Expect defenses to focus on the running backs and challenge the quarterbacks.
“We’ve got to make Nick Foles win the game,” Griffen said. “We’ve got to make him win the game but we’ve got to stop the running game, affect him and give the ball back to our offense as much as possible so that they can score points.”
Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery has more catches (45), yards (685), and touchdowns (7) against the Vikings than he has against any other team.
But Jeffery, who spent his first five seasons with the Bears, did most of his damage against other cornerbacks while also being the featured guy in Chicago’s offense.
The Eagles spread the ball around, so Jeffery had only 789 yards receiving, but his nine TDs were the second most in his career. Jeffery, by the way, turned down more money in free agency from Minnesota to join the Eagles on a one-year deal. Philadelphia gave him a four-year, $52 million extension during the season.