Five Eagles to watch in NFC Championship showdown with Vikings

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There is a sense of excitement in the air. The NFC Championship game is just one day away and the City of Philadelphia is raring to host the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles will certainly have their hands full, but here are five players to keep an eye on tomorrow evening.

Alshon Jeffery:
After catching fire late on in the regular season, Jeffery burst out of the gate in the playoffs, catching 4-of-5 passes for 61 yards. Foles found a sense of comfort in his number one wideout, something that wasn’t previously on display. Jeffery now comes up against Xavier Rhodes and although he has accumulated 685 yards and 7 scores in his nine games against Minnesota, this matchup provides plenty of intrigue.

Jeffery was held to 73 yards in two meetings against the all-pro cornerback and the matchup on the line of scrimmage may be among the most exciting things to watch back after the game has ended. Can Jeffery dominate one of the best press corners in the game en-route to another career outing? Or will Rhodes seal his own road to glory?

 

Nick Foles:
The Eagles quarterback comes up against one of the toughest defenses in the league and one that has battled the Eagles for NFC supremacy all year long. The Vikings defense was (just about) able to stifle Drew Brees and the Saints and if the Eagles struggle to balance the offense early on, Foles is going to have to take some shots down the field. The question is, can Foles outsmart a defense that has been four years in the making?

Philadelphia ran 67 total plays against the Falcons with 23 in the shotgun as an RPO (34%). Of the 23, Philly ran the ball 17 times. Minnesota will absolutely catch onto this and look to smother the run and force Foles into testing an elite secondary…but is he up to the test?

Foles just has to be competent. It’s that simple. The skill position players will do the rest but with an esteemed pass-rush, sensational secondary and some punishing linebackers, Foles cannot afford to make the same mistakes he has in weeks past.

 

Fletcher Cox:
Cox is playing the best football of his career. There is no questioning his impact both as an elite pass-rusher and a dominant run-stopper. The franchise defensive tackle played a huge role in eliminating he threat of Devonta Foreman and he will be called on again to help marginalize the Vikings offense, forcing them to rely on Keenum who struggled under pressure against New Orleans.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage lies a strong offensive line, a surprisingly athletic quarterback and a run-game that can sting the second level if unaccounted for. The Eagles have the best run defense in the NFL and Cox has been a key part of that. Forcing Keenum to throw under pressure will be absolutely pivotal on Sunday. Football is won and lost in the trenches and Fletcher Cox is the Eagles most powerful weapon.


 

Jay Ajayi:
The Jay Train has left the station. Ajayi carried the ball 15 times for 54 yards on Saturday, but his fumble on the opening play will stand out here. Ball security has been an issue for Ajayi since arriving in Philadelphia, fumbling three times so far. However, there is no doubting his production. A 32-yard screen reception provided a surge in momentum for the Eagles against Atlanta and nobody ran harder than the former Miami Dolphin.

This is a Vikings defense that held perhaps the most dominant rushing duo in football to just 68 yards on 21 attempts one week ago. Alvin Kamara and Melvin Ingram had no real estate out of the backfield…although Kamara was able to be effective on screens. The correlation speaks for itself.

Ajayi is seeing more and more action as a receiving option with at least two catches in four of his last five games. It will be exciting to see if the Eagles can find some new ways to implement Ajayi into their offense against a unit that shows no mercy.

 

Malcolm Jenkins:
A safety who prides himself on winning tough matchups with tight ends, Jenkins will find himself with exactly that on a huge stage this weekend. Kyle Rudolph comes into this game with 532 yards and 8 touchdowns on 57 catches. At 6’6, 265 lbs, Rudolph is a beast amongst mean that Jenkins will somehow have to tame.

The veteran safety has been here before with the Saints and knows how to handle the pressure. Not only that, but Jenkins has been an instrumental leader of this defense both on and off the field, setting the example over the top or in the box. It’s been a positive season for Jenkins and it’s going to take more of Schwartz using his catalyst for success in every way he can to patch up the potential lack of linebacker depth if Ellerbe does miss the game.

 

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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