A formidable defense lines up opposite the Eagles this Sunday.
Defensively, the Vikings ranked first in points allowed, yards allowed, and third-down percentage. Minnesota ended five of its last seven regular-season games holding opponents to 10 points or fewer; winning all five of those contests by an average of 15.6 points per game. The Eagles' offense, which held on to the football longer than any other team this year, is prepping for a defense that prioritizes keeping its offense on the field.
"I think they are the best defense we faced this year," said offensive coordinator Frank Reich. "I think one of the reasons why is they can get pressure with four and cover with seven. Anytime you can get pressure with four and cover with seven, that's kind of been the key to our defense's success. That's been a proven winning formula for a long time so I think this weekend will be a good test to that."
Minnesota's defense proved troublesome for the Saints in the Divisional Round forcing quarterback Drew Brees into two interceptions and sacking him twice. They held the Saints scoreless in the first half, forcing a turnover in New Orleans' lone red zone opportunity. While the defense hasn't forced turnovers with great regularity, ranking in the bottom 10 in forced turnovers, it minimizes big plays.
A talented pass rush that includes defensive ends Everson Griffen, who tallied the fourth-most sacks in the NFL this season with 13, and Danielle Hunter, who amassed seven sacks of his own, will look to create a crowded pocket for Nick Foles. Griffen strip-sacked Brees last week for a 6-yard loss late in the first half.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, both first-team All-Pro selections, headline a secondary that gave up the fewest receiving touchdowns (13) all season.
"Across the front and throughout the defense, there's not really a weak link there," said left guard Stefen Wisniewski on Tuesday. "We'll have to execute and be on our game to move the ball and score against them."
Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks, a former teammate of Vikings quarterback Case Keenum in Houston, offered a similar perspective.
"They've got rushers on both sides, rushers inside, (Linval) Joseph, big powerful strong guy. Then the linebackers are young athletic, aggressive," he said.
Third-down execution will be critical for the Eagles once again. The Vikings smothered the Saints on the money down, allowing them to go just 2-of-9. Against Atlanta, the Eagles went 6-of-13 on third down including three consecutive conversions on the team's final scoring drive.
"I think like last week we need to get in a rhythm; we need to stay in phase. We had a lot of third-and-manageables last week. We avoided negative plays. We obviously had a few negative runs but we didn't have too many penalties," Reich said.
"Last week we had three drives of over 10 plays so that's the challenge against going up against one of the better defenses in the league and so I think one thing is our players, we have to scheme and we all together have to find ways to make a few chunk plays here or there."