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02 Jan 2009

2009 NFC Wild Card Preview

by Aaron Schatz

Do you like your NFL playoff action complete with historical tales of woe? Then you will love this year's NFC wild card round. Would you like the team that collapsed over the second half of the season and is hosting its first home playoff game since Harry Truman was president? Do you prefer the team that hasn't won a title since 1960 and spent most of the season discovering new ways to blow games? How about the team that has only made it to two conference championships in 43 seasons and only a few months ago was dealing with a franchise quarterback in jail and a head coach who quit on them? By all means, don't forget the team with an all-time 0-4 record in Super Bowls that needed a last-minute field goal to win its last game against a team which willingly played David Carr at quarterback.

Who knows, perhaps one of these teams can make it to Super Bowl XLIII. First, two of them have to advance past this round and move on to play the Giants and Panthers.

For those who may be visiting this site for the first time to read this preview, some explanations for our statistics. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) Red zone DVOA is also listed. These numbers are all regular season only.

WEI DVOA is WEIGHTED DVOA, which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here).

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team also gets a chart showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to total DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice." Note that even though the chart appears in the section for when each team has the ball, it represents total performance, not just offense.

This year, we're going back to the old school for our in-game discussions. You can use these preview threads to discuss things before and then during each game. Just remember to switch over from NFC to AFC when the NFC game is over.

Atlanta at Arizona



Falcons on Offense
ATL OFF ARI DEF
DVOA 16.5 %(8) 9.3% (21)
WEI DVOA 17.3% (8) 12.3% (23)
PASS 35.4% (4) 19.7% (23)
RUSH 3.4% (13) -1.7% (15)
RED ZONE 6.6% (14) 9.8% (21)


Cardinals on Offense
ARI OFF ATL DEF
DVOA 11.9% (10) 11.4% (23)
WEI DVOA 8.3% (13) 11.2% (22)
PASS 24.8% (7) 13.4% (18)
RUSH -11.7% (28) 9.1% (25)
RED ZONE 14.1% (12) 0.3% (16)


Special Teams
ATL ARI
DVOA 3.3% (7) -3.1% (28)
ATL kickoff 9.2 (4) -1.8 (18)
ARI kickoff 1.8 (15) -7.7 (28)
ATL punts 4.8 (12) -6.5 (28)
ARI punts -1.6 (19) -6.6 (26)
FG/XP 5.2 (6) 4.2 (11)

If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

The basic story of this one is pretty simple: The Cardinals have fallen apart over the second half of the season. Since their bye week in Week 7, they have not won a single game against a team outside their own division. It is hard to find a stat where the team hasn't declined since that point. (Okay, there is one: Kurt Warner is taking fewer sacks.) Atlanta had the same bye week. Since then, the Falcons have improved in all the pass-related stats, although run-related stats have faded -- particularly run defense. The Cardinals may have the worst running game in the league, so hey, good luck taking advantage of that. Here's a look at stats for each team from Weeks 1-6 and then Weeks 8-17, along with rank. Stats that declined are in red, and stats that improved are in blue.


ARI 1-6 Rank ARI 8-17 Rank xx ATL 1-6 Rank ATL 8-17 Rank
Pass Off DVOA 30.2% 5 21.8% 11 xx 28.8% 6 38.5% 3
Offense ASR 6.0% 16 3.6% 4 xx 4.5% 7 3.1% 3
Run Off DVOA 0.0% 15 -22.4% 32 xx 7.1% 8 1.6% 16
Offense ALY 4.19 16 3.45 32 xx 4.53 7 4.15 18
Pass Def DVOA 13.2% 18 23.3% 24 xx 32.6% 27 2.4% 12
Defense ASR 8.8% 5 3.5% 31 xx 4.9% 27 8.1% 3
Run Def DVOA -8.5% 9 1.7% 17 xx -1.7% 16 15.5% 29
Defense ALY 4.15 14 4.30 17 xx 3.96 12 4.51 26
Special Teams DVOA 0.8% 19 -5.8% 30 xx 3.5% 6 3.5% 9

You may remember a table from last year's playoff previews, which was then repeated in the Pittsburgh chapter of PFP 2008. It showed the top second half declines in DVOA for teams with ten or more wins. If we expanded that table to make it "top second half declines in DVOA for division champions," the 2008 Cardinals would rank second, behind only the 2007 Steelers.

WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL

The phrase "establish the run" is usually meaningless nonsense, but the Atlanta offense shows how the passing game and running game can work together. Yes, Atlanta is more efficient in the passing game, but that efficiency is set up by the fact that the Falcons run more than almost any other team in the NFL. With 491 running back carries, they were second only to Baltimore, and the Falcons are number one if we only count carries in the first half. Atlanta doesn't need to establish the run early in the game to prove that they can run, or even to free things up for the passing game. They've established the run over the course of the season, and that does the trick. Also, unlike some run-first teams, Atlanta doesn't use the phrase "establish the run" as a crutch that means "we're going to run a lot even though our running game sucks."

Against the Cardinals, the Falcons may actually want to pass the ball a little more than usual. The Cardinals' ability to stop the run got weaker during the second half of the season, but at least it stayed around the league average, which makes it a lot better than their ability to stop the pass.

Arizona's decline against the pass in the second half may surprise those who thought that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had been a major upgrade over Eric Green at the starting right cornerback spot. He was an upgrade, but not a major one. In ESPN Numbers Crunching this week, I quoted a stat that Arizona opponents averaged 5.6 yards per pass on the right side (where Roderick Hood usually lines up) but 8.6 yards per pass on the left side (primarily Rodgers-Cromartie and Green). This difference has been smaller since Rodgers-Cromartie entered the starting lineup in Week 9, but it is still there. Since Week 9, Arizona opponents gained 5.8 yards per pass on the right side and 7.8 yards per pass on the left. (I should note that the charting numbers for Rodgers-Cromartie, based on the Arizona games done so far, are better than those for Hood -- 53 percent Success Rate and 5.5 yards allowed per pass for Rodgers-Cromartie, 50 percent Success Rate and 7.0 yards allowed per pass for Hood, and 50 percent Success Rate with a terrible 9.7 yards allowed per pass for Green).

The difference between the two sides may be the reason for Arizona's somewhat odd numbers against opposing number-one receivers. The Cardinals rank 29th in DVOA against number ones, but opponents actually threw to their top receivers less often than the NFL average. (For those curious, I'm counting Amani Toomer as the Giants' number one during the week Plaxico Burress was only thrown one pass because of injury.) Arizona allowed a league-high 13 touchdowns to opposing number one receivers.

The real change in Arizona's pass defense has been the pass rush. In the first six games, the Cardinals had 18 sacks. In the last ten games, they've had only 13 sacks. Quarterback hits show the same change in the pass rush: 25 quarterback hits in the first six games, only 26 in the last ten. We don't have Arizona's final four games charted yet, but right now game charting shows 31 hurries in the first six games and 26 hurries in the six games between Week 8 and Week 13. Arizona plays primarily in a 3-4 alignment and sends five pass rushers on 30 percent of pass plays, which ranks fourth in the NFL. In case you are wondering, Ryan didn't have any trouble with the blitz this year -- he gained 6.6 yards per play against five pass rushers, which is lower than the rest of the time but still above the NFL average, and he torched big blitzes (6+ pass rushers) for ten yards per play.

Arizona's problems against the pass also come out in the numbers against shotgun formations. During the regular season, Atlanta used shotgun a below-average 27 percent of the time, but the Cardinals had the NFL's biggest difference between their defense against shotgun (31st in DVOA, giving up 6.6 yards per play) and their defense against quarterbacks under center (11th in DVOA, giving up 4.9 yards per play). Would going shotgun more often screw up Atlanta's dependence on the run? Perhaps. The Falcons gained an above-average 5.8 yards on draw plays, but the Cardinals were actually very good against draws, allowing just 3.5 yards per play (fourth in the NFL). Draw plays aside, the Cardinals had problems with runs up the middle -- it is their weakest area according to Adjusted Line Yards.

It's interesting to note that even though the Falcons are a run-first team, they don't have a good record using play-action fakes. Atlanta was one of just four teams that averaged at least a half a yard more per play without play-action, compared to when using play-action. (It may not be coincidence that Baltimore is also one of these four teams.)

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

The Arizona offense is pretty much the exact opposite of the Atlanta offense. Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, and then pass some more. Do you think the Philadelphia Eagles like to pass? They've got nothing on the Cardinals. The Cardinals passed on 67 percent of plays this year, four percentage points more than any other team. They passed over half the time when they had the lead in the second half. They passed over half the time when they had the lead by more than a touchdown in the second half.

So, of course, the Cardinals will now face a team whose biggest weakness is the collapse of their run defense in the second half of the season.

In general, when a bad offense plays a bad defense, performance is going to be about average. How did the Cardinals do when they played poor run defenses this year? Well, they still weren't very good. The Rams ranked 31st in run defense DVOA, and the Cardinals played them twice. In the first game, the Cardinals actually gained 179 rushing yards on 31 carries, 5.8 yards per carry -- but there's a bit of an asterisk, as four of their top five runs that day came in the final 20 minutes with a three-score lead. In the second game, the Cardinals only gained 65 yards on 20 carries. Arizona played two other games against teams in the bottom 10 for run defense DVOA, Buffalo and Carolina (yes, really, they were 24th). They gained 124 yards against Buffalo, but it took 33 carries. They gained 51 yards against Carolina on 14 carries, and 30 of those yards were by Anquan Boldin on an end around.

If the Cardinals do feel like running, they need to go around the Falcons defensive line and not right through them. Based on Adjusted Line Yards, the worst direction for Arizona to run -- and the best direction for the Atlanta run defense -- is up the middle.

The Cardinals are going to have to win this one through the air, which is how they've been winning games all year. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin both finished among the top eight wide receivers in DYAR value. That's a tough matchup for Atlanta's cornerbacks. Second-year man Chris Houston does a good job of stopping plays in front of him, but can be burned deep. We have Houston listed with a very high 62 percent Success Rate (ninth among cornerbacks with at least 35 targets charted) but an average 7.4 yards allowed per pass. A couple of the big plays, charters noted that Houston bites on play-action fakes, which would be a bit of a problem except that Arizona play-faked less often than any team in the NFL. The other starting cornerback since Week 7 has been Domonique Foxworth, ex- of the Denver Broncos. Foxworth (60 percent Success Rate, 6.0 yards per pass) was a big improvement over the player who started the first few games, Brent Grimes (45 percent Success Rate, 8.3 yards per pass).

(Note: The original post mistakenly listed Grimes as the main starter opposite Houston, but that has been fixed.)

It will be interesting to watch what happens on third downs. Steve Breaston was one of the top third-down receivers in the NFL, catching 22 of 27 passes and converting for a new set of downs on 16 of those. However, third down is actually the worst down for the Cardinals passing game according to DVOA (12th) and the Falcons ranked tenth in DVOA against the pass on third downs, primarily because that's when the pass rush gets ferocious. Atlanta's ASR on third down was 9.5 percent, fourth in the NFL. Meanwhile, Arizona's ASR increases significantly on third down, from 3.8 percent on first and second down to 6.2 percent on third and fourth down (remember, this is already adjusted for the fact that sacks are generally more common on third down).

Other than benching Grimes for Foxworth, that pass rush is the big reason why the Atlanta pass defense improved in the second half of the season. The big change came when guys other than John Abraham started getting to the quarterback. In the first six games, Abraham had seven sacks, and other Falcons had only three. In the next ten games, Abraham had 9.5 sacks, and other Falcons had 12.5 sacks, plus a "team sack" when JaMarcus Russell dropped the ball without being touched. The Falcons don't blitz very much -- they send more than four pass rushers on only 22 percent of pass plays, which is the lowest figure in the NFC.

Atlanta is one of the worst defenses in the league when it comes to defending passes to tight ends and running backs. That's not the best matchup for the Cardinals, who rarely throw to the tight end, but do watch out for third-down back J.J. Arrington, who was one of the league's better backs in the passing game this year. Heck, maybe you should even watch out for Leonard Pope. The Falcons just got killed this year by those seam routes to tight ends deep in the middle of the field, and they weren't name tight ends. I'll take your two 23-yard passes to Billy Miller and raise that with one 36-yard pass to John Gilmore and one 37-yard pass to Tory Humphrey, who is not the guy who sang "The Humpty Dance." I suppose the Cardinals could try to run these plays with Anquan Boldin, but the Falcons aren't going to try to cover him with their safeties, and besides, Boldin specializes in shorter routes in the middle of the field, not deep beat the safeties stuff.

One reason for optimism among the Cardinals fans: You can't give up on this offense if they start slow. The Cardinals rank 26th in offensive DVOA in the first quarter (with just 5.6 yards per play) and then fourth for the rest of the game (with 6.2 yards per play). And Falcons fans beware if this game stays close into the second half: Arizona's offense ranked second in the NFL during late and close situations (only New Orleans was better) while the Atlanta defense was a poor 29th.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The main difference between these two teams is punt and kickoff coverage. Based on gross value (i.e. assuming average returns), kicker Neil Rackers and punter Ben Graham (who joined the Cardinals at midseason) were both above-average. However, the Cardinals gave up more value on kickoff returns than any team except Kansas City, and more value on punt returns than any teams except Minnesota and Washington. Combined, the Arizona coverage teams gave up an estimated 22 points worth of field position compared to the NFL average. Jerious Norwood, come on down...

As for the Atlanta coverage, you may be wondering why the Falcons rank 12th in net punting when they set a record with only 42 punt return yards allowed. Unfortunately, there were very few punt return yards allowed because Michael Koenen wasn't actually punting the ball very far. His average punt traveled just 40.7 yards, which ranked 30th in the NFL. With all those short punts, it is no wonder only 32 percent of the punts were returned. Only Buffalo and New England had a lower percentage of punts returned -- and those punters averaged over three yards more than Koenen per punt.

OUTLOOK

It's hard to see a more obvious example of two teams headed in totally different directions. It would be a lot different if Atlanta was facing a team that could run the ball and stop the run, like Minnesota, but if these two teams play like they've been playing over the last few weeks, Atlanta will move on. Remember that switch the Giants hit before last year's playoffs? The Cardinals really need to find that switch. Either that, or they need to find the switch from the last time this franchise made the playoffs, the one that allowed the inferior 1998 Cardinals to upset the Cowboys in the first round.

Philadelphia at Minnesota


Eagles on Offense
  PHI OFF MIN DEF
DVOA 9.3% (12) -18.2% (4)
WEI DVOA 4.8% (17) -16.0% (4)
PASS 12.2% (13) -19.1% (5)
RUSH 5.4% (11) -17.0% (4)
RED ZONE 1.8% (19) -47.2% (2)
Vikings on Offense
  MIN OFF PHI DEF
DVOA -4.9% (23) -20.7% (3)
WEI DVOA -7.3% (23) -24.5% (2)
PASS -4.9% (23) -22.1% (3)
RUSH -5.0% (21) -19.1% (3)
RED ZONE -18.3% (28) -19.8% (6)
Special Teams
  PHI MIN
DVOA 1.6% (13) -6.5% (32)
PHI kickoff 3.5 (13) -4.7 (22)
MIN kickoff 4.3 (10) -4.9 (24)
PHI punts 3.4 (15) -3.8 (26)
MIN punts 0.1 (15) -24.6 (32)
FG/XP -1.8 (21) -0.5 (19)

If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the matchup of DVOA splits for this game.

On my appearance earlier this week on the Bill Simmons podcast, I mistakenly said that Minnesota did not have a strong pass defense. That was my memory underestimating them a bit. (See, memory plays tricks on all of us.) The Vikings have a very good pass defense this season. Then again, so do the Eagles. The real difference between these teams is that the Eagles have a much better pass offense.

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL

No, your eyes do not deceive you. If you look at the Eagles' weekly DVOA performance graph, you will see that we have a 9-6-1 team playing 13 above-average games this season. This is just one of the many unconventional ways we can show you that the Eagles are one of the top teams in football and have had horrible luck this season. On the other hand, they just lost to the Redskins in a must-win game and tied the Cincinnati freakin' Bengals, for crying out loud. This team is a mystery wrapped in an riddle wrapped in Donovan McNabb's ego and Andy Reid's winter jacket, then stuffed in a hoagie and covered with Cheez Whiz.

On the other hand, maybe it isn't so mysterious. The loss to Washington was a surprise, but the loss was bigger in importance than in was when you look at the results on the field. The Eagles came within half a yard of tying that game in the final seconds. The real bad games were the ones against Cincinnati and Baltimore in Weeks 11-12, and if you break down the Eagles into four main components, it is pretty obvious which one blew those two games:


Philadelphia DVOA by Week Pass Off Run Off Pass Def Run Def
Weeks 1-10 29.6% 1.0% -14.4% -12.9%
Weeks 11-12 -58.1% 2.3% -6.4% -29.5%
Weeks 13-17 18.8% 12.6% -40.8% -26.9%

What happened in those two games? Perhaps Donovan McNabb was just messed up in the head, but it is also possible that there is a matchup issue here. If so, it is one that favors the Vikings.

The Eagles like to use shotgun formations -- it is one of the big differences between Reid and the other coaches with a similar pedigree, like Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren. Most teams are better in the shotgun, but for the Eagles, this advantage is even larger than usual. On the other hand, there were 11 defenses that had a better DVOA against shotgun than against standard formations this season. Philadelphia played four of them. Cincinnati and Baltimore were two of them. A third was Pittsburgh, and while the Eagles dominated that game, let's remember that they dominated it with defense -- the offense only scored 15 points. The fourth was St. Louis, and that doesn't tell you much because for the Rams, playing better against shotgun just meant "sucking less."

Guess what? The Vikings excel against the shotgun. They are one of those 11 defenses with a better DVOA against shotgun, and also one of four defenses that actually allowed fewer yards per play against shotgun.


  Shotgun Not Shotgun Shotgun Advantage Pct of Plays
from Shotgun
  DVOA Rank Yd/Play Rank DVOA Rank Yd/Play Rank DVOA Rank Yd/Play Rank
PHI OFF 23.2% 8 6.3 12 1.2% 19 4.8 22 22.0% 8 1.5 9 41% 8
MIN DEF -36.3% 2 4.9 4 -9.9% 5 5.1 14 -26.4% 2 -0.2 4 37% 5

The other matchup issue is the zone blitz. No team zone-blitzes as much as the Eagles do; they are the only team in the NFL that game charters recorded using a zone blitz on more than 10 percent of pass plays. However, Philadelphia's offense was as bad against zone blitzes as the defense was successful using them. The Eagles averaged a pathetic 2.3 yards per play against zone blitzes this season. The team ranks second in frequency of zone blitzes? Cincinnati. Baltimore ranks sixth.

Minnesota doesn't zone-blitz a ton, but the Vikings do rank 12th in frequency of zone blitzes. I'm not sure how much they will use this strategy on Sunday because of the injury to defensive end Ray Edwards. In general, the Vikings seemed to do better when they dropped Edwards into coverage on the zone blitz instead of Jared Allen, but Edwards won't be playing this week and I doubt the Vikings want anything that might possibly end up with Brian Robison covering Brian Westbrook.

Game charting showed a huge difference between Minnesota cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin. The charting numbers show Winfield with 5.5 yards allowed per pass and a 67 percent Success Rate, second among cornerbacks with at least 40 charted passes. (Who's first? Look down a few paragraphs.) Griffin has 9.0 yards allowed per pass and a 44 percent Success Rate, both among the worst numbers for starting cornerbacks. If you prefer league PBP to game charting, I can tell you that Winfield had 56 pass tackles and a 45 percent Stop Rate on those tackles, the best Stop Rate of any cornerback if we include only pass tackles and not passes defensed. Griffin had 57 pass tackles but a Stop Rate of only 21 percent on those tackles. The result could be a huge game for Kevin Curtis, who will likely be covered by Griffin on the left while Winfield has DeSean Jackson over on the right.

The Vikings have a fabulous pass rush this year, second in Adjusted Sack Rate, but the Eagles have had very good pass blocking. If the words "Eagles blocking" still brings up the picture of Winston Justice taking on the Giants during the 2007 season, wipe that image from your memory. The Eagles finished sixth in Adjusted Sack Rate on offense. Third-string right guard Nick Cole has been excellent and, shall we say, "unjust" since replacing the injured Max-Jean Gilles, who in turn replaced the injured starter Shawn Andrews.

We've gone this far without talking about the running game, but perhaps that's appropriate given the offense and defense involved. We know the Eagles prefer to pass, and we know the Vikings are great at stopping the run, particularly if nose tackle Pat Williams is able to play on Sunday. If he can't go -- and that seems to be the latest report -- it will be a problem. It was only two games, but without Williams, Minnesota's Adjusted Line Yards allowed went from 3.41 to 4.51 (adjusted for the quality of the Falcons and Giants running games, of course).

The Eagles had significant struggles on third-and-short for most of the season, but they've straightened things out over the past few weeks, thanks in part to the decision to finally bring in a real live fullback, Kyle Eckel. Actually, the struggles on third-and-short and the improvement over the past few weeks is something that the Eagles share with the Vikings. Through Week 12, Minnesota had converted 52 percent of third (and fourth) downs with 1-3 yards to go, while Philadelphia had converted 51 percent. Since Week 13, Minnesota has converted 85 percent and Philadelphia 74 percent.

WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL

A strange thing has happened over the past four weeks: Tarvaris Jackson has turned into a pretty darn good quarterback. Since he replaced Gus Frerotte at halftime of the Week 14 win over Detroit, Jackson has completed 65 percent of his passes for 7.2 net yards per pass attempt, with eight touchdowns and only one interception. That performance is worth a 28.7% DVOA rating, which would have ranked fifth in the NFL this season. One of three things is possible:

(a) Tarvaris Jackson fixed his fundamentals and improved his accuracy through hard work after being benched early this season, and is going to defy Football Outsiders projections by becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL from this point forward.

(b) Tarvaris Jackson still kind of sucks, and we really shouldn't read into performances against the winless Lions, the disintegrating Cardinals, and a Giants team that was not necessarily trying.

(c) Something between (a) and (b).

I'm going with (c).

This is one of those places I would love to look at game charting to see the reasons for Jackson's incompletes over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the charting currently goes through Week 14, so there isn't much on Tarvaris II: The Reckoning. We know that the Eagles send more big blitzes than any other defense (rushing six or more more than 17 percent of the time) and use more zone blitzes than any other defense (the only team using this strategy over 10 percent of the time) but the only numbers we have on Jackson against various types of pass rush come from the first two weeks of the season.

Looking at the conventional play-by-play, one clear difference seems to be the deep throws. In the first two weeks, Jackson completed only 3-of-11 deep passes (16+ yards in the air) although he did have two flagged for defensive pass interference. Overall, that's 8.8 yards per attempt. Over the last three weeks, Jackson has completed 7-of-14 deep passes, plus one DPI, for 19.5 yards per attempt. The small sample size, of course, makes it difficult to tell if this really means anything. Increasing our sample to include any pass that went 10 or more yards in the air shows us that Jackson was 8-for-23 in the first two weeks, but 13-for-25 over the past three. (I'm not including the Lions game because, I mean, come on... it was the Lions.)

The Eagles spent a ton of free agent money on cornerback Asante Samuel, but it’s the other starter, Sheldon Brown, who may have been the best cornerback in football this year (non-PFP cover division). Brown leads all cornerbacks with at least 35 charted passes in both of FO's defensive coverage metrics, averaging just 4.6 yards per pass with a Success Rate of 74 percent. We don’t have Brown down as allowing a single touchdown, at least through Week 14, and he wasn't flagged once all year for illegal contact or pass interference. Brown is usually on the right (offensive left), so he will spend much of the game covering Minnesota's best receiver, Bernard Berrian. Berrian was far, far better than the other Minnesota wide receivers this year. Possession receiver Bobby Wade had a better catch rate, 60 percent to Berrian's 51 percent, but he gained far fewer yards per reception and ended up with a much worse DVOA. Berrian ranked 18th in DVOA among 79 receivers with at least 50 passes; Wade was 70th. (One piece of Berrian's value: He led the league in yards off DPI, so perhaps he can break Brown's flag-less streak.) The other receivers, Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison, were also below average. Those short sideline routes that Wade runs are the kind that Samuel made a habit of picking off for touchdowns back when he was with the Patriots.

There's one place where the Vikings' passing game hasn't improved in December, and that's protecting the quarterback. The Vikings were 28th in Adjusted Sack Rate this year, and Jackson's ASR was better when he couldn't pass the ball early in the year (5.6 percent) than it was over the past four weeks with him otherwise playing better (8.6 percent). The Eagles ranked fourth in ASR on defense, a pass rush almost as good as the Vikings, and as noted before, Jim Johnson's "Hydra" defense (copyright 2007 FO reader Harris) will send anyone at any time.

What about the running game? Yes, Adrian Peterson is a god among men, at least when he can hold onto the ball. The problem is that he's a bit of a boom-and-bust back (46 percent Success Rate, which is league average) with major butterfingers (nine fumbles, three more than any other running back). In fact, the fumbles and Minnesota's easy schedule are actually enough to knock Peterson's DVOA slightly below 0% despite his 4.85 yards per carry. Doug Farrar this week did a good job of pointing out how much the Eagles' run defense has improved over the last few years: third in DVOA this year, sixth in Adjusted Line Yards. Their weakness is still runs up the middle (just 23rd in ALY) but Peterson's longest runs tend to come around the ends. On the other hand, the Eagles have given up big games this year to some running backs who meet defenders straight-on like Peterson does -- Frank Gore managed 101 yards on 19 carries, Brandon Jacobs 126 yards on 22 carries, and Clinton Portis 145 yards on 29 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Minnesota had the worst special teams in the league according to our numbers, but most of the damage was done before their Week 8 bye. Since Week 9, Minnesota special teams have been roughly league average, which is about where the Eagles have been all season. By the way: When you hear all Saturday night about how clutch Adam Vinatieri is in the playoffs, don't forget about David Akers. Only two kickers since 1995 have had more than two opportunities to tie or win playoff games in the final two minutes or overtime. Vinatieri is 4-for-4: perfect. Akers is 3-for-3: equally perfect. Remember: Small sample size is the color commentator's best friend.

OUTLOOK

Philadelphia is the better team here, and most of the Eagles' weaknesses are matched by the Vikings. Philadelphia offense struggles in the red zone? Minnesota's is worse. Philly had some troubles on third-and-short? So did Minnesota, and both teams have played better in that situation over the last few weeks. Philadelphia's offense ranks 24th in late and close situations? Well, Minnesota's is 26th. Philadelphia's offense is better at home (11th in DVOA compared to 21st on the road) but Minnesota's offense was actually better on the road (16th in DVOA compared to 27th at home).

Can Adrian Peterson take over a game against the Eagles? Is Tarvaris Jackson's improvement over the last few weeks for real, and will it continue this week? Can matchup issues help the Vikings shut down the Eagles' passing game? There is a pretty good chance that the answer to one of these questions is "yes." The chances that the answer to all three of them is "yes"? Not quite so good. I wouldn't be surprised to to see this game end up closer than DVOA might lead us to think, but the Eagles are likely to eventually win thanks to a big day from Kevin Curtis and the field position advantage that comes from sacks, interceptions, and special teams.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Jan 2009

171 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2009, 6:29pm by Nall2323

Comments

1
by Peregrine :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 7:41pm

Aaron, good stuff, but the starting LCB for the Falcons is Domonique Foxworth. Grimes was benched after the Chicago game. The nickel is Chevis Jackson.

15
by A-Money (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:39am

It's a nice preview, but I'd actually prefer reading one of yours on the Roost if you've got time.

27
by blackout (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 2:50pm

i went to college and played football with grimes, but i heard he got injured.

2
by panthersnbraves :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 7:45pm

Odd question - in years past, how do the playoff odds change for the bye-week teams? Do the Wildcard winners absorb the percentage from the losers, or is it more evenly split? (Did that make a lick of sense?)

32
by Yaguar :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:57pm

Wildcard game winners should mostly absorb the percentage from the losers.

Someone's Super Bowl odds, as a bye week team, are their odds of winning 3 consecutive games against playoff competition. That should remain roughly the same. The odds will likely be tweaked a little bit, since now you have a slightly better idea of who the opponents are. But it's still three games against good teams.

3
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 8:39pm

Damn you, NFL.com depth charts! They don't even LIST Foxworth. I'll fix it when I post Minnesota-Philadelphia in a few minutes.

14
by A-Money (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:37am

Yeah, not as if Foxworth's been the best Falcons DB all year or anything. Probably the 2nd best defender behind Abraham. Of course we can't expect Patriots fans to know about playoff teams in the other conference.

4
by black president (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 8:53pm

yeah, grimes has barely seen the field since the bye - he was injured for most of that time and pretty much lost his job.

5
by black president (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 9:05pm

also you neglected to mention the pointless record atl set this year - fewest punt return yards allowed in a single season (42)

18
by Vince Verhei :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 3:10am

How is that pointless? It's crude, less accurate than FO numbers, but it's quite useful for Atlanta that they NEVER give up even decent punt returns.

6
by Aaron Schatz :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 9:21pm

Both of those issues are now addressed above; PHI-MIN to be posted shortly.

7
by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 9:41pm

Arizona may have success running out of a 3 WR formation against Atlanta. When Atlanta shifts to their nickel defense, rookie MLB stud Curtis Lofton leaves the field and washed-up hometown hero Keith Brooking moves to the middle. Additionally, human brick wall Grady Jackson usually leaves the field in the nickel defense. Relative to their base defense, which did a decent job with run-oriented offenses like Minnesota, the Falcons nickel defense is woeful against the run.

8
by bubqr :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 10:29pm

Kyle Eckel plays short yardage RB, not FB, Dan Klecko, only FB in the league with 2 sacks, is still starting !

And what about Shiancoe, who seems to be hot atm, vs Eagles D, who always seem to struggle vs TEs ?

9
by hector :: Fri, 01/02/2009 - 10:49pm

A big key for the Falcons is being aggressive with some throws on first down, when they'll probably be working against a loose, exploitable Arizona zone. Hood and ARC both look beatable to me.

10
by laberge :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:09am

I don't know if this is just because of the purple colored glasses I wear, but it sure seemed like Cedric Griffin improved in the second half of the season. He's still nowhere near Winfield, but most of his toasting happened early in the year.

11
by hector :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:29am

It looks like Griffin got beat a few times last week but Manning left plays on the table. I'm just talking about a few snaps, though.

25
by Jordan (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:10pm

It is true that Griffin got beat a few times in the Giants game but it should be noted that he had a nasty case of the flu and just looked slow all game. He is normally the first guy down the field in kickoff coverage by 10 yards and in this game was only the third or fourth guy down field.

12
by hector :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:50am

The Eagles spent a ton of free agent money on cornerback Asante Samuel, but it’s the other starter, Sheldon Brown, who may have been the best cornerback in football this year (non-PFP cover division).

We pardon this game preview for a moment of off-topic self-promotion regarding Mr. Nnamdi Asomugha. Your game preview will resume in three seconds . . . two . . . one . . . resume.

13
by A-Money (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:34am

(Note: The original post mistakenly listed Grimes as the main starter opposite Houston, but that has been fixed.)

How many Falcons games you watched this year Schatz?

20
by ammek :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:37am

Do you seriously expect every FO writer to watch every single regular-season NFL game, while posting thousands of words a week, updating stats, and replying to bozos like us?

This is a stats-based site. If you want to complain about faulty depth charts, email nfl.com.

I thought Falcons fans had learned lessons from The Message Board Curse.

Plus I love the machismo of addressing a stranger by his surname only.

26
by A-Money (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:36pm

I expect professional sports journalists to know the key starters on each team. Anyone who's seen the Falcons play since week 7 would have noticed Foxworth because he's been the best DB on the team (as the FO numbers show!)
I realise none of the writers at FO watch the Falcons on a consistent basis, based on the coverage in audibles it doesn't seem that any of them have seen much of Atlanta play this season at all.

16
by mwu (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:55am

Thrilled by the Newsradio reference. That is all.

17
by hector :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 2:43am

This is one of those places I would love to look at game charting to see the reasons for Jackson's incompletes over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the charting currently goes through Week 14, so there isn't much on Tarvaris II: The Reckoning.

It blows my mind that you don't view "DirecTV/NFL Sunday Ticket/Short Cuts" as a mandatory work expense. It's not cheap (you need to keep the DirecTV year round, obviously, and the Superfan Package is a little extra for the Cuts, and you'd want a DVR for some storage), but it's not outrageously expensive either, and this is what you *do* for a living. If you had those Short Cuts ready to go, you could scout Tavaris Jackson's recent games in a very compact amount of time. I'd be shocked if you didn't love it, post-purchase.

I'm not telling you what to do, no one can. But you really should consider this for 2009, even if it only means "Hey, I can watch *whatever* games I want on Sunday."

19
by johnnyxel :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 3:57am

Screw DirecTV. Even better, and much cheaper is NFL Game Rewind. Not as fast to watch as the shortcuts (which I love), but the price ($20 for the '08 season pass) is perfect.

22
by John (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:23pm

Ok, let's look at this situation for a moment.

Let's say he did happen to watch all of the uncharted Vikings games, courtesy of some NFL package. He still wouldn't have the careful detail that the charters have, so he'd have to rely on his memory to speculate on the reason for Jackson's numbers, made harder by the fact that he would likely have been watching several games at the same time.

Or, if he were somehow blessed with enough storage to have captured all the games for every team to disk, he could go back and spend 3-4 hours (at least) watching the Viking drives in the uncharted games while trying to meet the deadline for this article.

There's nothing wrong with suggesting the package, but to do so in the context of his lack of data is silly. Access to game != access to data.

24
by John (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:05pm

Mea culpa: I didn't see the note about Short Cuts, but I still think it's more reasonable to say "I don't have the data and don't want to speculate" rather than spend the time to do that himself for each article where the data is missing.

21
by roguerouge :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 11:12am

So, to the extent that Atlanta passes with its QB under center is the extent that Arizona has an average pass defense (11th) and run defense (15th). Atlanta likes to run a lot, so they'll avoid using the pass heavy shotgun formation until they have to. I see this game going one of three ways: Atlanta comes out in the shotgun to build a lead and cruises, or Atlanta comes from behind for the victory with shotgun offense in the 4th quarter and everyone talks about the clutch nature of Ryan.

23
by Eddie :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 1:05pm

Two other splits should be noted: Arizona is 0-5 playing on the East Coast (with a -100 point differential), 9-2 and +101 in the rest of their games. Also, their home/road split is 6-2/3-5, while Atlanta's is 7-1/4-4. In fact, the whole NFC has a very strong home/road split, 79-49/46-81-1. Also, note that Arizona has had very little to play for in the second half.

Atlanta has been the better team, but this game, played in Arizona, could be a lot of fun.

28
by Harris :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:00pm

I have become immortal. BOW DOWN BEFORE ME, SON OF JOR-EL. KNEEL! KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!

(cough) Am I nerd enough to go to the comic book store, get a "Hydra" t-shirt and wear it on game days? You better believe it.

Hail Hydra!

51
by CathyW :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 9:20pm

Color me impressed!

I would purchase a t-shirt that said "HAIL HYDRA!" I think this is a mandatory addition to the FO store, right up there with the ROBO-PUNTER t-shirts. And you, sir, should get royalties from every sale.

52
by Harris :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 9:49pm

Nah, I stole that from Marvel Comics. Hydra is a terrorist organization dedicated to world domination through various nefarious machinations. Hydra operatives wear all green and their motto is "Cut off one limb and two more shall take its place." My contribution was connecting it to Johnson's scheme (block one blitzer and two more shall take his place).

Hail Hydra!

53
by CathyW :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 11:07pm

Thanks for explaining that. I am not down with all the comics stuff so I appreciate the explanation. I know, of course, about the mythological creature the Hydra (sometimes that worthless major in classical studies does pay off) and I thought that was what you were talking about. But this is much funnier.

HAIL HYDRA!

29
by joe football (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:28pm

I trust everyone had an enjoyable New Year, but now it's time to get back to the important business of IRC football chat. The server is bendenweyr.dyndns.org, channel #fo

Brief tutorial for the IRC-shy:

- Download mIRC from mIRC.com
- type /server bendenweyr.dyndns.org into the status window
- type /join #fo

30
by B :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:47pm

Wow, amazing play by the Cards there. Flea-flicker for a TD after a couple running plays.

31
by Rocco :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 5:49pm

This just in- Larry Fitzgerald is kinda good.

33
by John (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:01pm

Edge! Edge! Edge!

Come home, man, the Colts miss you.

34
by John (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:16pm

And then Arizona forgets about the run game and spins its wheels again. 1st drive: pass-happy, 3 and out. 2nd drive: run, run, run, flea-flicker/pass/touchdown. 3rd drive: pass-happy, 3 and out. Pattern here?

35
by Moridin :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:18pm

There's that Arizona run defense.

36
by Anger...rising (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:21pm

Oh, nice to see that offsides is, in fact, still on the books.

37
by Herm? (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:27pm

So far, Turner is not following his blockers and is making a lot of bad cuts.

38
by Herm? (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:32pm

Cardinals 14, Lawyer Milloy 0

40
by cd6 :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:37pm

That was a pretty redonkulous touchdown.

When Warner first made that gentle toss to Boldin, I was like "this MIGHT pick up the 8 yards needed for the first." But then, Malloy took a bad angle, and somehow was unable to push Boldin out of bounds. And Boldin just kept running. And I assumed that some deep corner or the other safety would show up to push him out of bounds, but no, he just kept running. And touchdown.

And look, Roddy White with a drop!

39
by Moridin :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:36pm

Big plays are apparently going to be Atlanta's achilles heel today.

41
by cd6 :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:40pm

How did the preview not mention the historical implications of this epic chess match clash of former steelers offensive coordinators Mularkey & Whisenhunt??

42
by John (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 6:44pm

Ok, so tactical question. Receiver catches the ball in 1st down territory, but you're dragging him back towards the line of scrimmage. Obviously this is difficult to think about in real-time, but do you let him go, hoping he'll make a move to run and you can tackle him before he reaches the 1st down marker again?

43
by cd6 :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 7:06pm

The NBC crew decided it needed to pick up Matt Millen as an analyst for the playoffs?

Is this a joke?

44
by Kenneth (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 7:06pm

I thought the sequel was "Tavaris II: Tavaris Harder".

45
by Mattindenver (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 7:35pm

Now that was pass interference if I've ever seen it...... Horrible non-call w/ team in field goal range..... That's tough.....

50
by Lord K :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 8:39pm

Seems stupid that it isn't reviewable. I know its because its a supposed judgment call, but in this case the officials just didn't see it - or is this just more of that "let em play" bull$&!%

46
by td (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 8:01pm

after the hold in the end zone, too

48
by Dave :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 8:19pm

Yeah. As viewers we'll get a treat after this "let em play" fest by seeing the Chargers-Colts reffed by Ron Winter, he of the 14.1 accepted penalties per game variety. So we get both ends of the spectrum.

47
by Lord K :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 8:17pm

Usually hate sack dances, but that bucking bronco was pretty funny. NFL should take a page out of the CFL and let that stuff slide.

169
by Wanker79 :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 11:49am

If that's referring to the safety where one Cardinal got flagged for riding his teammate (who just recorded the safety) like a pony, I just have to say that that might be my all-time favorite celebration EVAR. And with the way that game was going at the time, it was absolutely worth the 15 yards on the ensuing free kick. Freaking hilarious.

49
by Anger...rising (not verified) :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 8:37pm

That has to have been about the dumbest defensive play of all-time.

54
by Peregrine :: Sat, 01/03/2009 - 11:35pm

Brooking, right? Lots of fans hate him, he's been a zero for two or three years now, but he seems to be covered with teflon because he never gets criticized by the media and he never gets taken off the field.

56
by Lord K :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 2:46am

which was lucky for the Cardinal's OC, because he had just called the dumbest offensive play of all time.

55
by A-Money (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 2:31am

Brooking has been the worst Falcon for at least 3 years. How we turned over half the roster and kept him is beyond me.

57
by bubqr :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 4:31pm

You're welcome to join us for a chat on FO IRC channel

If you want to join :
- download mIRC (mirc.com)
- type /server bendenweyr.dyndns.org into the status window
- In the pop up window asking you which room you want to join, type #fo , or just type /join #fo in status window

Sorry for the "spam", but trust me, it's worth it.

58
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 4:59pm

So will the Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde Eagles show up today?

59
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:10pm

LJ Smith a surprise inactive.

Pat Williams and Ray Edwards inactive for the Vikings.

60
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:18pm

Oh no, Greg Lewis out! Did something to his leg.

66
by Harris :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:49pm

There are unconfirmed reports of Reggie Brown seen with a baton shortly thereafter.

Hail Hydra!

61
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:33pm

Turned down the TV volume and have the radio announcers on. Come on with the kickoff already!

62
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:34pm

If Minnesota wins, then every game in divisional weekend will be a rematch.

63
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:42pm

Demps should have taken a knee in the end zone.

64
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:45pm

Oh, Lewis back in the game.

65
by montanapanthersfan :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:46pm

Vikings hold by the skin of their cleats...

67
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:53pm

What's the over/under on how many times the announcers call Chester Taylor as Peterson... one so far...

68
by James-London :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:54pm

The Vikings might want to not punt. That was ugly coverage.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

69
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:55pm

And Vikings special teams strike first. The #32 ranked special teams in the league there. They'd be better off just going for it on 4th instead of punting.

70
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:56pm

McNabb very lucky to avoid a sack there.

71
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:57pm

Minnesota's punt coverage fails again.

Hey Aikman, pay attention. Peterson was standing on the sidelines on 3rd down. Taylor got the first down.

72
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 5:57pm

Why wouldn't you accept the penalty? It would make it a 54 yard fg and put pressure on Philadelphia to pick up some yards.

73
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:02pm

It's 3rd down and long. Why give McNabb, who has just gotten out of two jams in the past two plays a chance to get a 1st down on you? It's a legitimate question, but I think I decline it there.

74
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:03pm

Adrian Peterson down... hopefully just a precaution....

75
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:06pm

Looks like Dawkins hit Peterson, helmet to helmet contact and Peterson's helmet came partway off from the hit...

Either way Taylor looks a lot more lively...

76
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:09pm

I'm going to go ahead and predict that this season will invoke the curse of 370 on Peterson, when you count this playoff game he'll be over 370... and he's taken a lot of punishment.

77
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:19pm

Very good game for Akers

78
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:21pm

andrew, I think if it's a positive play, it must've been Peterson, because he's the best player in the NFL. Right? Right?

Announcing games isn't difficult, but lately, they've been trying.

79
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:22pm

Philadelphia special teams has been much better than Minnesota's, that's for sure.

80
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:27pm

and there's a dpi on Sheldon Brown

81
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:28pm

Peterson hasn't been the same the last 5 or 6 games this year. He's still popped a few big gains, but earlier this year and last year, every time he got the ball the guy who hit him first would be knocked back, the pile would surge forward and so on, now you see that some plays but far mroe its meetingn a wall and going down...

Its not just the fumbles.

82
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:31pm

Of course jsut after I post that, Peterson breaks one for a touchdown.

83
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:33pm

yo Adrian, if you put the ball in your outside hand, you can protect the ball and have a free arm for the stiff arm.

I guess he only carries it in his right arm due to his fumbling issues.

84
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:33pm

Even as Peterson scored, when he had only Brown to beat, I'm looking at him having the football in his right hand (away from the sideline, closer to brown), and thinking he'd better switch hands, but he didn't, and as Brown hit him looked like he had trouble for a second then got both his hands on the ball as he got the touchdown.

108
by Mitchum (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:33pm

It looked to me like that was a showboat move that he quickly retracted as he realized the defender was closer than he had expected.

85
by montanapanthersfan :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:34pm

And Peterson disappears into everyone, only to reappear for a 40 yard td...

86
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:34pm

the Eagles have dominated this game, but they just haven't been able to punch it in.

87
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:43pm

Nice catch by Jackson. Took advantage of Darren Sharper's absence for it, too, Tyler Johnson is passable but he blew the assist there....

88
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:49pm

there's the big play! Samuel pick 6

89
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:49pm

Come on, Tarvaris. You can't make that throw.

90
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:49pm

Intercepted by Samuel! Woo!

91
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:49pm

And there's bad Tarvaris Jackson. This is why no one was picking the Vikings to win.

He cannot make that throw, and it wasn't on target anyway.

So. What now? Keep him in there?

95
by Rocco :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:01pm

When the alternative is Gus Frerotte, do you really have an alternative?

167
by panthersnbraves :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 12:39am

He beat the Panthers....

92
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:51pm

Jackson really blown up trying to get to Samuel. Wow.

93
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 6:56pm

Why would fox show a graphic of Minnesota's 3rd down conversion rate on 2nd down?

94
by James-London :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:01pm

Great response from Minny. We have a game.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

96
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:02pm

This is the second playoff game between the Eagles and Vikings to have had a score of 16-14 that I can recall, the other being in 1980...

97
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:03pm

Okay, inside 2 minutes.

I wonder what manner of clock management hyjinx will ensue...

99
by 2468ben :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:08pm

And Brad Childress delivers.

101
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:11pm

Mother of God....

98
by James-London :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:08pm

Don't understand the Vikings clock management...

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

100
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:09pm

1:30 left - eagles decide to show commitment to run, blowing their 2nd timeout

Then eagles throw long on 3rd and 1 when a run might make sense, and that is picked inside your 20.

Then vikings throw incomplete, which stops the clock, so vikings can't run out the clock and now have to punt with 29 seconds left.

and the half isn't over....

104
by JC (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:13pm

The worst part about that interception was that one view showed Westbrook wide open 5 yards past the marker. He could have easily gotten 15 out of it. Not sure why McNabb thought he had to force the deep ball there.

105
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:14pm

duplicate post

102
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:12pm

and eagles, with 8 seconds left to get 5 yards for long FG attempt and no timeouts, complete a pass in bounds and half ends.

Send the video off to the clock mgmt hall of fame...

103
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:13pm

Would've been a 61 or 62 yarder anyway

Nice play by Greenway to trip Westbrook up short of the sideline

106
by Jake (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:19pm

*stands up and claps* Brilliant, just brilliant. Whatever the opposite of a coaching chessmatch is, it was the last two minutes of the half.

107
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:30pm

Nice play by Eckel on the kick return, but then two huge plays to Kleinsasser and then a penalty on Cole

109
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:33pm

Shocker - penalty on Sean Considine, HellRaiser, on the kick return.

110
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:35pm

Jackson knew that blitz was coming. He got them to show it. He has to know he can't hold the ball that long in that situation. At least he averted disaster by recovering his own fumble.

111
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:36pm

bad called pinned the Eagles back

112
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:39pm

RE: andrew

Not too many players get to Jackson's arm like that. Dawkins is one of the few who can do that. I've seen him do it a few times.

113
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:41pm

Vikings really feeling loss of Sharper now...

114
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:44pm

Gah, McNabb, you know better than to take that sack. Crap.

115
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:45pm

McNabb got rid of the ball right as the Viking was grasping him. That's never called in the grasp unless there are several players who have him under control.

Critical, because it took them out of FG range.

What I like about this game are the similar helmets.

116
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:47pm

Not sure I agree with the "forward progress stopped" call that cost the Eagles a long FG attempt... in the grasp maybe, or intentional grounding, but "forward progress stopped"? He wasn't going forward at any point...

at any rate seen many QBs allowed to throw the ball after being hit like that...

117
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:48pm

For all of the IND/SD officiating critics: the holding call on that punt is an example of something that doesn't deserve to be called.

On topic though, the Eagles run defense has been very solid today. Sure, Peterson got the 40 yarder, but overall, they're making Tarvaris beat them (or at least attempt to).

118
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:50pm

If the Vikings had gone for it on 4th and 1 and missed, the Eagles would've started their drive in field goal position. Instead, they punt, and they Eagles start in field goal position.

Doesn't it seem like going for it would've been at least somewhat reasonable?

119
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:51pm

You know, if your punt coverage design has only one guy on one side of the field, maybe you shouldn't kick it to that side.

120
by Harris :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:51pm

Another two yard run on first down. Huzzah!

Hail Hydra!

122
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:53pm

And Jared Allen saves the day!

...For now.

121
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:52pm

Oy.

123
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:55pm

Reid just couldn't resist going all pass-wacky and it bites them there.

125
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:58pm

Most viking opponents go pass-whacky.

Especially with Sharper gone I understand it...

124
by t.d. :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 7:56pm

That looked at least close to 'his arm was moving forward.' I'd have thrown the flag.

126
by B :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:00pm

I think the ball came out before his arm started going forward, which would make it a fumble.

127
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:00pm

If Childress still wants punt returns for the opportunity of a fumble, then Kluwe needs to start only kicking it 40 yards. Otherwise, he should be kicking it 50 yards and out of bounds. He keeps outkicking his coverage every time.

128
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:00pm

Is it me, or has there been a distinct lack of annoying Toyota commercials during this game? Is this just my local fortune or is it a nation-wide blessing?

131
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:08pm

I haven't seen them either, thank all that's holy.

129
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:04pm

The vikings haven't mastered downing punts yet.

However, i do think he had both feet inside the field of play when he hit it, don't know if that is challengable....

130
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:06pm

Interesting that both coaches were ready to challenge depending on the call. Since Childress was right, I guess that makes him slightly better than Reid, who would've wasted a challenge (if he had indeed challenged as it looked like he was going to).

132
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:09pm

There seems to be a regular hole in the Vikings pass defense (zone?) about 10-11 yards downfield in the middle.

133
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:12pm

Someone better put Tanier on suicide watch. Tanier, nothing, put ME on suicide watch. Gah.

134
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:17pm

That pass looked a lot like the pick six one...

135
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:19pm

Sheldon Brown drops another pick.

Uh, Joe, if Darren Howard is rushing the QB, that doesn't mean he's coming on a blitz. Dawkins, yes. Howard, no.

136
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:21pm

Well... damn.

137
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:22pm

Westbrook.

By the way, what did Aaron mean by Nick Cole and "unjust"?

145
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:30pm

Pretty sure it was a crack against Winston Justice and Cole being better.

138
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:24pm

Brian Westbrook is Superman.

139
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:26pm

The eagles have solved the vikings line blocking...

140
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:28pm

Its game over.

141
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:28pm

And Childress goes pass stupid in the face of strong blitzing... so, that's basically the game unless the Vikings D decides to put it in the endzone theirselves somehow.

142
by compucrazy :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:28pm

Am I the only one who feels that whenever Tarvaris Jackson drops back on third and long, he always throws some horrible jump pass or floater his back foot? He gas got to have the crappiest mechanics of any QB in the Playoffs by far. McNabb to Vikings in 2009!!

143
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:29pm

Harris, you getting the jam ready yet? Or is it too early?

163
by Harris :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 10:55pm

(sigh) No jam. We're sharing the bed with a toddler as my brother is sleeping in her bed this week. All these house guests are killing my love life.

Hail Hydra!

144
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:30pm

McNabb completely telegraphed the pass to Celek and hung him out to dry.

Westbrook just short of a first down that would've ended it.

146
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:31pm

Well the vikings still can cover the spread if they get another TD...

147
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:34pm

Jackson isn't anywhere close on any of his throws now.

I'd put Frerotte in except I guess Childress worries about what that might do to him next year.

152
by compucrazy :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:40pm

Childress should worry about how the Vikings are doing, not coddling his crappy QB who is obviously holding the entire team back.
If the Vikings grabbed Chad Pennington at the beginning of the season they could be 13-3 and sitting on a bye. Instead they barely clinch their division and are watching Jackson lob crappy passes to Eagles defenders on their way to a home playoff loss, completely wasting a great defensive effort by Jared Allen and Company.

148
by Key19 :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:35pm

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. Hopefully the Giants can take care of the Eagles next week.

149
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:36pm

Game. Decent game by both up until Westbrook's break. I'll be cheering for Philly in New York next week.

150
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:37pm

officially game over now.

Jackson got two first downs, one by penalty, one by scrambling, but then fumbles a shotgun snap to end the game.

151
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:39pm

yeah, pretty good year for Minnesota, I guess. They certainly looked a lot better by comparison than say Dallas did...

153
by Moridin :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:41pm

No, leave Fraizer alone! We want him to take over for Childress, preferably for next year, though I seriously doubt that Wilf fires him. *sigh* another good defensive coordinator lost.

154
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:43pm

Reid amazes me with his stupidity. Last week, after the game was way over, he kept Westbrook in.

Westbrook is very injury prone. Every time he touches the ball, there's a chance of injury.

And yet, he doesn't learn his lesson after last week. The bad snap by Birk and the Eagles recovery effectively ended the game.

Why is Westbrook touching the ball on every down? Incredible.

Westbrook should be a guy you quickly pull, not a guy you live in until the end.

155
by CathyW :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:44pm

Elvis has left the building! Woo!

156
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:45pm

Reid amazes me with his stupidity. Last week, after the game was way over, he kept Westbrook in.

Westbrook is very injury prone. Every time he touches the ball, there's a chance of injury.

And yet, he doesn't learn his lesson after last week. The bad snap by Birk and the Eagles recovery effectively ended the game.

Why is Westbrook touching the ball on every down? Incredible.

Westbrook should be a guy you quickly pull, not a guy you live in until the end.

162
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 9:22pm

Really? How many times has Westbrook been injured during a game?

Westbrook's more of a wear-n-tear injury guy rather than an impact injury guy. I don't think playing him a few more plays makes as much difference as playing him at all.

164
by Harris :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 11:00pm

Moreover, Westbrook rarely fumbles. Buckhalter deserves more work in general, but I don't have a problem feeding Westy to seal a win.

Hail Hydra!

157
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:46pm

Why kick that FG? yeah he made it, but its one of the few things that could have put the game at risk...

well it will make gamblers feel safer I guess.

161
by Robo-Hochuli (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 9:05pm

Do the math: making a 9 point game into a 12 point game is the difference between the Vikings needing TD + FG versus needing two TDs.

Both are unlikely, but the difference between TD + onside + TD versus (TD + onside + FG) or (FG + onside + TD) with about 2 minutes left is probably pretty significant.

158
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:49pm

Peterson goes back to return a kickoff.

It is just about the worst type of kickoff to return, which dies near the back corner of the end zone.

Peterson tracks it down and sure enough decides to run it out after pausing for a moment to consider the wisdom of the idea.

He gets to the 13.

159
by andrew :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:52pm

Reid needs to lose that beard.

he looks like the psychiatrist on office space already.

160
by Sid :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 8:55pm

Saturday:

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans, 4:30 PM on CBS

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers, 8:15 PM on FOX

Sunday:

Philadelphia Eagles at Giants, 1 PM on FOX

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:45 PM on CBS

165
by Levari (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 11:30pm

Last Sunday I called the eagles over Minnesota by 13. People laughed. They won by 12. I've crunched the numbers on my own. Eagles beat giants by 9. They are an angry team that can contain the run, stop the pass on single coverage and run and pass against anyone. Despite inconsistency offl tegular season they are the strongest team in NFC, hungry and experienced, but young and fast at key skill positions. Mark it down, Eagles by 9 against a one dimensional giants team with no deep threat and a very, very overrated d.", no matter what your numbers say.

166
by Levari (not verified) :: Sun, 01/04/2009 - 11:32pm

Last Sunday I called the eagles over Minnesota by 13. People laughed. They won by 12. I've crunched the numbers on my own. Eagles beat giants by 9. They are an angry team that can contain the run, stop the pass on single coverage and run and pass against anyone. Despite inconsistency offl tegular season they are the strongest team in NFC, hungry and experienced, but young and fast at key skill positions. Mark it down, Eagles by 9 against a one dimensional giants team with no deep threat and a very, very overrated d.", no matter what your numbers say.

168
by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Mon, 01/05/2009 - 8:45am

I look forward to Vikings fans showing up in the Audibles and complaining about Jackson. This after several weeks of "he looks to have turned it around" and "he's making better decisions".

Whatever dudes.

He's not up for this level of play. And his "coach" can't help him get there.

Another year of Pat Williams wasted. Another year closer to free agency for The Purple Jesus.

Awesome!

170
by Nall2323 (not verified) :: Sun, 01/11/2009 - 6:28pm

Levari -

Nice call. Had McNabb not hit DeSean Jackson for the long pass towards the end and had just ran out the clock, you would have been spot on.

171
by Nall2323 (not verified) :: Sun, 01/11/2009 - 6:29pm

Levari -

Nice call. Had McNabb not hit DeSean Jackson for the long pass towards the end and had just ran out the clock, you would have been spot on.