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Lunchbreak: Running Backs Could Play Key Factor on Sunday



Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that he believes whichever team runs the ball better will win Sunday's NFC Championship.

Matthew Coller of recently wrote that he agreed with Zimmer's idea, noting that both the Vikings and Eagles have multiple options in the backfield.

Coller said that the tandem of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon offer different skillsets but make for a productive combo for the Vikings.

Their roles became more defined as the season went along. Murray was a go-to runner in short yardage and goal-line situations, where McKinnon was a change-of-pace in the running game and main target for quarterback Case Keenum in the passing game.

Both players had standout games. Murray went for 113 and one touchdown against the Ravens, while McKinnon gained 114 yards receiving against the Bengals in Week 15.

In the Divisional round game against the New Orleans Saints, Murray grinded his way to 50 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. McKinnon rushed eight times for 34 yards, but was slowed to just three catches for six yards in the passing game.

The Vikings' tandem will have its work cut out as they face the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL.

Philadelphia will counter with a trio of running backs.

On the other side, the Eagles have multiple backs who can either grind a defense down or create big plays.

Midway through the year, the Eagles traded for running back Jay Ajayi. Since arriving in Philadelphia, he's averaged a remarkable 5.8 yards per carry and 58.3 yards per game.

LeGarrette Blount, who's listed at 6-foot-1, 245-pounds, averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season.

Corey Clement has also been a contributor to Doug Pederson's offense, gaining 321 yards on 74 carries.

With both teams ranking in the top seven in rushing offense, and the top two in rushing defense in 2017, whichever team moves the chains on the ground could punch their ticket to the season's final game.

With rough field conditions and elite defenses, the battle of the running back tandems could play a big role in whether the Vikings or Eagles represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.


*Vikings, Eagles share plenty of similarities

The Vikings and Eagles took different paths to get to the NFC Championship games, but they also share some similarities.

Both teams went 13-3, won their respective divisions and earned first-round byes in the playoffs before advancing to the NFC title game after a close Divisional round win.

Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports took a deeper look at how the Vikings and Eagles could be mirror images of one another, especially as both boast stout defenses and both are playing with quarterbacks who weren't the starter when the 2017 season began.

Benjamin wrote:

Minnesota's "D," always vaunted under Zimmer, clocks in as the NFL's best. But the Eagles aren't far behind under Jim Schwartz, and in front of their roaring hometown crowd, there's a case to be made for them as the most feared unit left in the postseason. Outside of the Eagles and Vikings, no teams better slowed the running game, and between the two sides, five different players earned Pro Bowl recognition for their efforts this season.

And while defense serves as the ultimate strength for both Minnesota and Philadelphia, it's the quarterback position that has these NFC Championship Game foes just as joined at the hip.* *

Forget the past, which saw Eagles greats like Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb move on to the Midwest. The current teams alone have one heck of a connection at the game's most important spot. Almost every Eagles and Vikings QB of note has ties to the other side: Minnesota's Case Keenum, who has starred in place of the injured Bradford, once replaced current Eagles starter Nick Foles, who's filling in for Carson Wentz, while playing for the then-St. Louis Rams; and Bradford, who began his career with the Rams, succeeded Foles in Philadelphia after the Eagles acquired him in 2015, [before] joining the Vikings via trade after Wentz's arrival in 2016.

Minnesota and Philadelphia have met three times in the postseason but never in the NFC Championship.

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