EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Eagles defense was on the field for 1,030 snaps during the regular season. It was anyone’s guess which four defensive linemen they were going to use in their 4-3 scheme.
Philadelphia’s defense ranked fourth in both points (18.4) and yards allowed per game (306.5), but did so using a collective mix of linemen that saw seven of them play at least 40 percent of the Eagles defensive snaps.
“You’ve got to know each guy that is in there. Obviously, Fletcher Cox is a terrific player. They come at you in waves,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said on Thursday. “They’re similar to us defensively. They line up, and they do what they do. Kind of what we do, too. So, you’re going to kind of know where they’re going to be.
“It may be a different guy that you’re going against because they’re changing, but they’re all good and they come at you and stay fresh,” Zimmer added. “So, we’re going to have to suck it up and play four quarters.”
Brandon Graham led all linemen with 663 snaps played (64.4 percent), and the Eagles defensive end also had a team-high 9.5 sacks. Cox, who had 5.5 in the regular season, is the main man in the middle. He played 607 snaps (58.9 percent).
Graham and Cox were workhorses in Philadelphia’s playoff win this past weekend, as both played 90 percent of the 63 defensive snaps.
Defensive ends Vinny Curry (576 snaps; 55.9 percent) and Chris Long (496 snaps; 48.1 percent) were next in line in terms of snap counts. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (493 snaps; 47.9 percent), rookie defensive end Derek Barnett (424 snaps; 41.2 percent) and defensive tackle Beau Allen (423 snaps; 41.1 percent) rounded out the reinforcements on the Eagles defensive line.
Each of those players recorded 20 or more pressures, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus:
“They’re really a tremendous front seven. It starts with the front four and really is the front eight,” said Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur. “They play lots of players, so the ones that are in there, they’re rotating them like hockey lines, so they go in there and they sell out, and then they get a rest.
“They really trust their guys to be in critical situations. Sometimes when defensive lines rotate, you get to what would be considered a critical third-down, and they make sure they just put the front-liner in, but they play their guys,” Shurmur said. “Front to back, they’re a challenge to block. They’re a solid scheme, they don’t give up many big plays, and they’ve got typically an extra guy close to the line of scrimmage, and I think that’s why they’re pretty good at making sure the runs don’t pop out.”
Philadelphia was the NFL’s top rushing defense at 79.2 yards allowed per regular-season game. The Vikings will counter with the seventh-ranked rushing attack that averaged 122.3 rushing yards per game.
Minnesota’s offense knows they will be in for a four-quarter battle against one of the best (and deepest) defensive line units in the NFL.
“They obviously have a good rotation of guys that can come in and out and compete at a high level,” said Vikings tight end David Morgan. “It’s just a matter of, throughout the game, just getting after those guys.
“It’s not anything more or less than we’ve done all year long; we just have to continue to play our game and get after those guys up front,” Morgan said.
Remmers recalls first career game at left guard
Mike Remmers has played primarily on the right side in his first season with the Vikings, making 10 starts at right tackle and one at right guard.
But the offseason free agent signing switched sides in the Minnesota’s Divisional round playoff win and made his first career start at left guard.
“There’s a few plays I wish I could have back, but overall I thought it was pretty good,” Remmers said.
The Vikings ran for 95 yards and scored twice. Quarterback Case Keenum was sacked twice
Remmers, who played left tackle with the Panthers in 2016, quipped that he tried to use that experience.
“All last year I played left tackle, so I just tried to combine the two,” Remmers said. “Playing tackle and guard, there’s a lot of similarities, a lot of similar footwork, and I just do whatever I can.
“(Vikings offensive line coach) Tony (Sparano) has been working with me, and my teammates have been helping me out with the proper way to do things at guard,” Remmers added. “I’m just trying to learn as much as I can.”
Remmers was sandwiched between left tackle Riley Reiff and center Pat Elflein, while Joe Berger was at right guard and Rashod Hill lined up at right tackle.
It was the eighth different starting combination the Vikings have used this season.
Zimmer said he had no hesitation playing Remmers in a spot he had never played.
“I think he’s one of our five best players, so that was the number one thing,” Zimmer said. “I think Mike is very aware of the things that happen inside there. He’s got good quickness, good in the running game.
“He’s been impressive in pass protection to me,” Zimmer added. “So, we’re just trying to get the five guys who we felt were the best on the field.”
Berger said he was excited to see Remmers, who spent part of 2013 and the 2014 offseason with Minnesota, return to the Vikings this offseason.
“I just remember him being a great guy,” Berger said. “I was excited to see that we signed him this offseason. He quite frankly is one of the reasons that I chose to come back. I loved playing next to Mike throughout the year. I’m kind of bummed that he’s a guy away from me now, but that’s what we need to win the games.”
View images from Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's Kyle Rudolph's Super Bowl Ticketmaster surprise at Lord Fletcher's.
Rudolph surprises fans at Lord Fletcher’s
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph surprised patrons and Vikings fans on Wednesday night at Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge on Wednesday night.
Rudolph chatted with families and signed autographs.
View practice images from Thursday January 18 at Winter Park as the Vikings prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the Vikings: Michael Floyd (illness) and Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle) did not participate. Adam Thielen (low back), Andrew Sendejo (concussion) and Mackensie Alexander (rib) were limited. Anthony Harris (knee) and Pat Elflein (shoulder) were full participants.
For the Eagles: Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) did not participate. Sidney Jones (hamstring) was a full participant.* *