*EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – *It’s on to Philly for the Vikings.
The walk-off win over the Saints enabled Minnesota to advance to the NFC Championship, but the “Minneapolis Miracle” is now in the rearview mirror as the Vikings set their sights on bigger goals.
“We understand the magnitude of this football game,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. “That was three days ago, so it’s time to get on to Philadelphia and understand the things we have to do.”
Zimmer spoke with media members on Wednesday and emphasized the battle he’s expecting Sunday’s matchup to be, especially because both teams have talented defensive units. During the regular season, Minnesota finished with the No. 1 overall defense. Philadelphia, however, was nothing to scoff at, finishing fourth in total yards allowed and first against the run.
Zimmer addressed the Eagles defense and what it does well. He highlighted defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, who had four tackles against the Vikings during the teams’ 2016 matchup.
“They haven’t been a huge pressure team. Now, they pressured us quite a bit last year – 27 (Jenkins), he’s a heck of a football player,” Zimmer said. “But they try to pressure a lot with those front four guys. And their defense is very, very active; they run to the ball. Their front four guys are very athletic, they get up the field, they do a good job. That’s why they’re the best in the league at stopping the run. Their linebackers run well.”
Zimmer added that the linebackers “are tight” and that the Eagles often play in single-high coverage.
“And their line is aggressive,” Zimmer said. “They do a heck of a job – they’ve got good players.”
Whether it’s defense, offense or special teams, it’s going to be a chess match Sunday night between the two teams that have risen to the top of the NFC.
“ ‘How can we exploit their weaknesses, and how can we use our strengths?’ ” Zimmer said. “They’re really good, defensively. It’s going to be a full-day affair.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his podium session:
1. Getting the run game going
Because the Eagles have such a stout defense against the run, it’s of that much more significance for the Vikings to make an early statement with their ground game.
“It’s important that we’re efficient in the runs,” Zimmer said. “We stay away from the negative runs.”
Against the Saints, the Vikings recorded their fourth-lowest total of rushing yards (95) but were largely effective when run plays were called and scored their pair of first-half touchdowns with runs by Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray.
“I think the team that runs the ball better will probably win the football game,” Zimmer said.
2. A look at the Eagles offense
The Eagles defense is the side of the ball most frequently highlighted, but that’s not to say their offense is a walk in the park.
Zimmer emphasized the talent level at several offensive positions.
“Number one, they’ve got an excellent offensive line,” Zimmer said. “They do a great job in the running game and the schemes – the running backs are very hard to tackle. They have a lot of run-pass options, and they’ve got excellent receivers.
“I think [Nick] Foles has done a good job of understanding where to go with the football and the things they’re trying to do with him,” Zimmer said of the quarterback who stepped in after Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.
The Vikings last played the Eagles in Week 5 of the 2016 season.
A number of things have changed since then, including both teams’ starting quarterbacks, but there are still similarities to be studied in Philadelphia’s offense.
“It really hasn’t changed too much, honestly,” Zimmer said. “Wentz scrambled around a lot more, probably, but as far as the scheme and things like that, it really hasn’t changed that much.”
3. Impact of the draft on Vikings defense
Asked to reflect back on the defensive unit that he’s built with the Vikings, Zimmer said NFL Drafts have played a large role.
He reminded media that he and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman have shared a philosophy of building through the draft and then adding through free agency. The Vikings under Zimmer signed players like Linval Joseph and Terence Newman as free agents, but a number of names have been hand-picked coming out of college.
“We added a couple guys in free agency when I first got here, but we’ve drafted guys – Trae Waynes, Mackensie [Alexander], [Ben] Gedeon, Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen – several of those guys,” Zimmer said. “Our scouts have done a good job of identifying the guys, and then I think the coaches have done a good job of communicating to those guys the kinds of players that we need – and the kind of people that we need, probably more importantly.”
Zimmer mentioned “smart,” “tough” and “disciplined” as qualities that they look for when scouting players. He added that he and Spielman have “certain body types that we look for with each position group” but that exceptions always exist.
“[Eric] Kendricks, for instance, is kind of a shorter guy, but he’s a really good football player,” Zimmer said.
4. Eliminating turnovers will be crucial
The Vikings know that taking care of the football will be key when going into Philadelphia.
Zimmer said that “turnovers always end up being the difference” when teams get this deep into the postseason, and he pointed out that the Eagles have been successful at creating takeaways.
“They’re plus-11 in turnovers this year, and they’ve done a good job as far as getting the ball turned over – they’ve got 19 interceptions,” Zimmer said. “But you never know. Going into the game, there’s been times when I’ve said, ‘This is going to be a low-scoring game,’ and it’s like 30-28 or something like that.”
Added Zimmer: “You just have to go out and play the best you can and try to execute the best way you can.”