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Vikings Defense Prepping for Eagles Deception & Run/Pass Options

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When the Vikings defense lines up against the Eagles on Sunday, there's a good chance Nick Foles won't be under center.

The Eagles quarterback was in the shotgun formation 46 times against Atlanta this past weekend, which accounted for almost 70 percent of Philadelphia's offensive plays.

What isn't known, however, is whether Foles will handoff or pass from that formation, as the Eagles are known for running a bevy of run/pass option (RPO) plays each game. Foles will read the defense and either hand off to his running back or pull it back and fire a pass.

How does the Minnesota defense plan to defend the deception?

"I can't tell you that!" Eric Kendricks said with a loud laugh on Thursday in the Vikings locker room.

The Vikings linebacker then turned serious, saying patience is key when trying to determine what Foles and the Eagles offense are attempting.

"It's just about being a little patient at times," Kendricks said. "And then when you know, you go.

"They kind of play that off indecision and make throws off indecision, so you just have to be patient and then react," Kendricks added.

In Saturday's Divisional round playoff win over Atlanta, the Eagles handed off or faked giving the ball to a running back out of the shotgun formation 23 times.

While some plays were likely designed running plays, Vikings.com is including them in this piece because it's impossible to know what the play call was.

Philadelphia ran 67 total plays, meaning the 23 plays in the shotgun that either went to the running back or included a faked handoff accounted for 34 percent of the Eagles play calls.

Of the 23 plays, Philadelphia ran the ball 17 times, or 77 percent of the time, and attempted just six passes.

The Eagles were run-heavy in the first half, running on eight of nine such plays for 47 yards as Philadelphia established the run.

The Eagles ran 14 such plays in the second half and still ran the ball the majority of the time (nine rushes for 27 yards), but they also were able to get Foles going through the air.

He completed all five pass attempts that involved first faking a handoff in the second half for 53 yards, and four completions resulted in first downs.

Defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly offered their ideas on how to play against a RPO.

"The first key is to look at the tackle. Whatever he gives you, that's what you play off of," Hunter said. "If he goes down the line, you know it's an opportunity for a run or a [bootleg pass]. It all depends on what the tackle does."

Added Weatherly: "The tight end or the tackle, based on what the formation gives us. We just look at our guy and wherever he goes, whatever the play calls for us to do, we go ahead and execute it. We'll take care of whatever our guy leads us to. If it's to the run, we'll go play the run. If he passes it, we'll go get him. We'll let the secondary get whatever we don't get." 

One thing the defensive ends won't do is try and track what Foles is doing. Both players let out animated answers when asked whether or not they'd follow at the quarterback.

"Heck no. If you look at the quarterback, you can get blindsided or teed off on or something," Hunter said. "You have to keep your eyes on the tackle, that's where you're going to get your reads."

Said Weatherly: ""Noooooo. Never. This team is notorious for (RPOs), and it's gotten them to this point, but no matter who we play we always watch our guy."

All three defenders said they had seen plenty of RPO plays in the NFL, and also in college. Hunter and Weatherly played in the SEC, and Kendricks saw the scheme in the Pac-12.

The trio agreed that it will have to be a collective team effort in order to slow down an offense designed on confusing the defense.

"The main thing is to play fundamentally sound football and swarm to the ball like we always do," Hunter said. "Our defense is good at running to the ball, so as long as one person gets there, we're pretty sure the rest of our defense is going to come and help him out. The big thing is to swarm."

Added Weatherly: "Do what's asked of you and don't try to do too much. Don't try to be a hero because when you try to do someone else's job, the ball will be in your gap. If everyone does their job at 100 percent, we'll like the end result."

The Eagles put up 334 yards of total offense in Saturday's win over Atlanta.

"Every offense has a little winkle," Kendricks said. "That's just one of theirs."

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