Two of the NFL's top defenses will meet in Philadelphia on Sunday, both attempting to help their team win an NFC title.
The Vikings and Eagles finished No. 1 and No. 4 in total defense, respectively. In rushing defense, Philadelphia was No. 1 followed by Minnesota at No. 2.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a three-time Pro Bowler, said he likes the idea of a slugfest with the league's top defense.
"As a defensive player, when you've got the No. 1 defense coming in, statistically, obviously it fires us up," Cox said earlier this week. "We know going into this game that whoever's defense plays better is going to win the game."
LeGarrette Blount, who recorded 766 yards rushing on 173 carries for Philadelphia this season, spoke from the other side of the ball on the challenge that Minnesota's defense poses.
"They've got a good front seven, a really good front seven, and that's where the run game starts for both sides," Blount said. "Our offensive line and their d-line, our tight ends and their backers, it's going to be a grunge match, and it's going to be a grind. There's going to be times where you have to settle for 2- or 3-yard gains because they're a really good team. They're a really good defense."
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who stepped in when Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14, emphasized that the Vikings defense has been building over the past few seasons.
Foles said that the players having a familiarity and consistency with each other helps them to play as a unit, and to play fast.
"You don't see them bust coverages. They communicate back and forth really well, and they're on the same page," Foles said. "It's hard to key in on one thing [that they excel at]. First off, they have a lot of talent. They have a lot of talented guys, whether it's the corners, the secondary, the d-line, the linebackers – there's a lot of speed. I've been really impressed with watching them on tape.
"Watching them on film, when they communicate, when they check, when teams are doing different formations and different shifts, you can tell they have a really good game plan for that moment," Foles later added. "They do a great job with film study – you can tell by what coverages they run at specific times – and the key to anything is that they play fast. They're not thinking; they're reacting. They're a reactionary defense, so the second the ball is completed, the guys are shooting to it and making tackles really quick. They do a really good job of limiting YAC (yards after catch) yards, and sometimes on third down you have to check it down and get those YAC yards, so they do a really good job of rallying and stopping them from getting that first down."
Here are other highlights of what Eagles players said about the Vikings in preparation for Sunday's NFC title game:
Foles on former experience with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur:
"Pat, he's a tremendous coach. I really enjoyed playing for him, and I'm excited [for him] – he's obviously had a lot of success since. I haven't seen him since I was here last, I believe, so it will be good to see him and compete against him."
Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson on the Vikings defense:
"I think the biggest thing is the front, that they're able to put pressure on the quarterback and make him throw off balance or sooner than he wants to. I think that's been the key for both defenses, putting pressure on the quarterback or making him drop his eyes or move in the pocket and throw off-balance. Teams know that this is a passing league and it is geared toward the offense, but they also know that maybe your tackles are going to be a little more exposed and not have the help they need. It's generated by the pass rush, but the front four and putting pressure on the quarterback that way."
Pederson on Vikings secondary versus Eagles receivers:
"Number one, it's a really good secondary. Number two, I feel like [Xavier] Rhodes is playing at a high level. I feel like he'll match with Alshon [Jeffery], obviously. They've had some really good contests and battles over the years when Alshon was in Chicago, so they're familiar with one another. It just comes down to execution and detail, understanding the leverage of the defender, man or zone, and trying to win that matchup. Our guys have their work cut out for them Sunday."
Cox on Vikings rookie C Pat Elflein:
"I think, honestly, he's probably one of their best o-linemen. I've watched him, and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's real competitive; he has an edge about him. Of course you all see me line up on the center a lot during the season, and I'm looking forward to going against him."
Cox on Vikings QB Case Keenum's mobility:
"He's slippery … the biggest part of the game for this defensive line, I think it's going to take the two inside guys pushing and getting in his face, make him uncomfortable. Let's not let him make those throws that he's been making all year, and I think once we do get our hands on him, we need to get him on the ground and not let him slip out of there and make a big play down the field."
Eagles DE Bryan Braman on the success of former Texans teammate, Keenum:
"It's awesome. I love Case, he's a great guy – I spent a little time with him in Houston [with the Texans]. I remember watching him play when he was at the University of Houston, and it's great to see him succeed. As a player, you want to see that with people that you played with. Everybody's got their struggles throughout this league.
"I'm happy for him. His faith and his family and everybody that's really stood behind him and believed in him, it's kind of a big win for everybody. I'm happy for him, and I look forward to being able to line up across from him, wish him luck and hopefully prevail."
T Lane Johnson on Minnesota's run defense:
"They haven't really had a team that could run the ball against them, so I think for us to be able to run the ball, stop the run, kind of the same [mantra] we've been preaching all season.
"They're stacked. They've got a good d-line, they've got good linebackers in [Anthony] Barr and [Eric] Kendricks, they've got good safeties in [Harrison] Smith, and [then] cornerbacks. They're well-balanced all across the board – that's what I see in those guys.
Johnson on Vikings defensive line:
"[Danielle] Hunter, [Brian] Robison, 96 – I've played against him before. He's a veteran guy, he's quick, he's savvy, he's explosive. Hunter, he's up there with Everson [Griffen] probably, twitchy-wise. Probably not as explosive as far as pure power; I think Everson has him on that. But they're talented. They're good at setting the edge, good at rushing wide, so they're good all way the way across the board – Joseph in the middle – I mean, they're stacked."