Ell’s NFL Playoff Breakdown: Strengths and Weaknesses
(QB Carson Wentz)
Strength: Balanced Team
The Eagles have been one of the most balanced teams in the league leading to a tied league leading record of 13-3 with the Patriots. The Eagles can win on the ground with LeGarrette Blount and the power run or Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement and the speed running game, or through the air with QB Carson Wentz, who is now injured, or backup Nick Foles to possession WR Alshon Jefferey, pass catching TEs Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, or Trey Burton, speed slot WR Nelson Agholor who has played much improved this season, speed WR Torrey Smith, and rookies Mack Hollins and Marcus Johnson who have shown flashes.
(DT Fletcher Cox)
The defense is stacked leading the way with a D-line of top DT Fletcher Cox, run stuffing DT Timmy Jernigan who has been a great find this season, top pass rusher DE Brandon Graham, pass rushes DE Vinny Curry and DE/DT Derrick Barnett, who has shined when called upon, and veteran DE Chris Long, coming off a SB win with the Pats last season. The LB core is led by run stopping MLB Nigel Bradham and speedy OLB Mychal Kendricks, while veteran LB Dannell Ellerbee replaces sideline to sideline MLB Jordan Hicks. CB Jalen Mills has continues to be a solid young piece, while free agent CB Patrick Robinson has been a nice surprise. The balanced play of safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins have been the key to protecting the passing defense, along with backup veteran S/CB Corey Graham. The Eagles balanced play on both sides of the ball, has led to them taking over the NFC East and clinching the #1 seed in the NFC.
Weakness: Passing Defense/Quarterback Injury
While the passing defense has caused many turnovers with two good coverage safeties on the back end, the team continues to struggling giving up a lot of pass yardage. Trading for CB Ronald Darby from the Bills has not fully paid off in the short term, as he has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play; at times being a weak point in the secondary. The LB unit could also do a better job covering TEs, as some of this could be due to the loss of Hicks. The Eagles have all the pieces in play on paper and some very good talent to turn this problem around, if Darby can get back to his technique.
(QB Nick Foles)
The obvious elephant in the room, of course, is the downgrade at QB from Carson Wentz to backup Nick Foles, after a team and fanbase crushing injury which basically already killed the SuperBowl hopes. Foles has been a good quarterback in the system under former HC Andy Reid and current HC Doug Peterson, even when he was an OC in Kansas City and Foles started a few games. If anyone knows what Foles can and can’t do, it would be Peterson and I highly doubt he will ask him to do a Wentz impression; run the ball and don’t turn it over.
(DE Everson Griffen)
The Vikings have won of the top defenses in the league, starting with a good D-line led by run stuffing and high motor DT Linval Joseph and DE Everson Griffen who has developed into a double digit sack beast off the edge; the whole unit plays with a lot of energy. DE Danielle Hunter has been another solid pass rusher they developed, Brian Robison continues to be a high motor vet who can get after the QB, and NT Tom Johnson holds the middle. OLB Anthony Barr is a sideline to sideline tackler who can do everything on the field and MLB Eric Kendricks is a tackling machine who can make plays in coverage. CB Xavier Rhodes remains one of the top CBs in the league with his good size and press skills; he is not the side QBs want to test. Young CB Trae Waynes continues to get better, but still has his share of inconsistencies, but they have good depth with veteran Terrance Newman and 2nd year CB Mackensie Alexander, who will eventually take Neman’s spot. FS Harrison Smith has played his way into being one of the top safeties in the league and will continue to be one of the elite and respected players at the position. This unit is very hard to run against and can make you work for your passing yards.
(QB Case Keenum)
The obvious problem heading into the playoffs, of course, is at QB and how well the offense can hold up in the real season (Playoffs), as opposed, to the regular season. QB Case Keenum has been a backup and spot starter throughout his career, but after this spot start he may have a starting spot. HC Mike Zimmer seemed to wait on QB Sam Bradford and later put hope in QB Teddy Bridgewater, as a possible starter, but Keenum was playing too well to make the call. The two man run game of RB Latavius Murray and RB Jerrick McKinnon has been solid during the regular season, as both complement each other well with Murray as the power and McKinnon, as the speed/pass catching RB, but will they be so lucky to get both going or that one is going if the other struggles. The WR position and TE position are no issues with WRs Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, as one of the top duos, and TE Kyle Rudolph, who is a solid blocker and safety blanket. The offense will make or break them in the playoffs, as the defense is always sure to show up, but they have surprised many teams in the regular season.