Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Zach Berman, Eagles beat writer for the Inquirer. Here are five questions we posed to Berman in advance of Sunday’s Vikings-Eagles game at the Metrodome.
1. Some were quick to write off head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, but the Eagles are now third in total offense. What has been the reason for his success transitioning from college?
ZB: The key has definitely been the stability at quarterback. In that rough patch they had, two games without scoring an offensive touchdown, during that span they played three quarterbacks. Two quarterbacks essentially got knocked out of games. When Nick Foles came in and played well to stabilize that position that was the key.
Also all the other pieces around the quarterback started working together and working well together, particularly the defense. In the last nine games, the defense has held the opponent to 21 points or fewer. That’s the only team in the league that’s done that.
2. Is the philosophy on defense similar to what Kelly did at Oregon?
ZB: That’d be fair to say. One of the similarities is the fact that it’s such a fast pace offense that the defense is on the field more than some other teams so some of those yardage statistics are higher (30th in total defensive averaging 398.3 yards a game, three yards fewer than the Vikings). But the number they care about is scoring defense and if you look at the last nine games, their scoring defense has been very good (13th in the NFL allowing 23.2 points a game). They’re a very opportunistic defense. They force turnovers. When Chip was at Oregon, they were very good at forcing turnovers, and it’s the same thing here.
3. Where has Foles improved the most over the last month?
ZB: The decision making. That directly ties into everything. He knows where to go with the ball, keeping the ball out of harm’s way. He seldom makes throws where you look at it and you say, “Why did he throw that?” The other thing is he’s running the ball more effectively than you would think. That’s important to note because teams can’t just key on [running back] LeSean McCoy on some of their read plays. They’re able to have Nick hold on to the ball and run for first downs. You saw that in the Green Bay especially when Nick was able to tuck the ball away and grab first downs. They’re not going to treat him like [quarterback] Michael Vick, nor should they, but they should at least keep an eye on him.
4. In his fifth season, McCoy is four yards away from his career high in rushing yards (currently at 1,309) with three games to play. What has led to his best season in the NFL this year?
ZB: He’s a dynamic player. You watch the way he runs and the moves he has, he’s a better downhill runner than he gets credit for. A lot of it is just his natural talent, but the other thing you need to look at is his offensive line. The offensive line, this is a group where three of those guys had season ending injuries last year (tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and guard Todd Herremans) and one is a rookie (tackle Lane Johnson). The continuity they’ve had is remarkable. They started all 13 games and aside for a few in-game injuries, they’ve all been on the field together. That’s been the key more than anything else.
5. The Eagles (8-5) hold a one game lead on the Cowboys (7-6) in the NFC East. How will this division play out three weeks from now?
ZB: I think their most realistic scenario [to make the playoffs] is through the division. I think after Dallas lost the other night, it’s looking much better. If they can beat Minnesota then the path looks a little better because worst case scenario at that point is you have a chance to clinch in Week 17 [against the Cowboys]. You don’t want to be in a situation where you lose to Minnesota, then you beat Chicago and you need to hope that Dallas is losing games.
Adrian Peterson (foot) and Toby Gerhart (hamstring) missed a second day of practice Thursday.
Coach Leslie Frazier said he hopes both will be able to do some work Friday. Peterson, who suffered a foot sprain, only has done pool rehab this week.
Asked what he needs to see from both players Friday in order to feel comfortable putting them on the field Sunday, Frazier said, "In Adrian's case, being able to see him cut, plant, just put some weight on that foot. Then with Toby, just see if he can burst a little bit with a hamstring. Hopefully, we can find that out tomorrow."
Tight end John Carlson is still experiencing concussion symptoms so he’s not been cleared to practice. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and right guard Brandon Fusco (knee) also did not practice.
“I’m hoping that we’ll get Brandon out there [Friday],” Frazier said. “Xavier will be touch and go. We’ll know more tomorrow. That’s a big day for all those guys.”
With only two games left in the Metrodome, the Vikings announced their all-Mall of America Field team on Thursday.
The team was chosen by fan voting over the past month and recognizes the "greatest Vikings to play in the stadium." The team consists of 27 current and former players -- 12 offensive players, 11 defensive players and four special teamers, as well as the head coach. The team will be honored during halftime of Sunday's game against Philadelphia.
Here is the team:
PLAYER POS. YEARS
Daunte Culpepper... QB........... 1999-05
Adrian Peterson....... RB........... 2007-13
Robert Smith........... RB........... 1993-00
Anthony Carter....... WR........... 1985-93
Cris Carter.............. WR........... 1990-01
Randy Moss........... WR...... 1998-04,’10
Steve Jordan............ TE........... 1982-94
Tim Irwin..................... T........... 1981-93
Gary Zimmerman....... T........... 1986-92
Steve Hutchinson...... G........... 2006-11
Randall McDaniel...... G........... 1988-99
Matt Birk..................... C........... 1998-08
PLAYER POS. YEARS
Jared Allen............... DE........... 2008-13
Chris Doleman......... DE...... 1985-93,’99
John Randle............. DT........... 1990-00
Kevin Williams......... DT........... 2003-13
Chad Greenway....... LB........... 2006-13
Ed McDaniel............. LB........... 1992-01
Scott Studwell.......... LB........... 1977-90
Carl Lee................... CB........... 1983-93
Antoine Winfield....... CB........... 2004-12
Robert Griffith............ S........... 1994-01
Joey Browner............. S........... 1983-91
PLAYER POS. YEARS
Percy Harvin........... RS........... 2009-12
Chris Kluwe................ P........... 2005-12
Ryan Longwell............ K........... 2006-11
Chris Walsh.............. ST........... 1994-02
Dennis Green ........................... 1992-01
The emergence of Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles has become one of the NFL’s most surprising stories this season, but the Vikings say their primary focus lies with the Eagles running game.
Specifically LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in rushing with 1,305 yards.
“This dude is making moves,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “He’s like a human joystick right now."
The Eagles lead the NFL in rushing, largely due to McCoy, who set a franchise record with 217 yards rushing against Detroit in Sunday.
McCoy has rushed for 150-plus yards four times this season, the only player in the NFL to reach that mark more than once. He’s also tied for third in the NFL in 20-yard runs with eight.
“Dynamic in every phase,” defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. “Dynamic out of the backfield, dynamic when you have him bottled up. He’s Houdini. You think you have him bottled up and he’s right there. You look away and the next thing you know you’re looking back at the film and he’s 30 yards down the field. He’s a fantastic football player. I don’t know if he gets the recognition really that he should.”
Several Vikings players compared McCoy to Detroit's Reggie Bush because of his versatility as a receiver.
“Yeah, that’s fun,” linebacker Chad Greenway joked about having to cover McCoy out of the backfield. “He’s unbelievable. Reggie Bush-like. I think he’s got different skills than Reggie. But just a matchup nightmare.”
Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer’s weekly press conference began with a question about Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones.
“Do we have to start with that?” Priefer said. “I knew it was coming.”
Jones scored on a 77-yard touchdown with 1:16 left on Sunday off a mortar kick, which the Ravens expected. They were moving well before kicker Blair Walsh booted the short kick as explained in our Vikings Rewind.
Priefer confirmed it was the a similar alignment the Vikings used last week against the Bears on a mortar kick to Devin Hester to start overtime. And it’ll be the last time they use it this season.
“They read it perfectly,” Priefer said. “They did a good job. I got outcoached on that play, unfortunately. We didn't execute it well enough. We had guys over there. We had, I think, two of them got pinned inside. He hit that seam full-speed.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said it’s too early to speculate whether he’ll have either running backs Adrian Peterson (foot) or Toby Gerhart (hamstring) on Sunday. He’s preparing as if Matt Asiata will be lined up in the backfield against the Eagles.
“I think we’re looking forward to seeing him play because in preseason and at practice he’s done a nice job,” Musgrave said. “He’s very decisive when he runs, has some good quickness and toughness.”
Musgrave said tight end John Carlson (concussion) still hasn’t been cleared to practice. It would leave the Vikings with two tight ends, Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford, if Carlson doesn’t play on Sunday.
“Well, it makes us hold our breath that much more that we don’t receive an injury at the tight end position,” Musgrave said of the tight end depth. “If we would, we’d need to put an o-lineman in there for certain jobs. It’s tough to go into a game with two, but that’s what we’d need to do.”
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