Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery is the Vikings’ most familiar foe entering Sunday’s NFC title game rematch in Philadelphia. So cornerback Xavier Rhodes knows exactly the challenge he faces to get himself and the Vikings defense back on track.
Jeffery, the seventh-year NFL veteran, has done more damage to the Vikings in 10 games than he has to any other team. The former Chicago Bears star has 50 catches for 770 yards and nine touchdowns against the Vikings in his career.
Rhodes is expected to again shadow Jeffery on Sunday. Jeffery caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown last week against the Titans; it was his first game back from offseason shoulder surgery.
“We been going at each other for a while now,” Rhodes said. “I just have to high point the ball, be on top of the routes and not let him be aggressive at the top of the routes.”
Jeffery’s size (6-3, 218 pounds) and ability to win jump balls make him an easy target for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
Rhodes said he doesn’t expect much of Jeffery’s physical play to be flagged by officials, so he’ll try to fight fire with fire.
“A couple plays he had [Titans cornerback] Malcolm Butler going one way, pushing him off to go back the other way,” Rhodes said. “Things like that, I know the referees are not going to call, so you just gotta man up and just cover him.”
Running back Dalvin Cook is listed as questionable to play Sunday against the Eagles. If Cook is limited or sidelined by his hamstring injury, Latavius Murray will take the lead.
The Vikings will be without defensive ends Everson Griffen and Tashawn Bower (ankle); both were ruled out Friday. They’ll also be without cornerback Trae Waynes, who missed practice all week in the concussion protocol, and punt returner Marcus Sherels (ribs). Both have been ruled out.
The Eagles ruled out defensive end Derek Barnett and running back Darren Sproles.
Special teams help
The Vikings activated linebacker Kentrell Brothers on Friday, meaning he’s ready to return Sunday in Philadelphia. The special teams ace was an integral part of the Vikings’ blocking and coverage groups before serving a four-game suspension to start the season.
Guard Bryan Witzmann was waived to make room for Brothers, who had been practicing on a roster exemption this week.
Wanted : Pass rush
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who is set to return from an ankle injury, said he’s feeling good about the ways the Vikings defensive line can generate a pass rush on Wentz. The Eagles quarterback has been sacked nine times in two starts.
The Vikings need to get to Wentz while shorthanded. Only two defensive ends — Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly — practiced Friday. Linebacker Anthony Barr has also previously played as an edge defender.
“I think we can attack them in some good areas,” Johnson said. “[The Titans] used a lot of different looks, [twists] in the interior to attack them.”
• Linebacker Eric Kendricks returns to Philadelphia, where his brother, Mychal, was released this spring after six seasons for the Eagles. Since Mychal is suspended indefinitely by the NFL after pleading guilty to insider trading, he’s barred from attending Sunday’s game as a spectator with his family.
• Rookie Mike Hughes said he’s been in Sherels’ ear about returning kicks and punts: “You kind of have to be annoying. He’s quiet, so I kind of bug him with questions. He’s been very helpful, and it’s helped my game.”
• Jessie Diggins was at the Vikings practice facility on Friday to meet with players and staff and address the team. The gold medal cross-country skier from Afton called it an honor on her verified Twitter account.