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Vikings-Eagles key matchups: Fletcher Cox vs. Vikings interior linemen

By Matthew Coller

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As the Minnesota Vikings prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, we will be highlighting one key matchup every day throughout the week. We begin with Fletcher Cox vs. the Vikings’ interior offensive linemen.

The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles are mirror images of each other. Each team’s most impressive unit is the defensive line, where they sport multiple superstars. The best player of the group is defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who mauled the Atlanta Falcons in the Eagles’ Divisional round victory.

The Vikings have used four different combinations of interior offensive linemen in the last five games. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was happy with the decision to move right tackle Mike Remmers to left guard for the first time in his NFL career, so it appears he will start there again against the Eagles along with Pat Elflein at center and Joe Berger at right guard.

How will they match up against the Eagles’ monster defensive tackle? Let’s have a look…

The stats

For the first three years of his career, Cox was a solid player, but since 2015 he has been one of the elite players at his position in the NFL. He picked up 9.5 sacks in ’15, forced three fumbles and stuffed six runs. This season, Cox’s sack numbers are down to 5.5, but he’s been every bit as dominant in the middle of the Eagles’ D-line, ranking fifth in the NFL by Pro Football Focus’s ratings and pressuring opposing QBs 28 times, according to Football Outsiders’ data.

Cox is the centerpiece of a unit that registered Football Outsiders’ highest Adjusted Sack Rate and No. 2 in run stuffing. The Eagles stuffed three of every 10 runs by their opponents.

Here’s the money stat on Cox: Opposing teams averaged 3.0 yards per carry when rushing up the middle, the best mark in the NFL.

Fletcher Cox was dominant! pic.twitter.com/4PpwYOR7VZ

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 14, 2018

The Vikings ranked 23rd in the NFL in yards per carry on rushes up the middle, but 10th in success in short yardage situations like third-and-1 or first-and-goal. The Vikings were also sixth in Adjusted Sack Rate allowed.

PFF did not score Elflein highly this year, though his poor marks were likely caused by playing 11 of the top 20 rated DTs by PFF metrics this year. Also, Elflein’s strengths like quickness and athleticism have led to many of the Vikings’ most successful plays. Joe Berger ranked highly as the 15th best guard.

The skills

Cox is the complete package. At 6-foot-4, 310-pounds, he is powerful and strong. On the play below, he drives the Atlanta Falcons’ guard back into quarterback Matt Ryan.

Fletcher Cox deeeeep penetration pic.twitter.com/c7U8ndU3LU

— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) January 13, 2018

Below are several examples of his power, quickness and instincts.

Shot 1 – #Eagles HC Doug Pederson said that Fletcher Cox was a ‘man on a mission’ on Saturday night, and that started from the opening drive. So disruptive against the run and the pass against the #Falcons pic.twitter.com/tN0jtx1iZ4

— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) January 15, 2018

For the Vikings, Berger and Elflein will likely see more of the Eagles’ beast DT than Remmers. There is a clear mismatch in power with Berger, but the Vikings’ 36-year-old guard has experience and IQ on his side. The Vikings will likely try to move the pocket and use unique blocking schemes with play-action passes to avoid situations where Cox can simply plow into his man one-on-one. The biggest advantage Elflein and Berger have is that OC Pat Shurmur can dial up any type of blocking scheme and know his center and guard can execute it.

The history

Last season, Cox was part of a dominant effort against a Vikings offensive line that was battered and bruised. He only managed two tackles, but the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times. The only other game that Cox played against the Vikings came in 2013.

The X-factor

The field conditions in Philadelphia may have an impact on the game, especially in the trenches. Head coach Mike Zimmer was asked Monday whether his team would make it a point of emphasis this week. He said:

“We are going to have to make sure we have the right shoes on, number one. Second, part of it is when you’re planting, you can’t plant on your up field foot. You have to make sure you’re getting in the right spot. If I’m going this way, I can’t go like that or I’ll slide out underneath me. A lot of it is getting in the right position.”

The post Vikings-Eagles key matchups: Fletcher Cox vs. Vikings interior linemen appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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