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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings-Eagles matchups to watch: Diggs/Thielen vs. Eagles DBs

By Matthew Coller

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. For Part 2, we look at Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen vs. the Eagles’ defensive backs.

Going into the Minnesota Vikings’ Divisional round matchup with the New Orleans Saints, it was clear that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen needed to play at a high level in order to win. Well, they went way beyond all expectations. Diggs came away with a magical 61-yard touchdown to win the game and Thielen played hero on the previous drive with a 24-yard reception over shutdown corner Marshon Lattimore.

Both of the Vikings’ receivers have shown that they cannot be stopped one-on-one, even by the league’s best secondaries. Diggs also had two huge receptions on third-and-long and Thielen caught six of nine passes in his direction despite being shadowed by Lattimore.

Now the Vikings’ pair travels to Philadelphia where they match up against a secondary that held Julio Jones in check last week and only gave up 10 points to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. But the Eagles’ group of defensive backs has been discussed as a possible weakness. What type of advantage do Thielen/Diggs give the Vikings? Let’s have a look…

The stats

Against New Orleans, Diggs and Thielen combined for 12 receptions on 19 targets for 211 yards and one memorable touchdown.

Whether you look at advanced stats website Football Outsiders or Pro Football Focus’s player grading system, Diggs and Thielen are in the elite category of NFL receivers. Football Outsiders ranks them ninth (Diggs) and 11th (Thielen) in Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR).

When Case Keenum or Sam Bradford targeted either receiver during the regular season, they averaged 9.0 yards per attempt. When anyone else was targeted, the Vikings averaged 6.4 Yards per attempt.

Another impressive stat: Thielen and Diggs each drew five pass interference penalties, combining for 220 yards.

For the Eagles, they ranked 17th in passing yards allowed, but ninth in quarterback rating allowed (79.5). At home, Philly’s pass defense was even better, giving up just a 74.2 rating, good for sixth best in the NFL. They allowed only a 59.9 completion percentage and opponents threw 11 interceptions in eight games.

Pro Football Focus ranks the Eagles three starting corners sixth (Patrick Robinson), 26th (Ronald Darby) and Jalen Mills (66th), Robinson is the slot corner, so it’s unlikely anyone will shadow Diggs or Thielen. While Mills’ grade wasn’t great, he did only allow 5.9 yards per attempt into his coverage.

This year, the Eagles ranked No. 7 against opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers and best in the NFL against No. 2 receivers – though the Vikings have a No. 1 and 1A.

The skills

No matter how well you cover Stefon Diggs, he is not covered. He ranked as the league’s best receiver in contested catches this season, according to PFF.

Stefon Diggs led the NFL in contested catches! pic.twitter.com/LlPYVC4kc3

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 13, 2018

The combination of Diggs’ leaping ability, hands, competitiveness and ball-tracking skills give him a great chance any time the ball is in the air. His route-running skill puts him over the top as an elite receiver.

You could say all of those same things about Thielen. His strength, route-running, hands and ball tracking are top notch. When opponents give either receiver a one-on-one matchup, they win more often than not.

The Eagles’ DBs will have a tough time matching up. Darby is an incredible athlete. He ran a 4.38 forty and registered the second highest jump at the NFL Combine. But he has some weaknesses with his back to the ball and when plays break down. He’s also not the best tackler.

Mills was a seventh-round pick, in part because of his low-end 40-yard dash time (4.48). There were questions about how he might handle routes with some deception.

Robinson is an experienced defender with a mind for the position a high level of aggressiveness/competitiveness. The Vikings may use Diggs/Thielen in the slot less to get better matchups on the outside.

The history

Circumstances were much different when the Vikings matched up with the Eagles in 2016. Sam Bradford didn’t have much time to throw and there was an internal conflict over offensive philosophy. Diggs ended the game with two catches on five targets for 18 yards and Thielen grabbed two passes on five targets for 52 yards.

The X-factor

If the Eagles’ great defensive line can find ways to eliminate the Vikings’ rushing attack, they will have a shot at slowing down Diggs and Thielen’s big-play ability on play-action throws. Keenum struggled when he was under pressure against the Saints, posting a 5.1 QB rating when under pressure. He trusts his star receivers, sometimes to a fault.

The post Vikings-Eagles matchups to watch: Diggs/Thielen vs. Eagles DBs appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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