In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Nick Foles against Case Keenum, the biggest story lines will be on the field generals to deliver their respective teams the victory in the NFC Championship game. Many will say that for the Philadelphia Eagles, Foles will be their guy, the deciding factor on whether the Birds move on to the final stage of the NFL season for the first time since 2004.
While Foles’ performance on Sunday will be instrumental in determining if the Eagles can defeat the Minnesota Vikings and get to Super Bowl LII, it isn’t the most important for the Eagles. That role lies with star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery has led the team this season in touchdown receptions and quickly established himself as the team’s number one target on the outside. Since the injury to Carson Wentz, Foles has stepped in but never found his go-to-guy yet.
This is the perfect week for Foles to find that top target. Jeffery has shown to be the best target down the field for Foles and the matchup of Jeffery against the Vikings is a juicy one for the wide out. This weekend, Jeffery will be the reason the Eagles win or lose.
Playoff Alshon Jeffery is the X Factor for the Philadelphia Eagles
A Pattern of Success
Jeffery has quite the extensive history with Minnesota. Dating back to his days with the Chicago Bears, he has nine career games against the Vikings and he has done well. Pretty well in fact.
Jeffery has had his best career games against the Vikings and he has been their kryptonite. In those nine games, he has 45 receptions, 685 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Jeffery has found ways to beat their secondary and wreak havoc. It’s the team that he has tortured the most and Doug Pederson would be wise to devise a game plan this weekend that includes a heavy dose of Jeffery.
In the Eagles 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons last weekend, Nick Foles did just what he had to do. He didn’t turn the ball over, had a high completion rate and still managed to throw for just under 250 yards. This is just what the Eagles need from the backup quarterback. The defense can keep the team in the game on defense and allow the running game on offense to dictate the tempo.
Another performance like that would be great for Philadelphia, but the challenge will be getting the yardage again. Foles has struggled all season on down the field throws, as his arm strength and accuracy are no where near Wentz’s. For most of the Atlanta game, Foles was held under 200 yards.
Then in the second half, the game plan adjusted and Foles came out on a couple of drives throwing downfield on slants and crosses to Jeffery. Jeffery got his production from this game plan, racking up four catches for 61 yards to lead the Eagles in receiving for the game. For the first time all day, Foles was leading the team down the field into scoring range with his arm, mainly passing to Jeffery.
That was the sign. If Foles was going to have his most success throwing down the field with confidence and trust, Jeffery was going to be the guy to throw it to. Jeffery showed glimpses of becoming the go-to receiver that Foles hasn’t had all season. Pederson should have taken notice and realized if the going got tough and the Eagles needed Foles to makes hard throws, Jeffery was going to need to be on the end of them.
It’s that simple. The Eagles should still use the run first mentality and game plan to set up the passing game. The Eagles would be unwise to settle for running to win them this game. Foles is going to have to throw it far downfield at some points, even when the situation doesn’t call for it. It will keep the Vikings off guard and guessing. Foles’ deep pass to Torrey Smith on their first play on offense against Atlanta that garnered a defensive pass interference call is exactly this mentality. When the defense least expects it, fire away.
Not if, but when Pederson and the offense need to throw it down the field, Alshon Jeffery needs to be the guy where Foles looks first and more times than not delivers the football to. Jeffery has fantastic numbers against the purple beasts of the north and the chemistry looks to be brewing between quarterback and receiver.