Five reasons the Eagles beat the Vikings | Paul Domowitch

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) throwing a pass during the first half Sunday night.

Five reasons the Eagles defeated the Vikings, 38-7, Sunday night in the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl:

Nick rises to the occasion

Playing in the biggest game of his career, Nick Foles turned in the best performance of his career. Yeah, yeah, I know. He threw seven touchdown passes against the Raiders in 2013. But Oakland had one of the worst defenses in the league that season.

On Sunday night, he played a near-perfect game against a Vikings defense ranked first in the league in both scoring and yards allowed.

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He completed 78.8 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns and no interceptions, and averaged 10.7 yards per attempt. He made mincemeat of the league’s best third-down defense, completing 10 of 11 third-down passes for 159 yards and two of his three touchdowns.

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He displayed excellent pocket awareness and mobility, stepping up to avoid rushers and even extending plays.

His 53-yard touchdown throw to Alshon Jeffery late in the second quarter came on a play in which he was able to dodge Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and hit Jeffery with a perfect throw down the field.

Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Eagles safety Corey Graham (24) and cornerback Ronald Darby (41) tackle Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (21) during the first half.

Unplugging the run

Even though the Vikings finished 23rd in the NFL in rush average this season (3.9 yards per carry), their run game was the key to their offense this season. They averaged the second-most rushing attempts (31.3 per game) in the league. They were fifth in run-play percentage (.459). Their 288 rushing attempts on first down were the most in the league.

The Eagles had the league’s No. 1-ranked run defense (79.2 yards per game) but also had been run on less than any team in the league (21.0 attempts per game).

So when the Vikings came out and rushed for 27 yards on six carries during a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on their first possession to grab a quick 7-0 lead, it set off some alarm bells.

But the Eagles quickly closed the run door. The Vikings gained just 17 more yards on eight carries the rest of the first half and finished with 70 yards on 18 carries.

Cashing in on the money down

The Eagles knew going in they were going to have to win the third-down battle on both sides of the ball to beat the Vikings, and they did.

The Vikings had the league’s best third-down defense this season, allowing opponents to convert just 25.2 percent. Drew Brees and the Saints were just 2 for 9 on third down against the Vikings a week earlier.

Until their win over Atlanta in the divisional round, the Eagles had struggled on third down under Foles. They had been one of the league’s top third-down offenses with Carson Wentz, but converted just 8 of 35 third-down opportunities in 10 regular-season quarters with Foles. Foles completed just 11 of 27 third-down attempts for 86 yards in those 10 quarters.

On Sunday, Foles and the Eagles carved up the Vikings on third down. They converted 10 of their first 11 third-down opportunities. Against a Vikings defense that had held opposing quarterbacks to a collective 59.2 passer rating on third down this season, Foles was 10 for 11 for 159 yards. Two of his three touchdown passes, both to Jeffery, came on third down. Nine of his 10 completions resulted in first downs or touchdowns.

The Eagles’ defense also had a very good day on third down, forcing two game-changing turnovers on third down. With pressure help from Chris Long, Patrick Robinson intercepted Case Keenum on a third-and-8 play on the Vikings’ second possession and returned it 50 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

Then, in the second quarter, Derek Barnett had a third-down strip-sack that killed a potential Vikings scoring drive and kick-started an Eagles touchdown drive that would give them a two-touchdown lead.

Camera icon YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles throws during the fourth quarter against the Vikings.

The long ball

Before Sunday, Foles had completed just two of 13 throws of 20 yards or more this season. Against the Falcons last week, he mostly dinked and dunked, throwing short, quick passes off run-pass options. Twenty of his 28 aimed throws against the Falcons traveled no more than 6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

But against a Vikings defense that had given up the fewest 20-yard pass plays in the league this season (35), Foles went deep a season-high five times. He completed four of those 20-plus-yard throws, including a 53-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery, a 36-yard completion to Ertz that set up Jake Elliott’s 38-yard field goal at the end of the first half, a 41-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to Torrey Smith, and a 42-yard completion to Nelson Agholor on a nifty play in which Foles escaped the pocket, extended the play and hit Agholor down the right sideline.

The o-line

The Eagles’ offensive line turned in its second straight excellent postseason performance. The linemen did a good job of protecting Foles, did a good job of dealing with the Vikings’ blitzes, and blocked well in the run game.

The Eagles had four runs of 10 yards or more against a defense that had allowed a league-low 20 the entire season. They had seven rushing first downs after recording eight last week against the Falcons.

Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks had an excellent second-level block on Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr on LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that put the Eagles up, 14-7. And center Jason Kelce had a nice block on Barr on a 13-yard screen to Jay Ajayi that set up Jake Elliott’s 38-yard field goal at the end of the first half.