West coast trip has Philadelphia Eagles prepared for Super Bowl week

By The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 22, 2018 at 9:58 PM
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In early December, the Philadelphia Eagles spent a week on the west coast between road games against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams.

They did it strictly for convenience. They didn't want to have to make back-to-back cross-country plane flights.

As it turns out, that week together on the road might benefit them next week when they travel to Minneapolis for Super Bowl week.

"We talked back then that this was sort of a precursor for hopefully this (Super Bowl) opportunity," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Monday, less than a day after his team advanced to Super Bowl LII with an impressive 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. "Kind of going through it a little bit with the team hotel (in Orange County, Calif.), the meetings, the travel to a practice site, the media obligations, and things like that.

"Now, having been through it, it makes it a little easier going up to Minneapolis. But it's just on a grander, bigger stage obviously. The attention will be a lot more. There will be a lot more distractions, a lot more pulling on coaches, players and personnel. Having gone through it in L.A. has really given us a leg up now going up there in a week."

That trip worked out well. After losing to the Seahawks in Seattle, they bounced back and beat the Rams, 43-35, which helped them get the NFC home-field advantage in the playoffs.

When they board a charter for Minnesota next Monday, it will be the first time they will be out of the city since the playoffs began, beating both Atlanta and the Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field.

--Eagles All Pro right tackle Lane Johnson wasted little time giving the Patriots bulletin-board material. Asked about playing the Patriots, who defeated the Eagles by three points 13 years ago in their last Super Bowl appearance, he said, "Tom Brady, pretty boy Tom Brady. He's, hey, the best quarterback of all-time. Nothing more I would like than to dethrone that guy."

Despite being the No. 1 seed and despite playing at home, the Eagles were betting underdogs in both of their first two playoff games. Vegas listed them as a 5.5-point underdog Monday in Super Bowl LII. Johnson and defensive end Chris Long bought dog masks last week, which they wore after the game to signify their underdog status.

Asked what he would do now that they are Super Bowl dogs, Johnson said, "There ain't no damn telling what I'm going to do. I may wear a bleeping moose mask. Since we're in Minnesota, shoot, probably a snowman mask. It'll be something funny, I guarantee you."

--In the 10 regular-season quarters he played after replacing injured quarterback Carson Wentz, Nick Foles completed just 11-of-27 passes on third down. The Eagles, who had been the league's best third-down offense before Wentz got hurt, converted just eight-of-35 third-down opportunities in those 10 quarters with Foles. But the playoffs have been another matter. In the Eagles' two postseason wins, Foles has completed 15-of-18 third-down passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those two third-down TDs came in Sunday's runaway win over the Vikings, including a 53-yard bomb to Alshon Jeffery on third-and-10.

"The fact that he's had a chance to work with our guys now for the past month, there's a lot more confidence there," head coach Doug Pederson said. "They're on the same page. The run game (success) obviously helps. Some of the play-action stuff we've done helps him. Listen, that's who Nick is. Just having time now with the offense has been able to open up some of those opportunities down the field."

--Left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai faced his biggest challenge of the season Sunday when he spent much of the night battling the Vikings' three-time Pro-Bowl right defensive end Everson Griffen. The Eagles gave Vaitai some help and he wasn't perfect. But he did a good job keeping Nick Foles upright.

"I thought Big V played exceptionally well," Pederson said. "We did help him from time to time, but there were also times he had to be on an island and block a tremendous defensive end who has had a heck of a year. We had a lot of confidence in V."

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

--PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- Nick Foles made mincemeat of the league's top defense. He completed 26-of-33 passes, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt and had three TDs and no interceptions. He was 10-for-11 for 159 yards on third down, with two third-down TD passes to Alshon Jeffery.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- LeGarrette Blount's impressive up-the-middle 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter gave the Eagles the lead for good. Jay Ajayi had a good game, rushing for 73 yards on 18 carries. Corey Clement had 20 yards on his only two carries.

--PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Eagles forced two big early turnovers off quarterback Case Keenum. Patrick Robinson had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, and Derek Barnett's strip-sack killed a Vikings scoring opportunity. The Eagles limited the Vikings' top two receivers, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, to 8.9 yards per catch and no TDs.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus --The Vikings rushed for 27 yards on six carries on their first possession, then the Eagles defense shut the door, holding them to 3.6 yards per carry the rest of the game.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Jake Elliott converted his only field-goal attempt, a 38-yarder, and had six touchbacks on six kickoffs. Donnie Jones had a 43.3-yard net average, put all three of his punts inside the 20, and didn't allow dangerous Marcus Sherels to return any of them.

--COACHING: A-plus - Doug Pederson seemed to be a step ahead of Mike Zimmer's defense all night. Nick Foles' use of run-pass options, so effective a week earlier against Atlanta, kept the Vikings' No. 1-ranked defense off-balance the entire game.

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