Inside scoop on Foles, Keenum, Brady and Bortles — and more – NFL Nation

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To get a feel for what the four remaining playoff teams do well — or don’t do so well — we asked a number of players, coaches and team personnel for their anonymous thoughts on each team. Here’s what they had to say:

0:53

Points will be at a premium in what should be a very physical NFC Championship Game between the Eagles and Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field.

NFC Championship Game

Philadelphia Eagles

On why Nick Foles is capable but manageable — assuming you hit him: “You’ve got to understand he’s still a pure pocket passer. He’s going to make the timing throws. If you don’t get him off the spot, he’s going to be very accurate, no matter the weather. He has poise. If you don’t hit him early, you won’t have him rattled. He’s basically a No. 2 starter. When the starter goes out, he’s a guy who can hold down the game, a Charlie Batch type. It’s so overlooked in this league, but it’s very valuable. You can’t under-regard him. That said, they won’t ask him to do too much but be precise, throw the quick game, being very methodical. The deep ball is a weakness.”

On Eagles’ pass coverage and secondary working together: “Great front seven. Fletcher Cox and those dudes up front create a lot of matchup problems because they can throw so many options at you. They stay fresh. They have like six or seven really good guys up front. On the back end, Malcolm Jenkins and those guys, they play in great unison, they mix the coverages well. They play a lot of single-high [safety], but they will disguise their looks. When they do play man-to-man, they are able to battle because the front is so good. They can take risks, and you’ll see that this week. That’s what I like about their young corners. They aren’t the most talented in the league, but they battle. We couldn’t get Jalen Mills to open his hips once when we played them. There’s not always pressure, but consistently, this group gets after it. They make it very difficult to beat them over 60 minutes.”

On offensive line play and lack of explosive plays without Carson Wentz: “They won’t kill you in the run game, but it’s enough to stay honest. It’s not really about the explosive plays. They will hand the ball off and try to control the game. Alshon [Jeffery] has become, between him and [Zach] Ertz, have become basically the possession guys. You use Nelson [Agholor] as the gadget guy and vertical-stretch guy and use Ertz and Alshon to move the ball. Alshon can muscle you for position of the football. If the Vikings can contain the running game, it’s up to those guys [Jeffery, Ertz] to find chunk yardage, and I’m not sure how much will be available given the lack of consistent deep threats. On the O-line, the center-right guard-right tackle combo is really good. The left tackle and left guard, at times you can get matchups you can win. Make sure the center is always occupied and make sure your best guy is on the right side.”

Minnesota Vikings

On the Vikings’ defense and Mike Zimmer’s in-game wizardry: “You better put in overtime in your protection plans that week, work some late nights. Because Zimmer will make your head spin with all his different looks and disguises. He’s one of the best at it. [General manager] Rick Spielman has done a good job drafting well on defense, and together they built a defense to beat Aaron Rodgers. They have eight real guys on defense. The Vikings’ defensive line getting after you, that’s what they do best. Zimmer is one of the most underrated game-management guys. He’s so good when his team gets a lead. He does a great job manipulating what he does on defense, understanding he’s going to stop the run. He’ll blitz you, zone pressure you, come back and play straight zone coverage. Best way to beat them is to have stellar offensive line play. But their line can really get after the offensive line. Just not a lot of weaknesses here. Xavier Rhodes really impressed me in person. Better than I thought. Physical and uses his hands and body well.”

On the Case Keenum effect: “They’ll ask Keenum not to lose the game. They don’t ask him to do a whole lot. It’s like you’re playing mirror teams. They will make quarterbacks play methodical games and make precise throws. He’s always been a competent QB, and they use him to the best of his ability — rolling out, play-action and great defense enables him to succeed. Keeping the QB in the pocket will be key here. Make him stay in the pocket and he’s not as effective. The Vikings will keep trying to run on you, but if you keep them reasonable there, the game will shrink and you can try to make Keenum make tough throws. What helps is Minnesota’s O-line is big and they can pound you.”

On what to expect from Vikings receivers: “I know there’s a lot said about Adam Thielen as sort of a Cinderella story, but the guy can play. He’s precise in his routes and he knows how to get open. His speed is adequate. He’s a major player in this league. If he wins one-on-ones consistently, that will make Keenum’s day a lot easier. He’ll have a possession receiver in Thielen, and [Stefon] Diggs will stretch you. He’s got excellent hands and will battle you. The tight end [Kyle Rudolph] can make first downs, make the chains move. Diggs is big in this one because if he can break the game open with a big play or two against an aggressive Eagles group, that could be the difference.”

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1:36

NFL Live analysts Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson both like the Patriots over the Jaguars for the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots

On the options when covering Rob Gronkowski/Tom Brady combo: “What’s the answer for the tight end? That’s always the first question. Because when you double him and they spread you out and start throwing to backs, that’s the issue. You can try some double-teams on Gronk but can’t just stay in the same coverage — mix it up with man, zone, pressure. Jalen Ramsey is capable of helping out on Gronk, but the problem is they move Gronk around so much. That could disrupt what Jacksonville wants to do with their corners as a whole. I’d be shocked if they put Ramsey on [him] a bunch. They might disguise looks so he ends up on Ramsey’s side. But you’ll probably see a lot of Johnathan Cyprien on him, maybe one of their linebackers because they are athletic enough.”

On attacking Brady before and after the snap: “A good four-man rush is key, because if you have to rely on blitzing, Brady is so good at combating that. What’s helped him age so well is the fastest release in the NFL is still there in New England. The ball comes out so fast. Underneath coverage, rotations, identifying things pre-snap — the awareness is still off the charts. And their running backs are like receivers, so that takes some of the pressure off the outside. Their outside receivers maybe aren’t as deadly as in the past, but they don’t need them to be because of their balance with Gronk, the tailbacks and [Danny] Amendola, who is a good slot receiver.”

On Patriots defense’s strengths and weaknesses: “They put you in a ton of one-on-one matchups, be it up front because they play a lot of triple fronts or the secondary where they will match up and play man. You must win your one-on-ones against them. They will also try to take away your first option. Your supporting cast is so crucial against them. Have to win with your second or third option. Pass rush hasn’t been a strength. I know they’ve gotten to the QB a bunch, but most of their sacks (Sunday vs. Tennessee) were in the second half with the game out of reach. They have a number of guys who play hard and are well-coached in their front seven, but as a group is not elite by any means.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

On the good and bad of Blake Bortles: “If you go back and look at some of his throws during the season, his ability to throw the deep ball and his accuracy on that throw and his mobility are things that translate to cold-weather situations. You need to be able to run the ball. They are so much better with the lead because their defense helps them get through games. Leonard Fournette has shown he can control the game, which takes a lot of pressure off their passing game. Bortles won’t beat you with his legs, but he can keep drives alive. You’ve got to make him make a lot of throws. Get him in 25-plus range, put the game on him. If you look at what he’s done in the fourth quarter when they are behind, that hasn’t been his strength, bringing them from behind, especially when there’s more pressure. Make him be the hero.”

On the dangers of Fournette and controlling Jacksonville’s play-action: “You have to determine, ‘What are you going to take away?’ Can’t take away everything. I’d be surprised if New England doesn’t take the same approach and say, ‘If you’re going to beat us, beat us throwing the ball.’ So you’ve got to get people around the line of scrimmage and tackle and pursue him [Fournette] because he’s a yards-after-contact runner. New England is a heavy man team, so when you’re playing man, play-action is not as effective. People have their eyes on their coverages. If you’re playing zone, and linebackers are getting to the line of scrimmage and then try to get back to their zone, their drops can become play-action liabilities. But in this game, when the Jags fake the handoff to Leonard and try to throw behind the secondary, Malcolm [Butler] and Stephon [Gilmore] are locked into their coverage. Can they win in their coverage? … [Allen] Hurns is a decent receiver, Marcedes Lewis is capable. No. 84 [Keelan Cole], when we studied him, we saw big plays, second in yards per catch, without question their best deep threat.”

On the Jaguars’ best chances to pressure Brady: “The Jaguars don’t blitz a whole lot, which might be best because of the quarterback they are facing. So if they stay true to their identity, they absolutely must get front-four pressure on him. And they usually do. They are absolutely loaded here. That one guy, I can’t say his name, but he’s a monster [Yannick Ngakoue]. And they have a ton of guys they can throw at you. Getting pressure up the middle is best. Give him too much time or too much of one particular look and it’s over. You have to mix it up. Jacksonville has that model where they have five or six really good linemen, which keeps them fresh. The Jaguars’ linebackers are really athletic sideline to sideline. Against a cover-3 like they run, you can try to work the quick passing game against them, which is Brady’s specialty. How quickly do the linebackers react?”



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