The strip sack.
Big plays were a “big fucking deal” on Sunday night, as Joe Biden once said.
But lost in the glow of flashy highlight-reel stuff was a clump of key plays that made everything else possible, with smaller victories piling up in cumulative fashion on both sides of the ball. In a game that did not start in the Eagles’ favor, there was some tricky ground to navigate towards the end of the first quarter, and the Birds really executed on the strength of some crucial individual efforts.
Here’s my top five sneaky-important sequences from Sunday’s 38-7 win, not necessarily in order of importance, but going chronologically through the first half:
5. 3rd and 6
It was the Viking drive right after the pick-6, with the ball game tied at seven.
Jim Schwartz called a safety blitz on second down to force a quick throw and incomplete pass from Case Keenum.
On third down, he brought pressure again, this time throwing a pair of linebackers up the gut and asking his secondary to play man-to-man coverage with a single high safety in coverage. Malcolm Jenkins fought through a pick play to attack Stefon Diggs and hang on for a critical tackle:
They’ve got 8 guys at the line of scrimmage with Rodney McLeod completely out of the picture as the emergency valve:
Jalen Mills is pulled off Diggs with a Kyle Rudolph pick, but Jenkins pushes through, grips him up, and makes the play.
4. Blitz recognition
On the ensuing Eagles drive, it was 3rd and 10 from right around midfield, an obvious passing down. Would the Vikings try to pressure Foles in the same way Keenum was pressured?
Yeah, they would, but the Birds did a really nice job of diagnosing the coverage.
In this clip, you’ll see both Nelson Agholor and Nick Foles point out Harrison Smith creeping toward the line. And when I say “point out,” I mean they literally lift up their arm and point at the guy.
Foles does it twice:
It’s really smart stuff, but somebody has to account for the blitzer.
That’s Corey Clement, who smartly gets over to Foles’ front-side to put a body on Smith, as the other safety, Andrew Sendejo, rotates back into coverage from the weak side:
On top of that, you have Zach Ertz getting the critical YAC yards to move the chains. It’s a nice combination of pre-snap read via film usage, with an individual effort to boot.
3. The right way to rub
I’m staying with the Birds’ second drive because it led to the game-winning touchdown.
They converted again on third down in the red zone, this time with a little flare to Ertz that was made possible by some good back-side blocking and a really nice rub route from Mack Hollins:
Just perfect execution and timing, with the Vikings diving towards the run fake side and Hollins selling the pick on Smith.
He sort of sticks his butt out a little bit and kicks out the left leg while putting his hands in the air as if he’s looking to catch the ball:
Clean stuff, nice simple pitch and catch from Foles to Ertz to keep the drive moving. And Hollins does his best Darius Kasparaitis impersonation with the hip check, only without crushing his opponent into the boards.
2. The play before the play
On the sequence leading to the strip sack, the Birds stuffed a first down run to present the Vikings with a second and 9.
Minnesota found Jerick McKinnon in the flat with some room to run, and while he almost snuck by Mychal Kendricks for a big gain, the linebacker was able to hang on and force him out of bounds, putting Pat Shurmur into a passing down on the ensuing third and 5:
Doesn’t look like much, but when you freeze it, you can see McKinnon plant his arm in the ground and re-balance himself, just as Kendricks looks like he might over-pursue and whiff on the tackle with the first down marker in sight:
Stefon Diggs runs a little skinny slant/post whatever to make space for McKinnon and clear Ronald Darby out of the way. Kendricks has to make that tackle there because I don’t think Darby is getting over in time to shove the receiver out of play.
1. The broken tackle
Corey Clement’s second appearance on the list also involves third down.
And I feel like nobody was talking about this on Monday, but the catch and run he made to convert on the Eagles’ second scoring drive might have been the individual effort of the game:
Consider the fact that the Eagle defense had just forced a red zone turnover. It was still a one-score game. It was getting close to halftime. The Eagles could have punted right back to Minnesota, but that effort kept the drive moving and led to Foles finding Alshon Jeffery for a 53-yard bomb that essentially sent the Birds to the Super Bowl.
The most impressive thing was that Clement caught the ball three yards behind the line of scrimmage and needed nine to pick up the first down. He put Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr on roller blades and got all the way to the 36 yard line:
Corey Clement, man. He’s been making big plays all year long.
And he’s a rookie.
An undrafted rookie.