Eagles Secondary Pumped For Matchup

The Eagles secondary, made up largely of second- and third-year players and nine-year veteran safety Brian Dawkins, is talking confidently of its matchup against Randy Moss and the Vikings receivers. With three Pro Bowlers in that secondary, they have that right.

The Eagles own the most decorated secondary in the NFL. Three of their four starters — cornerback Lito Sheppard and safeties Brian Dawkins and Mike Lewis — are Pro Bowl selections this season. The other corner, Sheldon Brown, was named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team.

Sunday, the foursome will get its biggest test of the season when the Eagles face red-hot Daunte Culpepper and the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Culpepper threw for 343 yards and completed 78.7 percent of his attempts in a 27-16 Week 2 loss to the Eagles. But they held him to one touchdown pass and 7.3 yards per attempt. Only four teams held him to fewer yards per attempt this season, and just five other teams held Culpepper to one or fewer touchdown passes.

Culpepper averaged an NFC-best 8.61 yards per attempt this season and had 63 completions of 20 yards or more and 18 of 40 yards or more. Only Peyton Manning had more 20-plus yard completions (68), and only the Eagles' Donovan McNabb had more 40-plus yard throws (20).

But in the Eagles' Week 2 win, they allowed Culpepper just one completion of more than 20 yards. They kept Randy Moss and the rest of the Vikings' receivers in front of them and used their outstanding tackling skills to limit their yards after catch. Randy Moss had eight catches in that game but averaged only 8.6 yards per reception.

"We did a good job of containing their big plays and keeping them out of the end zone," said Sheppard.

Sunday, Culpepper threw four touchdown passes in the Vikings' first-round win over the Green Bay Packers. But the Eagles' secondary will cause Culpepper a few more problems than the Packers' poor-covering, bad-tackling unit did.

"No disrespect to Green Bay, but we're not going to give up the big plays, the long plays downfield like they did," nickel back Rod Hood said.

Heading into the season, Eagles fans had great trepidation about Sheppard and Brown's ability to replace Pro Bowl corners Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, who weren't re-signed in the offseason. But Sheppard and Brown have played well. Having Dawkins and Lewis behind them hasn't hurt, either.

The Eagles gave up just 16 touchdown passes this season, which was the fewest since ‘01, when they allowed just 13.

Sheppard, who was named a first-team All Pro last week, likely will draw the lion's share of assignments against Moss, who aggravated his sprained ankle in the win over the Packers. Moss will have about a five-inch height advantage, which means Culpepper likely will throw a lot of fades his way.

"It's an All-Pro vs. an All-Pro," said Lewis. "Speed on speed. Moss has the ability to make plays, but so does Lito. It's going to be an exciting matchup. I can't wait for it."

Sheppard had five of the Eagles' 17 interceptions this season. Before resting many of their starters in the final two games of the regular season, the Eagles had registered at least one interception in 10 straight games.


EAGLES NOTES

  • WR Todd Pinkston averaged an impressive 18.8 yards per catch this season, best in the league among players with 30 or more receptions. But that success was tainted by three late season plays in which he shied from contact on passes in the middle of the field. There's also the memory of him getting bullied last January by Carolina's little cornerback, Ricky Manning, in the Eagles' NFC Championship Game loss to the Panthers. Pinkston didn't have a catch in that game. "When you go back to last year, all people talk about is the Carolina game," Pinkston said. "And this year in the regular season, it has been all about those (three plays against the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys). Now everybody is (saying), ‘Hey, what's Todd Pinkston going to do? Get rid of him.' I don't worry about that. All I'm thinking about is that this is a new year and a new playoff."

  • Donovan McNabb on the Eagles' passing game without Terrell Owens: "T.O. isn't the only receiver out there. I think a lot of times people forget the fact that we play with three or four wide receivers, and those guys make big plays for us. I'm not really worried about any negative things happening to us in the pass game. I think it's going to be awesome. I think we're going to open up some eyes and make people understand that we can run this offense with the guys we have."

  • RB Brian Westbrook has averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per touch and has eight touchdowns in his last six starts. He has caught 39 passes for 450 yards in those six games, an 11.5-yard-per-catch average.

    BY THE NUMBERS: In their last four games, the Eagles have converted just 15 of 51 third-down opportunities. That's a miserable 29.4 success rate.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't like to talk. I'm not worrying about what's expected of me or what people think of me or any of that. It's a different season now, a new season. I know what I can do. I just have to go do it." — Eagles wide receiver Todd Pinkston.



  • Viking Update Top Stories