Tough Eagles defense feeling good

Philadelphia is focusing on stopping Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, something it was able to do last year. This time around, the Eagles are feeling even better about their run defense.

The Eagles are fourth in the league against the run this season, their best ever regular-season ranking under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

They've given up more than 122 rushing yards in a game just three times and have held opponents to a puny 3.11 yards per carry in their last seven games.

But Johnson's defense will face its biggest challenge of the season Sunday when the Eagles face Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the playoffs.

Peterson led the league in rushing this season with 1,760 yards. He had a league-high 20 runs of 20-plus yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Has rushed for 100-plus yards in eight of the Vikings' final 11 regular-season games. The Vikings are 7-1 in those eight games.

"He's as good a back as you'll see," Johnson said. "He's a special guy. We know, from going up against him last year. You think you have the perfect defense (to stop him) and one guy slips and falls down in a gap, and all of a sudden, he's got that great explosion and hits it and turns it into a big play.

"We need to keep those long runs down with him. He's going to get some yards. But you just hope he doesn't break any long runs. Because that's where he really kills teams. When he gets those 60-, 70-yard runs. That's where the challenge will be for us. To keep those runs under 10 yards."

The Eagles did a very good job on Peterson last season. They held him to 70 yards on 20 carries in a 23-16 Eagles win. Thirteen of those 20 runs gained two yards or less. Just two were for more than eight yards.

Last season Johnson had the team's video department put together a tape of Peterson's best runs. He inserted clips from the movie "The Gladiator" between the runs. Then he showed it to his defense the night before the game.

"That guy, that guy is a beast," Eagles strong safety Quintin Mikell said. "He's had another great year. He's the key to their offense. We have to play well against him.

"We've got to get everyone to the football. Against a guy like that who can run past you and break tackles, you've got to get everyone to the football. If you don't do that, you're going to be in for a long day."

Johnson has had some pretty good defenses in the 10 years he's been in Philadelphia. But this one may be his best. They were one of just three teams, along with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, to finish in the top five in the league in total defense, run defense, pass defense, points allowed and third-down efficiency.

In the last seven games, they allowed more than 14 points just twice and held opponents to 249.1 yards per game.

"As well as this defense is playing right now, it would've been a shame (if the Eagles didn't make the playoffs)," Johnson said. "I can't remember feeling this good (about a defense going into the playoffs). The biggest thing I see right now is consistency and not giving up a lot of big plays, a lot of big runs. And coverage has been one of the best we've had really."

BY THE NUMBERS: .643 - That's QB Donovan McNabb's completion percentage over his past five games. He has thrown nine touchdown passes with just one interception during that span.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's having fun. It's almost like he's playing a video game and (he's saying), ‘I can put this guy here, this guy there.' Everyone's making plays. Everyone's got speed and power. He's in a very enviable position to be able to do that." - Safety Quintin Mikell on defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd meeting. Regular-season series is tied, 11-11. Eagles have won both playoff meetings, including a 27-14 win in the ‘04 divisional playoffs. Eagles defeated the Vikings in Minneapolis last season, 23-16.

NOTES

  • That the Eagles are even in the playoffs is a minor miracle. They went into the last week of the regular-season needing the four-win Oakland Raiders to beat Tampa Bay. They also needed the Houston Texans to beat Chicago or the New York Giants to beat the Vikings. As it turned out, the Raiders beat the Bucs and the Texans beat the Bears, and then the Eagles went out and crushed the Dallas Cowboys, 44-6 to earn their seventh playoff invitation in the past nine years. "It was an electric day at Lincoln Financial Field," said coach Andy Reid, who found out about the Bucs and Bears losses just before kickoff of his own game. "I just thought the energy level was up at maybe the second highest volume that I have seen since I've been here. It was an exciting, exciting atmosphere. I thought the fans were awesome. I thought the situation with the other teams having to win or lose, whatever side you were looking at it from, to play out to give us an opportunity to play that game (against Dallas) for the playoffs, I just thought that added to the flavor of it all."

  • DE Victor Abiamiri didn't practice Wednesday and is expected to miss Sunday's playoff game against the Vikings with a sprained foot. He also sat out last week's game against Dallas.

  • G Shawn Andrews continues to rehab his surgically-repaired back, but hasn't been given the clearance from his doctor to start practicing yet. He won't play Sunday.

  • RB Brian Westbrook, who has been nursing knee and ankle injuries most of the season, didn't practice Wednesday because the Eagles went inside and practiced on their artificial surface. Westbrook usually doesn't practice when they do that. He'll play Sunday.

  • RT Jon Runyan continues to nurse a sore knee that's been bothering him for several weeks. He didn't practice Wednesday, but will play Sunday against Minnesota.

  • TE L.J. Smith tested out his ailing shoulder Wednesday. He practiced on a limited basis and still remains very questionable for Sunday's playoff game against Minnesota.


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