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Spadaro: One game away from flying to the Super Bowl

The Eagles have to play to their strengths and avoid letting the Vikings defense make big plays if they hope to represent the NFC in Minnesota in the big game.

By Dave Spadaro

In the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles see something of a mirror image of themselves: The offense is operated by a backup veteran, a journeyman of a quarterback (Case Keenum) who has marched the Vikings to this spot, one game away from the Super Bowl.

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Minnesota, has a fully-loaded defense, makes big plays on special teams and plays tough, smart, physical football.

So if the Eagles are looking at themselves, and scheming a gameplan to beat a team that, essentially, matches the same skills, how do they win?

Here are some keys to success for the Eagles on Sunday to beat Minnesota and advance to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis ….

• Give quarterback Nick Foles a clean pocket with great protection in the passing game. Foles completed 23 of 30 passes against Atlanta and got the ball out of his hands quickly and he improved as the game went along. He was also sacked only one time. A muddy pocket means trouble for Foles.

• Run the football at least 28 times and gain 120 yards. So these are random numbers, but the point is that the Eagles are going against a Minnesota defense that is stout up front and that is going to load the box. The Eagles have to keep in front of the chains, play physical and stick to the running game. They aren’t beating the Vikings with the passing game.

• Get an early advantage. Playing catch-up football is a nightmare against Minnesota, although New Orleans did so with a dynamic passing game. The Eagles aren’t as dynamic. They need to gain an early advantage. Look for some kind of “shock” play for the Eagles in the early possessions.

• The defense has to make Keenum lose his cool. Let’s be honest here: The Vikings were extremely lucky the Saints blew it defensively on Sunday. Keenum looked shaky and frenetic in the last quarter until the final 61-yard touchdown catch-and-run play delivered the winning points.

• Jim Schwartz and his defense have a lot to think about, particularly with a very strong group of Vikings receivers. Look out for the screen game to the running backs and the dangerous abilities of wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. It’s critical that Schwartz gets pressure from his front four in this game.

• Win the turnover battle. Somehow, the Eagles defied the analytics and beat Atlanta despite losing the turnover score, 2–0. Teams that win the turnover game by two win on the scoreboard roughly 80 percent of the time.

• Make plays on special teams. The Eagles gaveth away (a muffed punt, a missed PAT and a kickoff out of bounds) and tooketh (three Jake Elliott field goals) in the Atlanta game. They can ill afford a giveaway and a missed PAT and a kickoff out of bounds on Sunday. They must win field position.

• Finally, feed off the energy from the crowd. If you were there on Saturday, you stood the entire time and you rocked Lincoln Financial Field. Can you give more this week? The Eagles are still the underdogs and they’re playing a team that thinks it has been granted divine rights to the Super Bowl. The fans need to make a difference in the Eagles’ favor. ••

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