Vikings Learn Why Eagles Are Among NFL's Best in Red Zone

Three times they drove inside the 20, three times they were denied.

The Vikings opened Sunday's game against the Eagles at the Linc by driving to the 6-yard line and the 17-yard line in the first quarter and then added another drive to the 6-yard line in the fourth quarter.

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Each time, the Eagles' defense stopped them.

The Vikings got the ball at the 2-yard line 5½ minutes into the game after Andrew Sendejo's interception and 16-yard return. But two plays later, Rodney McLeod picked off Sam Bradford in the end zone, ending that threat.

On the Vikings' next drive, after Carson Wentz's fumble and Anthony Barr's recovery, the Vikings had a 1st-and-10 on the Eagles' 17. But on the very next play, Connor Barwin stripped Bradford and Malcolm Jenkins recovered.

Then early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had a 1st-and-Goal on the Eagles' 15, but the Eagles stopped the Vikings on downs, with Jordan Hicks stuffing fullback Zach Line on 3rd-and-1 from the 6 and Beau Allen stuffing Matt Asiata on 4th-and-1.

Three red-zone drives. Zero points.

"It's huge, man," McLeod said. "The past few weeks we've been giving up touchdowns, (which is) uncharacteristic of us. So we just locked in and we just played sound defense. And fundamentals and technique showed up huge. 

"The defensive line did a great job and guys in the back end covered up and we were able to make a lot of plays because of that."

Sunday marked the first time in 12 years the Eagles have held an opponent scoreless on three separate red-zone drives.

On Sept. 12, 2004 — opening day of the Super Bowl season — the Eagles beat the Giants 31-17 at the Linc, and the Giants had three late drives inside the 20 that resulted in no points:

• On a 3rd-and-Goal from the Eagles' 1-yard line late in the third quarter, quarterback Kurt Warner fumbled on an aborted play and Jevon Kearse recovered at the 4-yard-line;

• On a 4th-and-Goal from the Eagles' 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Warner threw incomplete to Ike Hillliard with Ike Reese in coverage;

• And at the end of the game, relief quarterback Eli Manning, playing in his first NFL game, was sacked by Jerome McDougle — the first of his three career sacks — at the Eagles' 19-yard line.

The Vikings did score in the red zone Sunday at the end of the game, but the bottom line is the Eagles allowed only seven of a possible 28 red-zone points in a game they won by 11.

"It's huge, it is huge," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Our defense — you look at Minnesota, interception, a fumble on downs, they had a touchdown late in the game. Our defense playing as well as they did down there and stopping them — again, it does start up front, and the pressure on the quarterback.

"I'll tell you what, it was fun to watch our defense (against the Vikings). That's the defense that we expect every week going forward."

The Eagles have faced 20 red-zone drives this year and allowed nine touchdowns and four field goals.

That's 3.75 points per possession, which is second-best in the NFL behind only the Seahawks (3.69 points per possession).

They're No. 1 in red-zone scoring efficiency, allowing those 13 scores on 20 drives (65 percent), and they're No. 5 in TDs allowed with nine on 20 drives (45 percent).

"First thing is stopping the run and we did a good job of that," Malcolm Jenkins said. "And then once you stop the run, you pack the middle of the field and you've got to make them throw outside and if they make a mistake you've got to come up with a turnover.

"There was the one good pressure we stopped them running it, the one I batted the ball up in the air and Rodney comes up with the pick, and the other one we get a fumble recovery. Those are all big. Those plays, you can't scheme them up, you've just got to go down there and make something happen."

The Eagles are allowing 2.4 yards per pass play in the red zone, which is sixth-best in the league this year, and they're allowing 1.0 yards per rushing play, which is — by far — best in the NFL.

Overall, they're allowing 1.81 yards per play inside the 20, second-best in the league behind the Panthers (1.77). The league average is 3.0.

There's no magic to it.

"It's just bowing up," Hicks said. "It's toughness down there. We knew they like to run the ball and we shut them down. Make them one-dimensional and force them to pass. When they did run it, we stopped them.

"Just shows the character of this defense and the toughness and mindset of this defense as well."

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