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NFC Championship Breakdown: Receivers and Running Backs

By: Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly editor 

Leading up to the Eagles matchup for the NFC Championship with the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here. 

In this edition of our week-long comparison we will look at the running back and receiver groups for both teams. 


Minnesota WRs & TEs | Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

Leading the Minnesota receivers is Adam Thielen. Thielen finished the regular season fifth in yards with 1,276, and eighth in receptions with 91. 

Thielen displayed phenomenal chemistry with quarterback Case Keenum throughout the season and established himself as a real threat at wide receiver in 2017. 

Stefon Diggs also had a great year with 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 regular season games. Diggs of course followed up his regular season with a six catches for 137 yards and the touchdown that sent the New Orleans Saints packing in the final seconds. Diggs very likely would have eclipsed 1,000 yards had he not missed two games.

Diggs and Thielen paced the league in receptions for much of the season and the only wide receivers to combine for more receptions than Diggs and Thielen were Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins.  

The Vikings also got excellent production from tight end Kyle Rudolph who caught 57 passes and eight touchdowns. Rudolph was tied for the second most touchdowns among tight ends in the NFL this season. 

The next closest pass catcher for the Vikings this season (aside from Jerick McKinnon who we will get to in a moment) was Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell caught just 20 passes this season, followed by Jarius Wright's 18 receptions. After the first three targets the Vikings struggle with depth. 


Minnesota RB | Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon

 Where the Vikings make up for the lack of depth among their receivers thy make up for by passing to their running backs. Jerick McKinnon finished fourth on the team with 51 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns. 

McKinnon is most dangerous in the passing game, only rushing for 570 yards on 150 attempts this season.

McKinnon's backfield partner is Latavius Murray. The goal line back also was unimpressive rushing the ball in 2017 with 842 yards on 216 carries. The pair averaged just 3.85 yards per carry. 

Murray and McKinnon's production continued to be subpar against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round with the two combining to average 3.1 yards per carry against a Saints' defense that finished in the middle of the pack in terms of run defense. 

The Vikings running game took a hit when rookie Dalvin Cook suffered a season ending knee injury. Since losing Cook - who was averaging 4.8 yards per carry - the Vikings have not been able to sustain a running game. 


Philadelphia WR & TE | Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

The Eagles are led by Zach Ertz's 74 catches and 824 yards, which he accumulated in just 14 games. 

Alshon Jeffery added 57 catches for 789 yards and Nelson Agholor caught 62 passes for 768 yards. The trio is the only group of any team to have three players with eight or more receiving touchdowns. Jeffery led the team with nine. 

The Eagles also got good support from their secondary group this season. Torrey Smith and Trey Burton combined for 59 catches, 678 yards, and seven touchdowns - five of which came from Burton. 

While the Eagles do not have one dominating player among their receivers, they do a tremendous job of spreading the ball around to open up a defense. That was on display in the Eagles divisional round matchup with the Atlanta Falcons when eight different players caught a pass. 


Philadelphia RB | Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement

The Eagles do not only share the wealth in the receiving game but also in their rushing attack - and it has resulted in the NFL's third-best running game averaging 132.2 yards per game. 

Led throughout the season by veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount with 766 yards, the group also was aided by the emergence of undrafted rookie free agent Corey Clement. Clement led the team with four rushing touchdowns and added two receiving touchdowns. 

The group got a huge shot in the arm when Howie Roseman acquired Jay Ajayi, one of the premier young running backs in the NFL. Ajayi would go on to lead the Eagles in yards per carry (5.8) and yards per game (58.3) after joining the team. 

The Eagles have three-headed monster at running back that can hurt you at any moment, and the physical nature of their running backs allows the team to run the ball even when it is obvious that the team is going to hand it off. 


Edge

The Eagles are clearly the superior team when it comes to running the ball.

The Eagles have averaged almost a half a yard more per carry and that is factoring in Dalvin Cook's now meaningless production. The Eagles' running backs averaged 4,71 yards per carry as a group, while McKinnon and Murray averaged nearly a yard less with 3.85 yards per carry.

It is much harder to determine an advantage with the receivers. While the Eagles spread the ball around the offense all season long, the Vikings found success by only passing to four players for the most part this season. 

The Vikings have a dangerous duo at wide receiver, but the Eagles can rely on the depth chart. The two teams are separated by just 16 passing yards in the regular season, and because of the parity among the production of the two teams' production in the passing game, this matchup is a tie. 

  QB RB WR/TE OL DL/LB DB ST
Eagles   - - - -
Vikings   - - - -

 

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