- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

— Stewart Bradley was full steam ahead at the snap. Unblocked by the Minnesota Vikings‘ offensive line, he smashed into Adrian Peterson, quickly dispatched the running back and crunched Tarvaris Jackson as he released the football.

The pass fell incomplete, but the Philadelphia Eagles‘ defensive game plan was established on their first play of the game. The Eagles would send waves of blitzers at Jackson, who was making his first postseason start and is prone to mistakes under duress.

They would zone blitz, dropping a defensive end into coverage, to take away underneath passes and make Jackson hold on to the ball.

They would overload blitz, sending a linebacker and a safety from Jackson’s blind side, to force a turnover.

They would cause Jackson to implode. And it worked - even though the Eagles, third in the NFL with 48 regular-season sacks, dropped Jackson just once in a thorough 26-14 NFC wild card victory.

“You want to set a physical presence early in the game, so they know what you’ll be all about and they’re in for the long day,” said Bradley, the Eagles’ middle linebacker. “[Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson] likes to do that in the first little bit to bring pressure, disrupt him and maybe rattle him a little bit.”

After Bradley’s early blitz, the Eagles successfully contained Peterson and forced Jackson to try to beat them. He didn’t come close, completing only 15 of 35 passes.

Asante Samuel returned an interception 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, the Vikings’ receivers caught eight passes and only coach Brad Childress’ stubbornness kept Gus Frerotte on the sideline.

“I think we rattled [Jackson] toward the end,” Eagles defensive end Trent Cole said. “We made him get rid of the ball quick and move around, and he felt some of that pressure.”

Before the Vikings went into must-pass mode, the Eagles unofficially blitzed 13 times, probably a little below average for Johnson. But even when they didn’t send more than four defenders, they were making Jackson and the offensive line think about the play call.

“The way Jim blitzes, he keeps teams on their toes,” outside linebacker Chris Gocong said. “If there’s an inexperienced quarterback or somebody he thinks we can rattle, he’ll press the gas a little more.”

Johnson called blitzes - all five-man rushes - on three of Jackson’s first four pass attempts; the Vikings went incomplete, 9-yard pass, 9-yard pass and dropped interception.

During the Vikings’ first trip inside Philadelphia territory, the Eagles sent six defenders on second-and-8 from the 42, forcing Jackson to throw high and miss an open Peterson. On the next play, a five-man blitz forced another incompletion.

Despite keeping Peterson in check - his 40-yard touchdown run was the lone exception - getting Jackson out of sorts and leading 16-14 at halftime, the Eagles’ defense wasn’t satisfied.

“We were playing outside the scheme,” Bradley said. “We knew we had to emphasize a couple of things in the second half.”

In the running game, the Eagles tightened up, playing their gaps with more discipline to combat Peterson’s lighting-quick cuts. And in the passing game, once Brian Westbrook blew the game open with a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown, the Eagles began teeing off on Jackson. Childress’ vanilla playcalling didn’t help; Minnesota’s two innovative pass plays were 17-yard completions to tight end Jim Kleinsasser.

While the Eagles apparently have their 2009 quarterback in place - owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a published report that Donovan McNabb will be back - the Vikings have a big decision to make. For whatever reason, Childress believes Jackson is the guy despite his 2-4 record (including the playoffs) as the starter. Frerotte was 8-3 before breaking a bone in his back. Starting Frerotte next year, when he will be 38, isn’t an option because he likely can’t make it through an entire season.

Jackson lasted only two games this season before losing his job. At the least, the Vikings should sign a passer and conduct an open competition this summer.

“We’re disappointed because we felt like we had enough to keep going; we felt like we were the better team,” Jackson said. “But they beat us fair and square.”

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