The Philadelphia Eagles return to the scene of their first Super Bowl on Sunday when they look to pour a little bit more salt on the Minnesota Vikings’ wounds.
Both teams head into the game at 3-2, here’s your in-depth preview of this critical matchup.
EAGLES PASSING GAME VS. VIKINGS PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 93.7 PASSER RATING (18/32), 227.4 YPG (21/32)
MIN- 90.4 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (13/32), 204.2 YPG ALLOWED (6/32)
Philadelphia’s offense stalled at times last Sunday against the Jets, recording a trio of consecutive three-and-outs at one point. The attack was very conservative, especially once the Birds got up 14-0 and subsequently 21-0, but I’d expect a little more aggression from head coach Doug Pederson Sunday.
The offense scored a touchdown on their opening drive and the team scored 14 points in the first quarter after not putting up a point in three of the prior four opening frames to start the year coming in. The Eagles were dead last in first quarter scoring last year with 41 in the frame all of last season.
The Eagles were hoping that DeSean Jackson would be back this week from his abdominal injury, but the word now is that he’ll be back for their divisional showdown against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday. The Vikings have a lot of depth at cornerback led by the physical Xavier Rhodes, who I would consider to be a top 10 cornerback in the NFL. He’s always had trouble with speed and quickness, however, and a Jackson return may have allowed the Eagles to take advantage of it.
“You miss his explosiveness,” Pederson said of Jackson. The threat to stretch a defense. His ability to get open. Yeah, you miss that, yet at the same time, though, we can’t make excuses for it. We have to help him get healthy and get back on the field and then play with the guys we have.
[WR] Alshon [Jeffery] has been doing a great job. Nelly [WR Nelson Agholor] has been doing a great job. Our two tight ends have been solid. The run game has picked up, so we just have to make that work, as well.”
Alshon Jeffery posted two touchdowns in the 2017 NFC Championship game victory against Minnesota, but was limited to just two catches for 39 yards a year ago.
The Vikings are currently 13th in defending tight ends and Zach Ertz has totaled 18 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown in his two previous meetings against them. Ertz is the best tight end route runner in the game and has made mincemeat of Harrison Smith, who is one of the most reliable and consistent safeties in the NFL at the moment.
All season, Eagles coaches have raved about Zach Ertz’s route-running and the way he understands leverage. This is vs. first-team All Pro Harrison Smith. pic.twitter.com/O5vdAHQw17
— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) January 22, 2018
It doesn’t stop there either because the 12 personnel packages have also showcased the versatility of another tight end and that’s Dallas Goedert. He’s been a roadgrader in the running game, but he can obviously catch passes too and with Ertz already being a handful for Smith, the Vikings are going to have to figure out how to combat Goedert as well.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 27, 2019
Minnesota possesses arguably the best pair of edge rushers in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, but the Eagles also have two stud tackles at their disposal in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. The Eagles’ offensive line in general has played better the last few weeks following a discouraging start to the campaign.
EAGLES RUNNING GAME VS. VIKINGS RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 3.9 YPC (21/32), 111.8 YPG (17/32)
MIN- 3.6 YPC ALLOWED (5/32), 88.2 YPG ALLOWED (9/32)
Pederson gave the green light to giving Jordan Howard the rock more during his press conference on Monday.
“With Jordan, he’s kind of the guy that you kind of settle down in the run game and give him those touches. He’s a between-the-tackles guy. He’s big and powerful. He has good vision. And I really think Miles is learning from Jordan running the ball, which is a positive.
I think as we go, Jordan has been the lead back the last couple of games for sure. But Miles is learning and coming, and we are really happy with both of them.”
Howard has averaged 4.7 yards per carry as opposed to Miles Sanders’ 3.6, although Sanders has been effective in the passing game as Pederson eluded to above.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 27, 2019
Howard has a good history going against the Vikings, tallying three 100-plus yard games in six played against them while with the Chicago Bears from 2016-18.
VIKINGS PASSING GAME VS. EAGLES PASS DEFENSE
PHI- 87.2 PASSER RATING ALLOWED (10/32), 271.2 YPG ALLOWED (27/32)
MIN- 100.0 PASSER RATING (9/32), 191.0 YPG (29/32)
Kirk Cousins has an encouraging past against Philadelphia, tossing 17 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games against the Birds, going 5-3 with a quarterback rating of 101.2. Cousins has always done well against the Eagles because of his ability to get the ball out quickly.
Cousins, however, has taken more of a backseat in 2019 as the Vikings are back to running the ball like they did back in 2017 when they went to the NFC Championship Game. They are only one of two teams in the NFL at the moment who are running the ball more than they throw it (San Francisco) and Cousins didn’t throw two touchdowns in a game or throw for more than 300 yards in one until last Sunday during a 28-10 victory over the Giants.
Cousins was 22-of-27 for 306 yards in the win last Sunday.
I believe Cousins is the key if the Vikings want to prevail because the Eagles’ run defense is going to limit Dalvin Cook. Cousins is going to have to make throws for them to win, but the Vikings have the weapons in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs going against a still banged up secondary.
Douglas has emerged as the Eagles’ best corner, he has seemingly gotten better each and every week.
“I think the biggest thing is just his confidence level has gotten greater,” Pederson said. “Obviously, the more he’s played the more he’s settled in. He understands his strengths and weaknesses obviously and plays to those.
But the confidence in what he is capable of doing, and just sometimes has that knack for a ball. The ball comes his way it’s either a breakup or an interception, and he’s played well. He’s learned to tackle. He’s learned to be a little more aggressive there and that’s been part of just his process as a young player.”
Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox both remain out, but Sidney Jones is expected to return and it’ll be up to him and Rasul Douglas to combat with Thielen and Diggs. Orlando Scandrick will be in the slot to handle Thielen in there when he takes snaps from inside.
The Eagles’ pass rush put up 10 sacks against the Jets after registering a league-low three coming in. They shot up from 32nd to 12th in the NFL rankings. Minnesota is essentially right in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks allowed, yielding 2.2 per contest, which is 15th. The big mismatch on paper is on the right side of Minnesota’s line with second-year tackle Brian O’Neill going against Brandon Graham, who had three sacks last week. O’Neill is on the smaller side and plays with finesse, while BG possesses a lot of power. I can see Graham manhandling him on Sunday.
VIKINGS RUNNING GAME VS. EAGLES RUN DEFENSE
PHI- 3.2 YPC ALLOWED (2/32), 63.0 YPG ALLOWED (1/32)
MIN- 5.4 YPC (3/32), 166.4 YPG (3/32)
Dalvin Cook is currently the NFL’s second leading rushing through five games with 542 yards, but the Eagles are the top-ranked run defense in yards per game and second in yards per carry.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz explained what makes the run defense so dominant.
“We put an emphasis on it. I saw something this week that there were like nine 300-yard passers in the NFL, and I think their teams were 4 and 5 this week; 50/50 proposition.
I saw there were eight 100-yard rushers and their teams were 7 and 1. We have always put a big emphasis on stopping the run. When you can do that, that allows your pass rush to be able to go. So we put on emphasis on it. Our guys pretty well know what to do.
It doesn’t always look great, but going back to Sunday, that was such a big thing in that game. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for Le’Veon Bell as a player. Not just with the run, but the pass. He made a couple three-yard runs in that game that a lot of other guys would be minus 5 or minus 6. He was able to squirt through a small hole or break a tackle or stay alive. I think lost in ten sacks and a couple defensive scores and all that kind of stuff, we never really let them — and they came out trying to get Le’Veon Bell established, and our defense did a good job combatting that and giving us a chance to be able to rush the passer and those kind of things.”
Schwartz also spoke on the Vikings’ run game.
“They play well as a unit. A lot of zone blocking. A lot chop blocks, stretch run. You can see [Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor] Gary Kubiak’s influence into their run game.
And that’s the thing. When you talk about the zone run game, it’s not a one-on-one blocking endeavor. It’s five guys, six guys, plus a fullback all working together and tying the running back into it.
They’re all on the same page and they do an outstanding job of it. Like I said, it’s going to be a great match on Sunday. A good run defense against an outstanding run offense.”
Lots of stretch running means it is going to be important for the defensive ends Graham and Derek Barnett to string the runs out.
PREDICTION: Cousins will have the ball with less than two minutes left and the Vikings needing a touchdown to win. Of course, he’s going to come up short.