The Eagles head into Minnesota with a huge week 6 match-up against the Vikings. Both teams are 3-2 with hopes to win their respective divisions and secure a first-round bye.
The Vikings, who are 2.5 point favorites, come into this game with some momentum on the offensive side of the ball.
On Sunday they defeated the New York Giants while Adam Thielen got the squeaky wheel treatment with 7 receptions for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns on 8 targets. This came after a quote where it sounded like he was criticizing Kirk Cousins for not throwing deep enough.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are coming off a much needed stress-free victory against the hapless New York Jets. The offense sputtered, but the big story from the game was the Eagles pass rush who showed up with 10 sacks after having only 3 coming into the game. Below we will explore the specific match-ups between the two teams.
Vikings Passing Offense vs Eagles Pass Defense
This is the most interesting match-up because it is strength vs strength in regards to how both teams want to play. The Vikings want to run to take the ball out of Kirk Cousins’ arm, while the Eagles built their defense on stopping the run first. According to Football Outsiders (FO), the Vikings have the 6th best rushing offense in the NFL, while averaging the 3rd most rushing yards per game. FO also rates Dalvin Cook the best RB in the league. He is having a fantastic year with 542 yards, 5 TDs, and averaging almost 6 yards per carry (YPC).
The Eagles defense has had their struggles to start the season, but the one thing they have been consistently good at is stopping the run. They give up the least amount of yards per game with opposing teams averaging only 63 rushing YPG.
With Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry as plus run-defenders, the Eagles certainly have the scheme and personnel to minimize the damage on the ground. FO ranks them as the best run-stuffing defensive line across the league. Despite how the Vikings want to play on offense, every time they run the ball should be considered a win for the Eagles defense.
The Vikings have faced only one good rushing defense all year (Bears), and Dalvin was limited to 35 yards on 14 carries (2.5 YPC)
Vikings Passing Offense vs Eagles Pass Defense
This is a game where the Eagles are hoping that the Vikings continue to try and run the ball over and over again. The Eagles secondary is extremely banged up, and even when they were healthy they were among the worst in the league. Despite holding the Jets and Luke Falk to 120 passing yards, the Eagles still have the 4th worst passing defense in the NFL in terms of total yardage, giving up 1,356 in 5 games. In the 4 other non-Jets games, the Eagles gave up an average of 309 YPG, which would be the 2nd worst across the league. The Eagles should get Sidney Jones back after he didn’t play a snap last week, but a secondary featuring Jones and Rasul Douglas on the outside with newly signed Orlando Scandrick in the slot doesn’t exactly strike fear in anybody.
The Vikings seem to have the motto of “the less Kirk Cousins does the better.” In their 3 wins Cousins has thrown an average of roughly 19 passes per game, which would be by far the lowest among all qualified QBs. With this said, the Vikings still have a clear advantage through the air. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are high-quality starters who torched the Eagles when they played last year and combined for 17 catches, 207 yards, and 1 TD.
If the Vikings decide to throw more, the only Eagles hope would be their defensive line wreaking havoc. As has been the case for a couple years now, the Vikings o-line is their biggest weakness on offense. After exploding for 10 sacks against the Jets, it is TBD if the Eagles can continue their momentum in a much more important game and better opponent. Take out the Jets game and the Eagles have the lowest sack total in the NFL.
The Eagles aren’t lucky enough to face a laughable Jets team this week. The only question is whether the Vikings are smart enough to take advantage of their mismatch through the air.
Eagles Rushing Offense vs Vikings Run Defense
The Vikings predictably have a stout defense both through the air and on the ground. Looking at the ground game specifically, this is not a game where the Eagles are likely to take over in the same way they did against the Packers in week 4. The Vikings have the 2nd best rush defense according to FO, giving up only 3.6 YPC.
Despite their big game against the Packers mentioned above, the Eagles still rank in the middle of the pack as a rushing offense. FO ranks them 16th with 3.9 YPC. They might have discovered something recently with the emergence of Jordan Howard (4 touchdowns in his last 2 games) but rookie Miles Sanders has yet to emerge. He has disappointed with a 3.6 YPC and has received criticism for not hitting the hole and taking what the o-line has blocked. He has the habit of trying to bounce plays outside when he shouldn’t. This is common for a young RB, but something the Eagles still need to coach out of him.
The Eagles’ best hope is explosive plays from their most athletic back in Sanders, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Eagles Passing Offense vs Vikings Pass Defense
As mentioned earlier, the Vikings are strong through the air. FO has them ranked as the 4th best passing defense in the NFL, and also the 4th best defense overall. They have high-end talent across all positions on the defense, especially at both defensive end sides in Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter. The Eagles have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, as they have the 8th best-adjusted sack rate. This is defined by FO as a stat that “gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.”
Wentz does not have the gaudy stats to back his play up, but he has been terrific to start the season. The biggest complaint with this Eagles passing attack is the lack of deep shots. They only had two deep throws last week (both to Agholor, but one was called back on a defensive penalty) but both fell incomplete. While Agholor was re-routed by the CB, it still looked as though he could have done a better job tracking the ball both times. Simply put: Djax probably makes both those catches, and that is what has been missing since week 1.
Despite the high overall pass defense-grade, the Vikings CBs haven’t played up to their reputation. Their starters are Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes, both of who are graded below 70 on PFF. This isn’t a great match-up on paper, but Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor (who has been quiet the past two games) both have winnable match-ups. The Eagles’ biggest advantage through the air, though, is Zach Ertz. He has torched the Vikings the last two times they have played to the tune of 18 catches for 203 yards and 1 TD on 19 targets.
This Vikings pass defense might be a little overrated with their weakness at CB, and the Eagles will be the highest rated passing offense they have faced so far even with all the injuries.
The Eagles are extremely banged up. They are expected to miss 5 starters in DeSean Jackson, Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, Timmy Jernigan, and Darren Sproles.
Meanwhile, the Vikings are healthy with only one starter in guard Ben Kline who might miss the game.
Mike Zimmer is a solid defensive mind, but despite having relative success since taking over the Vikings in 2014 (50-34-1 overall record), he is not thought among the best coaches in the league. The reason for this is because he is almost always at odds with his offensive coordinator. He fired the first-year coordinator John DeFilippo in the middle of the season last year for passing the ball too much. He wants his offense to be run-heavy to control the clock and rely on their defense to win. He is not aggressive on 4th down, and his overall approach is to be risk-averse to avoid doing anything to lose the game, as opposed to being aggressive and trying to win. This is fine and dandy for the regular season, but will not translate to success in the postseason.
This philosophy is in direct contrast with Doug Pederson, who is as aggressive as they come. The Eagles consistently lead the league in 4th down and two-point conversion attempts. Entering his 4th year in the league Pederson has developed the reputation of being one of the most progressive coaches in the league. His players love it and it has led to success as well, making the postseason each of the last two seasons with a Super Bowl run in 2017.
It is the year 2019 and there are still coaches like Zimmer out there that believe the best way to win is by running the ball on offense, despite copious amounts of data that suggest the opposite.
The Eagles continue their win streak and take down the Vikings 28-24. The biggest advantage for either team is the Vikings receivers against the Eagles CBs, but fortunately for the Eagles Zimmer does not seem smart enough to take advantage of that. Dalvin Cook has 20 carries for 50 yards, while the Eagles find enough success on offense to consistently move the ball and score points.
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