By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
This week, the Eagles travel up north to their second home in Minnesota to take on the Vikings. For those of you who forgot, the Eagles won Super Bowl LII in the Vikings' house, after they kicked the living daylights out of them in the NFC championship game two weeks prior.
Make no mistake about it, this week is a rivalry week. It may not have the history that the Eagles rivalry with the Cowboys or Giants has, but oh baby does it have the bad blood.
It’s not necessarily bad blood between the two teams, but these two fan bases have genuine hate for each other. Here’s one reason why:
Before the NFC championship game, Vikings fan pulled this stunt, claimed they were “taking over Philadelphia," and then whined and complained that Eagles fans were mean to them after all they did was talk trash before the game.
Philadelphia fans hate this fanbase. I despise this fanbase. Minnesota fans are everything Philadelphia fans are not. They have this kind of fake toughness aura around them, evidenced by the way they acted during that NFC championship. Most of all, though, Minnesota fans are soft (again, see the way they acted after the NFC Championship). This is one thing that Philadelphia fans will never be accused of, and the fans take extreme pride in that.
Eagles Offense vs. Vikings Defense
The Eagles offense finally got off to a strong start in the first quarter last week against the Jets. Unfortunately, after Jordan Howard plunged in from a yard out on the first possession, the Eagles offense only mustered 10 points the rest of the way against the woeful Jets. Nobody on the offense had their best game, including head coach Doug Pederson.
Since DeSean Jackson sustained an abdominal injury in week two, this offense has really lacked explosiveness. The offense will be without DeSean again this week, but he is aiming toward a return next week in Dallas. With the offensive weapons they have outside of Jackson, the lack of explosiveness honestly makes sense. I wouldn’t label anyone else on the offense as “explosive.”
Other than maybe the occasional wheel route from Miles Sanders or the missed deep shot to Nelson Agholor, all of the offensive weapons are more possession type players. It’s time for Pederson to get creative with the play calling. He’s going to have to against Minnesota’s stingy defense.
The Vikings boast one of the best defensive units in the league. Minnesota is allowing the fourth-fewest yards per game (292.4), while also allowing the fifth-fewest points per game (14.6). There isn’t a weakness on this defense, as they also rank in the top ten in pass yards and rushing yards allowed. Not to mention, they are a brick wall in the red zone, as they allow less than 50% of red zone possessions to end with a touchdown.
Minnesota’s defensive line has some monsters, as they have 15 sacks through five games. Pass rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen will have maybe their toughest match-ups of the year, though, against Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. Linval Joseph is a beast of a defensive tackle and is a key cog of Minnesota’s game plan against the run. The Birds offense will have to neutralize him if they want to run the ball effectively.
The Vikings linebackers are strong against the run and the pass. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr form one of the best duos in the middle of any defense in the league. Barr recently re-signed with Minnesota over the offseason, landing a lucrative contract. He is worth the money.
Minnesota’s secondary has not been the same force that they have been the past few years. Make no mistake about it, they are still an above average unit, certainly better than the Eagles secondary. Although, it is clear that this year they can be beaten.
Starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes has not had a good start to his season, so I expect the Eagles to target him. In recent years, that would have been an absurd idea. Safety Harrison Smith is still a fantastic football player with incredible instincts. My advice would be to throw to the side of the field he is not on. Zach Ertz isn’t afraid of him though.
Eagles Defense vs. Vikings Offense
The Eagles defense had easily the best game of their season last week. While the Jets are awful and they were starting their third-string quarterback after giving all the practice reps to their regular starter during the week, the defense played far better than anyone anticipated. 10 sacks to go along with two defensive touchdowns is one heck of a performance. Unfortunately, The Birds do not play the Jets every week.
The Eagles remain dominant against the run, ranking as the best team in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed. They will face easily their toughest test this week though, against young stud running back Dalvin Cook. The Vikings have the third most rushing yards per game, at a whopping 166 yards per game. When your quarterback is Kirk Cousins, you have to do what you have to do to keep the offense afloat.
Okay, Kirk Cousins is not that bad. He’s a strictly average quarterback. The thing that separates Cousins from other average quarterbacks, though, is that even average quarterbacks can stumble their way into a big win. Cousins has the most incredible stat I may have ever seen.
Kirk Cousins possesses a career record of 5-27 (1-8 with the Vikings) against teams with a winning record. Five wins. In 32 games. That’s a 15.6% winning percentage against perennial playoff teams. Also known as teams you would have to beat to, you know, win the Super Bowl.
Simply put, when the lights shine brightest, and the pressure is on, you probably don’t want Cousins leading your team. It’s okay though, Vikings fans. Your team is only paying him (checks notes)...$28 million per year, fully guaranteed. All that money to have a 15% chance at beating a team with a winning record. Incredible.
All that being said, Cousins played well last week after his own receivers called him out the week before for being bad. Speaking of those wide receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs form quite the duo. They are very talented players who run great routes and don’t drop the football. They should absolutely torch our banged up secondary. If I know the Eagles the way I think I do, this defense has the capability to make Kirk Cousins look like Joe Montana.
I’m very nervous about this game. I think if the Eagles were at full strength and didn’t have so many injuries to key players, they would have the advantage over Minnesota. Alas, the Eagles are missing two of their top three cornerbacks, their deep-threat wide receiver and two key special teams returners in Darren Sproles and Corey Clement.
The Vikings also play much better at home than they do on the road. Both of their losses this year have come away from their spaceship that they call a stadium. However, something that is in the Eagles favor is their incredible ability to stop the run.
If the Eagles can stifle the Vikings potent running attack, that means the ball will be in the hands of Kirk Cousins more than Minnesota would like. Sign me up for that. Stopping the run is the key to this game. Make Kirk Cousins beat you. History has shown that he probably won’t. If Jim Schwartz’s unit stops the run, they will win the game. If they don’t, it will be a long afternoon.
I’m putting my trust in Schwartz and his men to do what they’ve done with consistent greatness all year. Eagles escape with a 23-21 win. Cousins has a good game against our putrid corners, as Thielen and Diggs are open all day long. Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz have big games, and Carson Wentz doesn’t turn the ball over yet again. Cousins has the ball late in the game with a chance to drive his team down the field and win the game. He doesn’t get it done.
Eagles fans take over U.S. Bank Stadium and mock the Vikings skol chant (again).
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass