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Will the Eagles Defense Bounce Back Against Vikings?

By Paul Macrie, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

Reality has set in for the Eagles during the last two weeks in road losses to the Lions and Redskins. The defense has taken a significant step back as well.

The unit has committed too many penalties, plus poor tackling has factored into the recent slide. Can the defense bounce back in an important home game against the Vikings on Sunday? There are indications that it can, but no guarantees that it will. 

After surrendering an astonishing 230 rushing yards against Washington last week, the Eagles run defense is now ranked 18th (104.6 yards per game). Though they are tied for third in points per game allowed (15.6), fourth in passing yards per game allowed (207.4), plus the least amount of pass yards allowed in only five games, there have been concerns about the defense's decline in recent weeks. It is time for Jim Schwartz to direct his unit back to its previous form. 

The Vikings elite defense is stealing most of the headlines from the Minnesota side this week, but the offense has performed well thanks to the play of former Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford will make his return to Philadelphia this weekend after spending one season in a midnight green uniform in 2015. His 2016 play has been phenomenal so far, and most importantly he has yet to commit a turnover in four starts. 

Minnesota is 14th in the league in points per game (23.8), 24th in passing (232 yards per game) and dead last in rushing (70.6 yards per game). The numbers don't tell the entire story. For an offense that is without Adrian Peterson in the backfield, Matt Kalil anchoring the offensive line and was missing top receiver Stefon Diggs in its last game, they are taking advantage of prime field position and a defense that has forced 12 turnovers. The +11 turnover margin has been very beneficial to the Vikings' early season success. 

The Eagles defense will need to get pressure on Bradford, who isn't a mobile quarterback and feels more comfortable stationed in the pocket. The defense failed to log a sack in last week's loss, and a Schwartz-coached unit normally finds a way to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. 

Some of the defense's undisciplined play is a cause for concern, especially Fletcher Cox's personal foul penalties in back-to-back weeks. Those plays proved to be enormous not only for Cox's wallet -- as a result of fines -- but also the score. Instead of likely field goals, the Lions and Redskins continued the drives and scored touchdowns. 

The bigger issue has been the missed tackles. During the first three games of the season, it was rare to see the Eagles defense miss a tackle. Sure tackling was a significant part to the unit's success early on. They will have to get back to the basics, something they might have ignored, or at least taken for granted in the last two contests. 

Minnesota's offense doesn't strike big fear in the eyes of defenses, but the current formula of protecting the football and Bradford's stellar play has been the difference. The Eagles will need to get back to forcing some turnovers, though they did produce an interception for a touchdown in the loss to Washington. They will need to do a better job of getting off the field on third downs this week in order to win. 

It is a little premature to declare crisis mode for the Eagles defense. Though they aren't the elite unit like some had suggested, they are still improved compared to the previous few seasons. It is imperative to maintain a physical edge on defense, but they must play smarter. 

One of the questions going into this week's game against the Vikings will be if the defense can bounce back from forgettable outings in Week 5 and 6.

It is an important week for the Eagles to regain its mojo. If they fail to do so, back-to-back division road games afterwards await them. It will be tough sledding, and confidence is fully necessary to win these games.  

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