We're just a few days away from Minnesota and Philadelphia facing off in the Metrodome. Brandon Gowton, Manager of Philadelphia Eagles site Bleeding Green Nation, was kind enough to exchange a Q&A with us about his red-hot team that's riding a five-game win streak. My answers for his Vikings questions will be posted on BGN shortly; when they are I'll provide a link here. Here's what Brandon had to say:
1. The Eagles are currently in first place by themselves in the NFC East thanks to their current 5-game win streak under first year head coach Chip Kelly. Was the Eagles' slow start just the team getting used to the new fast-paced regime or did it take a while to get the correct personnel in place? Besides the speed of the offense, what makes Philadelphia's offense so dangerous under Kelly?
There was definitely an adjustment period going on in the Eagles' slow start, especially for the defense. The Eagles also faced some tough competition in a short amount of time: they played their first three games in a span of only 11 days.
What makes Kelly's offense so dangerous is the simplicity of it. It's not about making things complicated and hard to figure out. It's about forcing the defense into mismatches and exploiting those vulnerabilities. A lot of it comes down to execution, too. Chip's system doesn't matter much if the players aren't doing their part. And that's exactly what the Eagles have done recently: executed. Nick Foles is making the right reads and throwing the ball without turning it over. LeSean McCoy is taking the handoff off the read option and getting great run blocking in front of him to work with. DeSean Jackson has the speed to run by anyone he wants to.
2. Like Minnesota, there has been a lot of discussion about the quarterback situation in Philadelphia. (Unlike Minnesota, most of the talk has been positive.) Is Nick Foles the undisputed quarterback of the future in Philadelphia? He has been playing out of his mind during Philadelphia's hot streak. Do you think this level of play is sustainable for Foles? What does he still need to work on going forward? And if Foles is the guy, what does the team do with Michael Vick next year?
Foles' level of play is sustainable to an extent. The 19 TD to 0 INT ratio was a pretty crazy start to his season, but he finally threw an interception in the Lions last week. Turnovers will happen at times, but I don't see them ever being a major issue. One thing Foles need to work on is his accuracy. There were a few passes in the Cardinals game the other week that made for harder catches than they needed to be. Ideally those throws need to be more crisp.
I don't think he's the undisputed QB of the future because Chip Kelly isn't ready to make that call right now. There are still a few games left, and they're very important games. It's critical to see how he does down the stretch here. Beyond that, I'd say yes, he has a great chance to be "the guy" here moving forward. He's played well and the team is winning. That's what matters.
The Michael Vick situation is tricky. It's a good question. He's a very good teammate and he's accepted his new role on the bench without a problem. He's been very supportive of Foles and team. In this respect, it's not hard to see the team bring him back as a veteran backup. On the other hand, this is Michael Vick we're talking about here. He's a fierce competitor who wants to play. If Vick isn't ready to settle in as a backup, he will look for a job somewhere else. Vick leaving is more likely than him staying, but I wouldn't definitively rule out either option.
3. While most of the talk about the Eagles has been about their high-powered offense, the defense has also improved, especially against the run. (Pro Football Focus gave them a -40.2 rating against the run last year; this year it's +42.7.) Is this another result of a change in scheme? Which players have improved this season and which new pieces are working better than the players they replaced? Or is it just the fact that Philadelphia is forcing a lot more turnovers in 2013 (25 already this year after forcing a league-worst 13 all of last year)?
The scheme change has certainly helped. The Eagles ran a 4-3 defense with a wide-nine alignment up front prior to switching to their current 2-gap 3-4 defense. The Eagles defensive linemen aren't just selling out on the pass as much as they were in the past. They're controlling the line up front and allowing their linebackers to be clean and free to make tackles. Personnel is a big part of their success as well. Defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox are a strong pair up front. Thornton is especially good at stopping the run and Cox can get after it as well. Another thing that's helped is the Eagles just generally seem better at tackling. Improved fundamentals have gone a long way in becoming a solid defense.
4. Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that Vikings fans may not know about but could have a big impact on Sunday's game.
Offense: Tight end Zach Ertz. The Eagles second round pick had his best game of the year against the Cardinals two weeks ago. Ertz didn't record a single pass against the Lions in the snow but I think he could see some more action against the Vikings. The Eagles are working him more into the offense as the season goes along.
Defense: Cedric Thornton. I already mentioned Thornton above but depending who plays at runningback with the injuries to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, he could be critical in stopping the Vikings' rushing attack.
5. Finally, give us a prediction of how the game will go. Do the Eagles take care of business or can the Vikings pull the upset at the Metrodome?
Chip Kelly says every week is the Super Bowl, so I have a hard time seeing him get caught up in a trap game. The Eagles are hot and I don't see why they shouldn't be able to handle their business against Minnesota. Eagles win, 31-17.