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Five Good Questions With Bleeding Green Nation

We take a look at this week’s contest through the eyes of our sister site, Bleeding Green Nation.

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

It’s time for our weekly rendezvous with the enemy, ladies and gentlemen, as we’ve exchanged some questions with the folks from Bleeding Green Nation, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to Philadelphia Eagles football. This week, the Minnesota Vikings will head into Lincoln Financial Field with an opportunity to remain the NFL’s only undefeated team and to continue shocking the NFL. The Eagles, on the other hand, are in a bit of a tailspin. They got off to a hot 3-0 start, then hit an early bye week, after which they’ve dropped their last two. They’ll be trying to get back on the right track this week at Minnesota’s expense.

I exchanged questions with Adam Hermann of Bleeding Green Nation. Once he has my responses to his questions posted at BGN, I will put them on our front page for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, here’s what he had to say concerning the questions I had for him.

1) The Eagles got off to a flying start this season. . .see what I did there. . .and found themselves 3-0 after their first three games. Then they got the early bye and have dropped two in a row. Do you think there's a connection between the early bye and the Eagles' performance dropping off?

It’s hard to say. The Eagles were obviously playing at their ceiling in those first three weeks. No one, not even the players or coaches themselves, expected a 3-0 start. I think, if the Eagles had faced the Lions in Week 4 instead of taking a break and facing them in Week 5, the Eagles probably would have won based largely on momentum, but I know everyone doesn’t believe in momentum.

I also think the last two weeks show you what happens when teams start to get film on you. With Jim Schwartz re-vamping the Eagles’ defense, and Carson Wentz taking over a whole new offense from Doug Pederson, both sides of the ball were essentially unknown commodities, which can make it hard to game plan for if you don’t have the right amount of tape to figure out tendencies and patterns. After three weeks, things start to reveal themselves, and it seems to me the Lions and Washington simply exploited things they started to see. The Eagles are probably a little better than a .500 team this year, so the comedown was expected, bye week or no.

2) Obviously, we can't talk about the Eagles without asking about their rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz (particularly as a North Dakota native myself). With the way he's performed through the Eagles' first five games, what have Doug Pederson and company done that has helped ease his transition from FCS football to the National Football League?

Pederson and the Eagles’ coaches have made sure Wentz feels at home in the offense. If you follow Eagles writers and Football Outsiders writers, you’ve likely seen the arguments about “air yards,” but if you haven’t, I’ll sum it up real quick. A writer for Football Outsiders thinks, due to screen passes and quick throws, Wentz’s play has been less impressive because he hasn’t thrown the ball downfield very often.

It’s a flawed argument for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that Wentz actually has thrown the ball downfield multiple times. Pederson has built an offense that is tailored to keeping Wentz efficient and comfortable, which means plenty of quick reads, and not a ton of plays where he holds on to the ball for an eternity. That second point is especially important now that their best offensive lineman is out.

Wentz will still take his shots at the long balls, because he as a player loves to sling it downfield, but what Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich have done is craft an offense where Wentz’s margin for error is slim, and then Wentz hasn’t made many mistakes. It’s been a great match for a guy who didn’t need a ton of help, but certainly needed some.

3) There was a story earlier this week about Sam Bradford having the Eagles' playbook and whether or not the Eagles might have to change things up as a result of that. Do you really think that it's going to have a marked effect on things this weekend?

I doubt it’ll have too much of an effect on the way Sunday’s game goes. There are players all across the league who know things about former teams. You can know all you want; if your players aren’t good enough to execute what you know, you’re still going to lose.

I think the Vikings’ defense is the best in the league, and the Eagles’ offense is struggling right now. That’s why Minnesota is going to win this weekend, not because Sam Bradford has the Eagles’ playbook and can give the Vikings’ defense some kind of unfair edge.

4) Philadelphia's defense, after being a bit of a weak spot last year, has been on fire for the first five weeks of the season. They were 28th in the NFL in points allowed in 2015, and have skyrocketed up to #3 in the NFL so far this year. What's been the biggest change in the defense this season?

One big change, obviously, is in who’s controlling the defense. Jim Schwartz is an aggressive defensive coordinator; he had huge success in Buffalo for one year, and he’s done largely great things with the Eagles so far this year, last week’s game excluded. He brings his Wide 9 defensive scheme to the Birds, which entails very little blitzing. With the Eagles’ talented defensive line — Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham, just to name a few — they generated more than enough pressure in those first three wins to disrupt quarterbacks’ timing and let linebackers drop into coverage, taking away options down the field.

They also added two key players during the offseason in linebacker Nigel Bradham and safety Rodney McLeod. Bradham is an exceptional cover linebacker. He can hang with most any tight end in the league, and even a few wide receivers, and has changed the way the Eagles’ linebacking corps operates. In McLeod, the Eagles found a playmaking, big-hitting safety who pairs well with Malcolm Jenkins. McLeod covers ground like no other player in the league, and creates turnovers like it’s his job. (Well, I suppose it is, but still.)

5) Give us one player on each side of the ball for the Eagles that Vikings' fans might not necessarily know about that you think will have a big impact on the outcome of Sunday's game.

On the offensive side, I’m going with — get ready — Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Before last week, 99 percent of the league didn’t know who he was. Then Lane Johnson got suspended, Vaitai was named the team’s starting right tackle as a rookie, and Carson Wentz had his jersey torn in half on the first play of the game against Washington. Vaitai had an awful debut against Ryan Kerrigan and Washington’s defensive line. He couldn’t hold his own in run blocking or pass protection, and was bowled over time and again for sacks in the first half. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has doubled down on his support for Vaitai, and the rookie will be starting again this week. With the kind of talent Minnesota has amassed on the defensive side, look for the Vikings to attack the right side of the Eagles’ offensive line all afternoon.

On the defensive side, Brandon Graham has been the Eagles’ most consistent source of disruption from the defensive line. He’s not necessarily an unknown commodity, a first round pick who had a solid 2015. But he’s stepped up in a big way this season, with three sacks and 14 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in five games. With Fletcher Cox spinning his wheels a bit the last few weeks, and Bennie Logan’s status very much up in the air, Graham is the man the Eagles will likely rely on to get pressure on Sam Bradford, as well as plug up the run game.

Bonus: Who wins and what's the final score?

I think the Vikings win, and it won’t be close. Something about 26-16 feels right to me. Minnesota’s just too good, and without Lane Johnson, the Eagles don’t have a shot.

Thank you to Adam for taking a moment to sit down and answer our questions about this week’s contest. Again, keep an eye on BGN this week for all of their coverage leading up to kickoff.