The Vikings welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to US Bank Stadium this week, and there is a lot at stake. Both teams are 3-2 and can’t afford to lose another game in what is quickly becoming a brutal NFC this year. With that backdrop in mind, we asked all around good dude Brandon Lee Gowton, the site manager of Bleeding Green Nation, some incredibly poor questions about this week’s game. As is always the case with these, our guest made me look exceptionally good with his answers, so I’ll take full credit for the high quality post you are about to dive into. I hope you enjoy, and if you’d like head on over to enemy territory and check out my answers to Brandon’s questions.
DN: What’s been the issue with consistency with Philly so far this year? The Eagles sit at 3-2, had a really impressive road win against Green Bay...but have a loss at home to Detroit, and what looks like a really bad loss to the Falcons.
BGN: A really bad loss, indeed. The Falcons sure are looking terrible.
A common thread between the losses to Atlanta and Detroit? Injuries and bad luck. Every team obviously has to deal with injuries at some point but the Eagles’ situation against the Falcons was a total anomaly. DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, AND Dallas Goedert all inexplicably suffered injuries in pregame warmups that night. Three players who combined for 15 receptions, 221 yards, and four touchdowns in Week 1 were suddenly gone from the game plan just minutes before kickoff.
Despite this major inconvenience, the Eagles were still in position to beat the Falcons. Carson Wentz recovered from a bad first half and nearly carried the team on his back to victory. Of course, Nelson Agholor dropping the potential game-winning touchdown pass did him no favors.
Drops continued to be an issue for the Eagles against the Lions as they were still without Jeffery and Jackson. Wentz’s targets dropped SEVEN of his throws that day. The Eagles also had two fumbles — one by the aforementioned Agholor — that led to six Lions points. Making matters worse, they allowed a kickoff return touchdown for the first time since 2013.
The Eagles were staring 1-3 in the face down 10 to 0 at Lambeau Field in Week 4. Aaron Rodgers was previously 58-0-1 in those situations. But the offensive line took over the game and the defense made some big plays in order to upset the Packers. Resiliency has been a hallmark of Doug Pederson’s teams. You can’t count them out when their backs are against the wall.
The Eagles are far from a flawless team. But they’ve been in every game this year despite their inconsistencies.
DN: Was there a faction of the fanbase that seriously thought Nick Foles should have been the guy, considering everything he accomplished combined with the injuries Carson Wentz suffered? How has Wentz looked so far this year?
BGN: There was a small faction, yes. Haven’t been hearing from them much lately as Foles — who, unlike Wentz, still hasn’t ever played a full season — recovers from the broken collarbone he suffered in Week 1. Kind of crazy that Foles could conceivably get Foles’d himself in the sense of losing his job to sixth-round rookie sensation Gardner Minshew.
Wentz’s traditional stats aren’t so impressive but there’s a strong case to be made he’s outperforming his box score numbers. Pro Football Focus, which has Wentz graded as their No. 2 quarterback through five weeks, recently laid out that argument:
”So far this season, there aren’t many quarterbacks who are playing much better than their stats would indicate, but Carson Wentz does stick out as his PFF grade is far better than his No. 19 ranking in passer rating. As we highlighted last week, Wentz has had incredibly bad luck, as many of his best throws have fallen incomplete thus far this season. He has the most positively graded throws that have fallen incomplete, including five big-time throws. Those five accurate big-time throws would move Wentz up about 10 spots in passer rating, highlighting just how significant just five plays can be in shaping player perception.”
This isn’t to suggest Wentz has been flawless. His accuracy could afford to improve. He’s left some plays on the field.
Still, Wentz is at least playing well enough for his team to be in position to win every week. He’s doing a great job at taking care of the ball with just two turnovers so far. And both of those came when he was pressing in the first half of that anomalous Falcons game.
There’s reason to believe the Eagles can contend with Wentz under center.
DN: The Eagles are dealing with a lot of injuries for early in the season. What are a couple of the bigger names Vikings fans should be keeping an eye on, and how will their status affect what the Eagles will try to do on Sunday?
BGN: Jackson being out is obviously a big detriment to the offense. The speedy veteran led the NFL in yards per reception last season and he looked great in Week 1 this season with eight receptions for 154 yard and two touchdowns. With Jackson hurt, the Eagles haven’t had a wide receiver catch a pass for more than 20 yards since Week 2. The Eagles’ offense hasn’t been able to rely on big play ability as much as they’ve had to string drives together where they methodically move the ball down the field.
The Eagles’ cornerback situations also bears watching. Sidney Jones is on track to return this week after not playing in Week 5 due to a hamstring injury. If the Vikings are smart, they’ll go after Jones right away and see just how healthy he is. Jones was struggling prior to getting hurt so there’s concern about him out there. If Jones can’t stay healthy, well, the Eagles could be forced to put former Vikings undrafted free agent signing Craig James out there at cornerback. James actually had to start for Philly’s defense in Week 5; that’s how banged up the Eagles have been in the secondary.
[ED Note: NOT the Craig James that killed five hookers at SMU]
DN: Who is one kind of under the radar Eagles player on offense and the one guy on defense the Vikings need to account for, and how does Minnesota neutralize their effectiveness?
BGN: Offense — Dallas Goedert. A big reason why the Eagles were able to beat the Packers is because they were so good operating out of 12 personnel. Green Bay decided to use their nickel defense against the Eagles’ two tight end sets and Philly’s coaching staff responded by running the ball down their throats. During the game, former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah noted Goedert was like a sixth offensive lineman for the Eagles with the way he was blocking. Goedert only caught two passes for 16 yards in that game but one was for a big first down conversion and another was a touchdown. He’s more of an efficient target than a sheer volume guy. I’d imagine the Vikings will be keying in more on Zach Ertz considering how he has 18 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown in his last two games against Minnesota. If that’s the case, that could open up opportunities for Goedert if the Vikings aren’t able to find the right matchup (linebacker who can hang in coverage? or a physical defensive back?) for him.
Defense — Brandon Graham. Maybe not so under-the-radar considering he was the guy who strip-sacked Tom Brady to clinch the Eagles’ Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, but I think he’s a key player to this week’s matchup. Not unlike the Brady play, Graham had success generating pressure (three sacks) against the Jets in Week 5 while lining up as an interior defensive lineman. The Eagles will be looking to attack the interior of that Vikings offense line. Minnesota would do well to forgot about running the ball so much, as that plays to the Eagles’ defensive strengths, and instead focus on a quick passing game to negate the Eagles’ pass rush.
DN: How do you expect the Eagles to attack the Vikings, and how do you think the game turns out?
BGN: Offensively, well, I’m not sure. The Vikings’ defense is really good as it ranks fourth in defensive DVOA. Unless the offensive line just flat out dominates like they did in Green Bay, I have a hard time believing the Eagles can count on running the ball a ton. It feel like Carson Wentz will have to carry the offense with his arm. Wentz’s wide receiver options aren’t so great considering Alshon Jeffery still looks impacted by his calf injury and Agholor has been a disaster with drops and fumbles. The Eagles could really have to rely on their tight ends having big games in this one.
Defensively, I think the Eagles would love for the Vikings try to “establish the run.” Jim Schwartz’s unit has done a great job of limiting opposing running backs this season. If the Vikings are smart, they’ll look to attack this leaky Eagles pass defense. At that point it’ll be up to the Eagles’ pass rush to get pressure on Cousins and force him into mistakes. Cousins is accounting for the fourth highest percentage of negative plays by quarterbacks this year, per The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia.
This is a tough call. I don’t have a great feel for this game. My gut tells me the Eagles lose because this is a tough spot; the Vikings have the third best home winning percentage since Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014. But I’ve never been a big Cousins believer, going back to his days playing for Washington. It would very much go against my belief system to count on him to deliver a big win, despite his previous success against Philly’s defense.
I’ll take the Eagles in an extremely close game: 24 to 23.
Thanks for your insights and info on Sunday’s match up, Brandon. here’s to a good game with no injuries. And thanks for making me look good.