Both teams have pretty solid rosters, but their 3-2 mark leaves them a bit behind the leading contenders for a NFC or Super Bowl title. This is the first game in a brutal stretch for the Eagles- Vikings, Cowboys, Bills, Bears, Patriots, Seahawks - with those first three on the road.
For the Vikings, playing at home, they need to break the trend of beating bad teams but struggling against better ones - and the Eagles are one of the better teams in the NFL. The Eagles will be missing some key players on Sunday, and the Vikings will be missing one - RG Josh Kline - in a battle for 4-2 versus a much less respectable 3-3.
If the Vikings are to come out on top, they’ll have to do well in some key match-ups, with at least a couple of more questionable starters needing to play reasonably well.
Let’s take a look.
Vikings Offensive Line vs. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham
Vikings right guard Josh Kline will not play on Sunday due to a foot injury, which leaves Dakota Dozier in his stead. That’s not ideal against the likes of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. That match-up for the Vikings offensive line was going to be key to begin with, but without Kline it becomes a tougher assignment.
A big element in this match-up is how the Eagles position Graham and Cox. I would expect Cox to be on Dozier most of the game, and Graham to play a wide weak-side defensive end position (sometimes known as ‘LEO’).
Against the Packers, the Eagles lined up this way:
As you can see from these images, the Eagles like to play their defensive ends wide, and use Fletcher Cox on the left side. I would expect the same against the Vikings, as I suspect the Eagles like the Fletcher Cox - Dakota Dozier match-up.
Brandon Graham typically plays on the weak-side, but favors the left side in a balanced set.
That likely matches Graham against Brian O’Neill most of the time, unless the Vikings choose to make that the strong side more often than not.
In obvious passing downs, Fletcher Cox moves to the outside shoulder of the guard, making double-teams more difficult.
Derek Barnett typically plays the other defensive end opposite Graham, and Hassan Ridgeway has seen most of the action at the other defensive tackle spot. Josh Sweat also rotates at defensive end, and sometimes both Graham and Cox can man the interior spots.
Lastly, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to blitz a linebacker and/or defensive back on occasion, so the Vikings offense will need to be prepared for that as well. Orlando Scandrick has been particularly effective as a blitzer so far this year.
The Bears, although they use a 3-4 front, used a similar approach against the Vikings of having their edge rushers out wide, to better contain and force outside runs inside, where they like their interior defenders to make the tackle. That approach can also make play-action roll-outs and screen passes a bit more difficult as the tackle needs to be able to block the edge rusher in space.
For the Vikings, the best way to approach this may be to run a lot of double TE sets, which would keep Orlando Scandrick off the field, while offering some help to contain the edge rushers. I would imagine Garrett Bradbury would most likely be helping Dakota Dozier with Fletcher Cox, but this leaves open the possibility of a LB blitz getting home.
I suspect the Vikings would rather work opposite of Cox and Graham in their outside zone runs, as Barnett and Ridgeway are not as effective against the run.
The Eagles have a weak secondary, however, and I suspect if the Vikings are going to have success offensively against the Eagles, it will largely be through the air. The Eagles play a lot of zone coverage, with some man- usually off-man - mixed in.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will likely be matched-up against Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones at CB, and I expect if the Vikings are going to have success passing, it will because Cousins takes some shots down the field against these two, hoping Diggs or Thielen can win any contested catches.
If the Vikings do run a lot of 2 TE sets, I wouldn’t be surprised if Irv Smith gets more involved. Targeting him on seam or crossing routes over the middle off of play-action will put some stress on the Eagles linebackers, and could result in some big plays.
Vikings Edge Rushers vs. Eagles Tackles
Everson Griffen, Jason Peters, Danielle Hunter, and Lane Johnson are all Pro Bowlers. But Jason Peters is now 37 years old, and while he still plays at a high level, the big man is on the downslide and likely in his last season. Moreover, he’s nursing a knee injury that’s limited him in practice this week. I wouldn’t be surprised if Everson gets past him a couple times on Sunday.
On the other side, Lane Johnson is a solid right tackle who hasn’t given up a sack this year. But Danielle Hunter is likely the biggest challenge he’s faced so far this year. Johnson is still only 29, but his grades have been edging down the past few seasons.
On the interior, I’d expect the Vikings to sacrifice Linval Joseph to double-teams against Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks, two Pro-Bowlers, in hope that either Shamar Stephen or Ifeadi Odenigbo can get by the weak link in the Eagles’ offensive line - left guard Issac Seumalo. If either can get some pressure on Carson Wentz, that would have a big impact on the Eagles passing attack.
One option I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings used on occasion is sliding Anthony Barr up outside of Jason Peters, and sliding Everson Griffen and Shamar Stephen inside. That would leave perhaps a little gimpy Peters to chase Barr outside, while Griffen could attack the weak-link in Seumalo.
Zach Ertz vs. Vikings Coverage
Unsure how the Vikings will elect to cover Zach Ertz, but minimizing his production may be the single biggest thing the Vikings can do to gain a victory. Ertz is the Eagles’ leading receiver, and Wentz counts on him often in key 3rd down situations. Making Wentz look elsewhere increases the odds of the Vikings getting off the field on 3rd down, so taking away Ertz will be key.
The rest of the Eagles’ receiving corps - Alshon Jeffrey, Nelson Agholor, TE Dallas Goedert, and Mack Hollins - are decent but inconsistent. Catch-rates for all of them are under 60%. None of them have the desired over-the-top speed, so the Vikings could opt for another game of tight coverage, hoping the defensive front can get Wentz off his game.
The Vikings offensive line is going to have to do a better job against the Eagles defensive front than they did against the Bears two weeks ago. The Eagles secondary may not be as good as the Bears, so that leaves more opportunity, but the Eagles offense is also better than the Bears, so the Vikings defense will have to minimize Carson Wentz and the Eagles passing game if they’re to come out on top.
Without Josh Kline upfront, the Vikings task becomes more difficult, and most likely getting a good game out of Kirk Cousins, who’s 5-3 lifetime against the Eagles, will be key- along with a good game plan.
Against the Packers and Bears, the Eagles fate may have come down to turnovers. They were -2 against the Lions and lost, and were +2 against the Packers and won.
This is likely to be a close game, but home field advantage and not losing the turnover battle will likely give the Vikings the W.
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