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Vikings Oppo Research: Eagles

The Vikings face the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football. It’s an early matchup between two NFC teams atop their division, and ascending the conference rankings.

The Eagles were an unlikely playoff team last season but won a tiebreaker with the Saints to gain the seventh seed with a 9-8 record. Last weekend, the Eagles had 2-score leads most of the time against the Lions on the road, including 38-21 at the start of the fourth quarter, only to see that lead dwindle to 38-35 with just under four minutes to play. The Eagles were able to run out the clock, however, and emerge with a win. The difference in the game may have been a pick six that Jared Goff threw in the first half, which appeared to be a miscommunication on a route that was an easy INT.

But focusing on the Eagles performance, I didn’t see a dominant performance, and there are some clear takeaways on what the Vikings might do to come out of Philadelphia with their second victory.

Breaking Down the Eagles Offense vs. The Lions

The Eagles’ offense is led by Jalen Hurts, who is a run-first quarterback. He’s not a dynamic runner like Lamar Jackson, but he’s big and has good straight-line speed. The Eagles use a lot of run-pass option plays, play-action, and run-option plays where Hurts either hands off to Miles Sanders up the middle, or keeps it and runs outside. He often runs parallel to the line of scrimmage as he assesses his run opportunity, picks a gap and goes or if well defended, throws it out of bounds. The Eagles had 39 run attempts for 216 yards (5.5 yard average) and 4 touchdowns against the Lions, so they like to run the ball. This was the key to their late season surge last season as well.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Eagles have a good not great offensive line. They still have All-Pros Lane Johnson at right tackle and Jason Kelce at center, but the other three offensive linemen are about average, maybe a touch above. They grade better as pass blockers than run blockers, but I wouldn’t say they are a dominant bunch, as has been the case in recent years.

JALEN HURTS

Watching Hurts on designed runs, he mostly takes what the defense gives him- he’s not super elusive but he can break a tackle. The play design is meant to challenge gap discipline, use misdirection, or simply allow Hurts to read the defense and hand off or keep depending on the movement of defenders.

Hurts had 90 rush yards on 17 attempts, but his most successful runs were on designed pass plays. The Lions blitzed Hurts a lot the first part of the game, and that was largely ineffective. Hurts was able to dodge blitzing defenders in the pocket and break away for nice gains on multiple occasions. I was surprised the Lions continued to blitz as often as they did, as it was ineffective about 80% of the time.

In designed runs for Hurts, it’s usually an option and if he keeps it he almost always runs outside.

Above is a bread-and-butter run option play for the Eagles offense. Expect to see variations of this regularly.

Above is Hurts scrambling against a blitz. He is difficult to pin down in the pocket. Disciplined pass rush likely to be more effective than blitzing Hurts.

MILES SANDERS

Sanders is a good, versatile back the Eagles use on run options up the middle or off-tackle most often. He broke some good runs against the Lions, but the Lions had a lot of poor tackling by their linebackers and defensive ends. He’s not the most dynamic runner, nor does he have great vision, but he can slip tackles on occasion and get what’s there otherwise.

Above, Sanders takes advantage of back-to-back well-blocked runs against the Lions. Sanders had 96 yards on 13 carries against the Lions.

OVERALL OFFENSIVE SCHEME

The Eagles scheme is pretty straight-forward. They’re a run-first team that looks to create opportunities for their run-first quarterback, use option runs to their advantage, and augment that with mostly short- and intermediate play-action passes. Unless they’re playing from behind, they’re not much more than a one deep-shot per quarter type passing team. Jalen Hurts is not a particularly accurate thrower, and he’s one of the worst QBs in deep ball accuracy. He’s also a young QB that isn’t the best at reading coverage schemes, so the Eagles like to keep the passing game fairly simple. Short/intermediate hooks/curls/slants with inside receivers, outs and comebacks with outside receivers. A screen here and there.

Against the Lions, the Eagles were playing with the lead after the first quarter, and so they could run their offense without having to deviate from their preferred game plan. They ran the ball 39 times and passed 32. That’s a 55% run rate. Hurts completed just 56% of his passes against the Lions and finished with an 80.2 passer rating.

The Eagles run an RPO, play-action based scheme that focuses on getting the defense, and linebackers in particular, to commit and then taking what the defense gives them. From that standpoint, it will be important for the Vikings’ front seven to remain patient and disciplined in their gap assignments and not get out of position with fakes and options.

Breaking Down the Eagles Defense

The Eagles’ defensive front has been anchored by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox for quite a few years now. And with guys like Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Javon Hargrave, and 336 pound, first-round pick Jordan Davis, there would seem to be quite a supporting cast as well. But on closer look, Graham is 34 years old and not the player he once was. Cox will be 32 in a few months and also well into his back nine. Barnett is out with an injury, and Davis, while everything you want in a run-stuffing nose tackle, was only on the field for 22 snaps against the Lions. The biggest negative for the 336-pounder coming out of Georgia was that his endurance/conditioning limits the number of snaps he can play each game.

And so what reads like a pretty stout defensive front gave up 181 yards rushing on 28 carries against the Lions (6.5 yard average) and 3 TDs, with just one sack on a bad snap. The Lions have two good tackles and a top center but are weaker at the guard spots, and none of them had a particularly impressive game against the Eagles, except maybe RT Penei Sewell, and yet the Eagles’ defense gave up 181 rushing yards and 35 points to the Lions.

The Eagles’ secondary is anchored by 31 year-old Darius Slay, who still plays at a high level despite coming up on his 32nd birthday. But from there the performance level drops quite a bit. James Bradbury is a journeyman cornerback, roughly average, along with Marcus Epps at safety (a former Vikings’ 6th round draft pick in 2019), while Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has been mediocre for a few years now. Avonte Maddox is small even for a slot corner (5’9” 184 lbs.) and has been a mediocre performer most of his years in the league.

Add in a couple average to above average linebackers, and the Eagles’ defense will present opportunities for the Vikings to exploit- as it did for a less formidable Lions offense last weekend.

The Lions had success against the Eagles’ defense week one, as the 35 points they put up would suggest. The Eagles allowed a 64.3% conversion rate on 3rd down and a 100% red zone TD rate.

EAGLES’ DEFENSIVE SCHEME

The Eagles’ run a 4-3 base defense (I did see one or two 3-4 fronts however), but I would expect to see their nickel (4-2-5) defense most of the time, as the Vikings will likely have 3 wide receivers on the field most of the time. Having a mediocre 5’9”, 184 pound slot corner on the field as much as possible is an advantage for the Vikings, run or pass.

The Eagles played either Cover 4 or Cover 3 against the Lions, roughly 60% Cover 4 and 40% Cover 3. It’s unclear how that may change against the Vikings. At first thought, the Eagles could have their best cornerback, Darius Slay, shadow Justin Jefferson. But on second thought, and considering O’Connell’s offense, that may not work out as well and could complicate things for the Eagles’ coverage scheme.

Lastly, the Eagles didn’t blitz a lot against the Lions. They started out with a few more blitz calls in the first half but seemed to get away from it as the game wore on. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles test the Vikings pass protection with some blitzes, try to make Cousins uncomfortable, and get the ball out of his hands sooner than he’d like. That may be their best option in slowing down Justin Jefferson. Wouldn’t be surprised to see more two-high safety looks from the Eagles’ defense either.

Eagles - Vikings Matchup

Unlike the Packers game, where it was more strength on strength when the Vikings’ offense went up against the Packers’ defense, this game will be more strength on relative weakness on both sides, which could lead to a higher scoring game. I do think the Vikings have the better defense on paper, and at least as good an offense, but we’ll have to see how it plays out.

VIKINGS OFFENSE VS. EAGLES DEFENSE

Offensively for the Vikings, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings running backs more involved, starting with Dalvin Cook, in both rushing and receiving. My guess is that the Eagles will try to eliminate big plays by playing two-high safeties a lot, hoping to pressure Cousins, and force the Vikings to make third-down conversions and long drives for touchdowns.

Their bet will be that the Eagles offense can do that better than the Vikings’ offense, as statistics from the last ten games or so would bear out- including last weekend.

For the Vikings, their hope will be twofold. First, that they can turn runs and underneath throws into big plays occasionally by forcing the Eagles’ defense to tackle well, which they didn’t do week one against the Lions. That could eventually open up longer throws as well. Secondly, the Vikings will hope to get out to a fast start and force the Eagles’ offense to play from behind- which eventually will take them out of their preferred game plan.

I also would not be surprised to see the Vikings use more tight bunch formations (3 receivers/back in a tight triangle formation) to create confusion for the Eagles defense, both in the pass and run game. Testing the Eagles’ ability to communicate and adapt on the fly could lead to some chunk plays for the Vikings, as the Eagles have a few new players in their secondary that haven’t worked together much yet.

EAGLES OFFENSE VS. THE VIKINGS DEFENSE

I don’t expect much change in the Eagles offense. They will do what Jalen Hurts does well- run the ball and throw mostly high-percentage passes in short to intermediate routes to move the chains. The key is to keep the Vikings defense, and particularly the Vikings’ linebackers, off-balance and a little out-of-position to allow their offense to work.

That’s not to say the Eagles don’t have good wide receivers- they do in AJ Brown and Davanta Smith. But the deep passing game is not Hurts’ forte. They’ll take their shots, but deep passes are not their go-to strategy. They’d rather wear down a defense with the run game and controlled passing attack, and if the defense cheats forward try to beat them with a deep shot. But overall the Eagles run a conservative offense that is well suited to their players and have been able to execute very efficiently since about mid-season last year. The Eagles finished last season ranked 4th in third-down conversions at 45.7%, and 8th in red zone TD conversions at 62.3%. After one game this season, they’re ranked 5th and 10th respectively.

For the Vikings’ defense, minimizing the Eagles’ run game and helping to win the turnover battle will be keys to victory. Holding the Eagles to under 150 yards rushing (which seems like a lot but this is their game) and producing more takeaways than turnovers is a recipe for success against this team. Forcing the Eagles to play from behind and get out of their game plan is one way to accomplish minimizing their run game, with the other simply being patient and disciplined in run defense, tackling well, and getting good support outside from defensive backs in run defense. A disciplined pass rush is important as well, as Hurts likes to pull the ball down and run when nobody is open.

The Eagles did not turnover the ball against the Lions, which was key in their road win last weekend. I would be surprised if the Eagles avoided any turnovers against the Vikings. The Vikings had two takeaways last weekend against Aaron Rodgers, who doesn't turnover the ball much at all. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hurts have a fumble and an interception Monday night as well.

Lastly, keeping the Eagles out of the end zone when they enter the red zone is also key. Hurts has just 17 TD passes in his last 17 games, so stopping the run in the red zone will be key. In general, the Vikings defense will be better served by making Hurts beat them with his arm rather than his legs.

Bottom Line

The Eagles team is a lot different than the Packers team the Vikings defeated last weekend. They’re not as good a defense as the Packers and run a quite different offense as well- but have been remarkably successful with it. The Eagles offense finished 12th in points and 14th in yards last season. The Vikings offense finished 14th in points and 12th in yards.

The key to this game may well come down to which team’s defense does the better job slowing down a top offense. On paper the Vikings’ defense looks like a stronger unit, and with a couple savvy veteran linebackers they may have more difficulty getting them to bite on their RPOs and play-action passes, which could make moving the chains more difficult for the Eagles offense.

Getting out to an early lead on the road would be ideal for the Vikings, but that remains to be seen. I like the Vikings’ chances of winning the turnover battle though, but how they fare in run defense is less certain. I expect a close game and a good test, especially defensively, for the Vikings on Monday night.

The Vikings are currently two-point underdogs on the road against the Eagles.

Poll

What will the result of the Vikings-Eagles game be?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Vikings win by 13+ points
    (124 votes)
  • 38%
    Vikings win by 6-12 points
    (378 votes)
  • 26%
    Vikings win by 1-5 points
    (254 votes)
  • 10%
    Eagles win by 1-5 points
    (102 votes)
  • 7%
    Eagles win by 6-12 points
    (69 votes)
  • 4%
    Eagles win by 13+ points
    (40 votes)
  • 0%
    Game ends in a tie
    (8 votes)
975 votes total Vote Now