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Vikings at Eagles: A Preview

What to expect Thursday night

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings hit the road to Philadelphia this week for their first prime time matchup against the Eagles. This looked to be a measuring stick game for the Vikings back when the schedule came out, playing a top team in the Eagles and also in Week Two, just like last season. As you know, the Vikings got beat pretty soundly by the Eagles in Week Two last season, falling 24-7. It was a game where the Vikings got surprised by some of the calls made by the Eagles- both offensively and defensively- which the Vikings weren’t prepared for and led to the 24-7 score at halftime. A positive was that the Vikings didn’t allow any scoring from the Eagles in the second half. On the other hand, the offense was not able to score in the second half either.

What’s Changed from Last Season

There are personnel changes for both teams from last season. The Eagles have a new offensive and defensive coordinator, while the Vikings have a new defensive coordinator. The Vikings also have two new tight ends in TJ Hockenson- who wasn’t with the Vikings Week Two last season- and new acquisition Josh Oliver. The Eagles will also be without starting linebacker Nakobe Dean, who suffered a foot injury against the Patriots, and most likely starting cornerback James Bradberry, who is in concussion protocol. The Eagles also lost safety CJ Gardner-Johnson in the off-season. On the plus side, they drafted big defensive tackle Jalen Carter, adding a top draft pick to an already formidable defensive front, and who had eight pressures against the Patriots.

Offensively, not much has changed personnel-wise on the Eagles offense from last season, while the Vikings have also added Jordan Addison to replace Adam Thielen.

What to Expect from the Vikings Offensively

The changes at linebacker for the Eagles and tight end for the Vikings suggest the Vikings could have greater success targeting and using tight ends Thursday night than they had a year ago. That may help them move the chains with greater efficiency and could also help them have more success in the running game- something the Eagles’ defense has struggled defending last season, despite having a stout front seven.

Like last year, I would expect the Eagles to have their top cornerback Darius Slay shadow Justin Jefferson throughout the game. Slay did a great job against JJ last year- holding him to just 48 receiving yards- and so I’d expect the Eagles to use that same strategy again on Thursday night.

But apart from Slay, the Eagles secondary is not as strong as it was last season without Bradberry and CJ Gardner-Johnson, so I would expect the Vikings to have more success in the passing game if they can give Kirk Cousins the time to throw. Of course pass protection will be the key for the Vikings, as the Eagles had the best pass rush in the league last season and have only added to their talent up-front. I would not be surprised if the Vikings regularly kept a tight end or running back/fullback in to block- particularly against the interior pass rush of the Eagles.

One weakness in the Eagles’ defensive front is that they have a number of big guys like Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis, along with older guys like Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, that can get winded and tired. They have a good rotation to try to keep those guys fresh, but the Vikings could use tempo to their advantage against the Eagles’ defensive front to prevent them from rotating and not give them much of a breather between plays. The Patriots used tempo effectively against the Eagles defense last Sunday. The Vikings used tempo a bit against the Buccaneers last Sunday with some success, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they did so again Thursday night.

Another way the Patriots were able to defeat the Eagles’ pressure was with the screen game. They had a good deal of success with running screens to their running backs most of the game. The Vikings didn’t have much success with their screen game against the Bucs, particularly to tight ends, but with some adjustments they could use screens with greater success against the Eagles.

I expect the Eagles to focus on pressuring Kirk Cousins as a means to defeat the Vikings’ passing game. That was their focus last year. Putting Slay on JJ in coverage and hoping their pass rush disrupts Cousins enough to stall drives and create some turnovers. Especially down what could be two starting defensive backs and a linebacker in coverage, the Eagles will want to get to Cousins early and often. My guess is the Vikings will use play-action, screens, and a short passing game to combat the Eagles pressure, along with going up-tempo to fatigue the Eagles pass rushers and force them into base calls defensively. Hopefully the run game will also put them in more favorable passing situations where the Eagles’ pass rush will be less effective.

What to Expect from the Eagles Offensively

While the Eagles may have installed some new wrinkles from last season, I wouldn’t expect drastic changes either. I would expect the Eagles to challenge the Vikings’ secondary with AJ Brown and Davonta Smith, and work the RPO game as well- same as last season.

The Eagles faced some of the same blitz packages that the Vikings use under Brian Flores against the Patriots on Sunday, so they have some experience already this season with them. I would expect them to make adjustments from last weekend, in which the Patriots had some success slowing them down with pressure. The Eagles scored just 19 points offensively against the Patriots on Sunday (they averaged 29 last season)- including just one touchdown which came after a Patriots turnover around their own 35-yard line. They got six more points on a pick six from Darius Slay, which came on a tipped ball off the hands of a Patriots receiver in the rain- right into the hands of Slay. Extra point was missed following that touchdown.

The Eagles went with a quick passing game mixed with handoffs to Gainwell and the occasional keeper by Hurts much of the time against the Patriots, which was effective early. They had trouble against the Patriots blitz packages. I would expect much of the same against the Vikings- much as the Bucs did on Sunday with success in the second half minus the quarterback runs. The Vikings will need to have an answer for the short passing game to get the Eagles off the field on Thursday night, but I would expect some success bringing pressure. Hurts is used to clean pockets and while he’s mobile, he didn’t produce much outside the pocket against the Patriots.

I would also expect the Eagles to take some shots down the field to AJ Brown- challenging the Vikings’ young secondary- but also with Davonta Smith as well. And lastly to use quarterback Jalen Hurts in the running game as well. Hurts is a more conservative runner this year, however, given the injury last season and tends to slide early. The only time he pushed it as a runner against the Patriots last Sunday he got a solid hit and fumbled late in the game- which could’ve cost the Eagles the game.

Coming Off Sunday’s Games

For the Eagles, they seemed a bit lethargic at times against the Patriots. They’ve been the kind of team that does what it takes to win, but can also coast for much of the game if they have the lead. The game went according to that script early for the Eagles- building a 16-0 lead and then coasting. But their offense stalled, and the Patriots gained momentum- bringing the score to 16-14 by halftime. The Eagles’ offense was forced into long field goals in the second half- making three of them, while allowing a Patriots touchdown to bring it to 25-20. The Patriots were unable to convert a 2-point attempt (actually they did but it was nullified by a penalty), and then Hurts fumbled early in the next Eagles’ possession. The Patriots were unable to convert a fourth down- their receiver didn’t keep both feet in on the crucial play around the Eagles’ 20-yard line- which ended the game.

Overall, it was a closer game than many expected, and the Eagles lost two starters on defense- Dean and Bradberry. Additionally, the Patriots showed that going up-tempo can be effective against the Eagles’ defense and bringing pressure can also slow down the Eagles offensively.

Nevertheless, I’d expect the Eagles to come out strong Thursday night in front of their home crowd for the first time this season and look to build an early lead and use that to their advantage the rest of the game once again.

For the Vikings, despite the loss to the Buccaneers, I didn’t get the sense from the Monday and Tuesday coach and player press conferences that they were overly upset with their performance. Yes, it was a disappointing loss and a game they should’ve won but didn’t largely because of the turnovers, but after reviewing the game film there were a lot of positives to take away as well.

From a defensive perspective, they allowed fewer yards than any game last season- including just 2.2 yards per rushing attempt and 3.6 yards per play. Offensively, the 369 yards gained would’ve been one of their better offensive performances last season- and that came against a solid Bucs defense. The only issue offensively was the number of 3-and-outs, something they struggled with last season too. But overall, the production was there and minus some fluky turnovers the scoring would’ve been too. My guess is that is one of the main takeaways they had from that game.

For the Eagles, the story was a bit the opposite. They weren’t all that productive in either yards gained offensively (just 251- nine more than the Vikings allowed the Bucs) nor how many they allowed defensively (382 5th worst in Week One). If not for two turnovers- including a pick six that was pure luck and a fumble recovery in Patriots territory that led to their only other touchdown- and they would’ve fallen short on the scoreboard.

We’ll have to wait and see how the game turns out on Thursday night- the Eagles have a lot of talent on their roster and will be playing at home- but with the changes from a year ago and the way both teams started the season Week One, there is some potential for an upset.

Bottom Line

The Vikings were as much as 7.5 point underdogs, but that spread has narrowed to 6.5 points with the injury reports. It would seem unlikely that Garrett Bradbury will start for the Vikings Thursday night, while Nakobe Dean is out for the Eagles and James Bradberry is unlikely to play having just entered concussion protocol and has yet to clear the five-step protocol to return to practice. While there is not a specific timeline to clear the protocol- every case is unique- it would seem unlikely for him to clear it by Thursday night. Additionally, Eagles starting safety Reed Blankenship has not practiced either Monday or Tuesday with a rib injury, which calls into question his availability Thursday night as well. Eagles’ starting running back Kenneth Gainwell has also yet to practice this week, also with a rib injury, casting doubt on his availability Thursday night too. Lastly, Fletcher Cox didn’t practice Monday and was limited on Tuesday with a rib injury, and I suspect he’ll be questionable but be available Thursday night- although he may not play as much.

The Vikings also have Marcus Davenport and Christian Darrisaw with ankle injuries, and I’d expect Darrisaw to start. Hopefully Davenport will start too- he seemed like he was close to being available for the Bucs game so hopefully with a few more days he’ll be ready to go. Austin Schlottmann seems likely to start at center for the Vikings, but he did surprisingly well on Sunday, allowing just two hurries in 42 pass blocking reps according to PFF.

It will certainly be a challenge for the Vikings to get a road win against the Eagles- the Eagles are basically touchdown favorites for a reason. They’re the best team in the league in the trenches, have plenty of weapons offensively, a top corner in Darius Slay, and are tough to beat at home.

But if the Vikings don’t lose the turnover battle, like they did on Sunday and last year against the Eagles- giving up 3 turnovers in each game- they’ve got a decent chance to upset the Eagles at home.


The Vikings are 6.5 point underdogs on the road against the Eagles. They will:

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  • 21%
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    (177 votes)
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    (421 votes)
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