Every week, we like to get together with the folks from the SB Nation site for whichever team our Minnesota Vikings are facing off against, and a short week means we get to do it earlier than normal. Yours truly got the chance to exchange questions with Brandon Gowton, the lead blogger at Bleeding Green Nation, SB Nation’s home for the Philadelphia Eagles. Once he posts my answers to his questions, I’ll have that link up here for you, but for now here are the questions I sent his way, along with his responses.
1) The Eagles got off to a fast start against the Patriots with 16 first-quarter points, including a pick-six, but slowed a bit at the end and held on for a 25-20 win. What adjustments did the Patriots make that you would expect the Vikings to try to emulate to slow the Eagles’ offense?
Take it from one of the Eagles’ stars, via The Inquirer:
“According to receiver A.J. Brown, the Patriots were trusting their cornerbacks on the outside, but clogging up the middle with defenders passing off in match-up zones. “I think Belichick did a really good job of just throwing lots of stuff at us,” Brown said. “Changing a lot of things up at the last minute, and it was tough. I don’t think we were not prepared, but I just think he was throwing so many curveballs and it was just hard to adjust.””
Bill Belichick outcoached Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson in his first game as an NFL play-caller. I imagine Brian Flores, who obviously has connections to New England, to attempt to replicate some of the successful late disguises. I also expect him to blitz as he’s wont to do since the Eagles had some issues handling that in Week 1.
That being said, I also think the Patriots were aided by rainy weather and uncharacteristic execution, utilization, and aggression issues from the Eagles’ offense. Dallas Goedert only saw a single target for zero catches despite getting open — once on a total coverage bust — on multiple occasions. Kenneth Gainwell inexplicably logged the same amount of touches that Goedert, Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, and D’Andre Swift did combined. Three times did the Eagles decide it was cool to run a coward’s draw on third-and-long instead of actually throwing beyond the sticks.
Perhaps they will not be firing on all cylinders but I do expect the Eagles to score more than a single offensive touchdown this week.
2) Last year, the Eagles held Justin Jefferson to just 48 yards on six catches. With James Bradberry likely out for this one with a concussion, would you expect Darius Slay to follow Jefferson around or is there another strategy you think the Eagles will employ?
I do expect that to happen. But it’s not like we have much precedent to point to with Sean Desai entering just his second game as Eagles defensive coordinator. So, we’ll have to actually see it to know for sure.
Having Slay shadow Jefferson certainly seems logical given how well the veteran cornerback fared in that matchup last year. It’ll be tough for Slay to replicate such an elite performance; that may have been the best game of his career. I don’t expect him to fully shut down Jefferson … but he might be able to keep the Vikings’ star pass-catcher from totally wrecking the game.
I’d imagine the Vikings will want to find ways to get Jefferson matched up on backup cornerback Josh Jobe, who was a 2022 UDFA signing. Or Avonte Maddox, who didn’t have the best training camp, in the slot. But the guess here is that Slay will mostly be on him.
3) This offseason, the Eagles lost both coordinators from last year’s Super Bowl team to head coaching jobs. Was there a noticeable difference between what those coordinators did last season to the first game of this season?
It may not have been all his fault but Johnson has to wear the failure of the Eagles’ loaded offense merely scoring a single touchdown in Week 1. And it came on a short field that was set up by a recovered forced fumble. I already touched on some of the offensive issues in my first answer. One thing I didn’t mention was the increased usage of 11 personnel despite the Eagles having a lot of success in 12 last year. We’ll see if he can adjust.
As for Desai, we saw more four-man fronts whereas predecessor Jonathan Gannon utilized a lot of five-man looks. The defense was generally more creative. BGN’s Jonny Page noted that the Eagles’ increased creativity could result in some short-term issues that might pay off in the long run.
4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball for the Eagles that you think will play a role in how this game turns out.
Offense: Does Rashaad Penny count as under-the-radar? He was a healthy scratch in Week 1 with the Eagles keeping Gainwell, D’Andre Swift, and Boston Scott up active as their top three running backs. With Gainwell ruled out, Penny could jump from RB4 to RB2 since Scott is typically more of a special teams contributor who sees limited touches. Penny has struggled to stay healthy over his career but he’s been very efficient when he’s actually able to play. Penny led the NFL in rushing yards gained after first contact last year. Maybe he breaks a long run or two.
Defense: Milton Williams. Eagles first-round defensive tackles Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis are getting a lot of buzz after looking pretty good in Week 1. And so Williams is flying a bit more under-the-radar despite notching three pressures and four “stops,” which are defined by Pro Football Focus as tackles that constitute a failure for the offense. Williams could potentially be in line for more snaps than usual with Fletcher Cox questionable to play due to injured ribs. It could be an opportunity for him to take advantage of a weak Vikings interior offensive line.
5) According to the folks from the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Eagles are a 7-point favorite going into this one. Honestly, that number seems a little low to me. Do you think the Eagles will cover in this one?
The line has since shifted to the Eagles being favored by 6.5 points since you asked this question. The line originally opened with Philly favored by 7.5 points. Don’t love to see that trending in the Vikings’ direction.
This is a tough one for me. I’ve never been a Kirk Cousins guy. To bet on him in primetime would go against everything I stand for.
But the Eagles are really banged up on defense. They were already thin at safety and linebacker and now they’re missing their best players by far at both of those positions. T.J. Hockenson could look to take advantage of a soft middle of the field that the Patriots were able to capitalize on last week. It’ll also be a challenge to defend Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and K.J. Osborn while the Eagles are without 2022 second-team All-Pro cornerback James Bradberry.
I also think the Vikings’ Week 1 loss might not be as concerning as it seemed on the surface? Not to say the result wasn’t disappointing but they outplayed the Bucs by a number of metrics but got in by the turnover issues.
I’ll take the Vikings to cover in a close game. But the Eagles ultimately pull it out with a raucous crowd helping propel them to victory. Eagles 30, Vikings 27 … in overtime … with reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Jake Elliott making a 52-yard field goal.
Thanks to Brandon for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions for this week!