The old saying “defense travels” applies to most elite units. Statistically, last season the Philadelphia Eagles defense averaged essentially the same numbers on the road and at home. This year it’s more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Luckily the Birds return to the Linc this week and host the team they embarrassed in last year’s NFC Championship game, the Minnesota Vikings.
Last week I mentioned that the Birds, as reigning Super Bowl champions, would earn every team’s best performance, and that showed on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. The Vikings are set to bring their A-game and more to avenge last season’s crushing postseason loss. But several factors from Sunday’s loss need to be explored before we can turn full focus to Minnesota.
Where are the turnovers & what’s with the offensive line?
Like most Eagles fans, I felt sick to my stomach after the Titans’ game-winning overtime drive. I promise it had nothing to do with the four Jack Daniels shots I had to take for each sack on Carson Wentz as a part of a bet.
I regret everything about this #SackShot™️ challenge. I trusted you Jason Kelce!!@ArmchairTitanUp @iAustinNelson – what’s even the count? pic.twitter.com/2DAY0TrWHJ
— Matt Martellucci (@matthewlucci_) September 30, 2018
The loss of Rodney McLeod and the brain fart from Corey Graham on fourth and long were a bigger issue than any alcohol in my system. Both fans and the media are also questioning the play of cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, and rightly so. The cornerbacks aren’t the only unit that’s disappointed, though. The Eagles defense has not played disciplined football in pass coverage or tackling.
Last season this team thrived behind an efficient defensive line that pressured the quarterback in order to create turnovers. The defense forced seven turnovers and 13 sacks through the first four weeks in 2017. While the Eagles run defense and pass rush remain potent, the turnover rate is not matching up. In 2018 the Eagles have forced just four turnovers while still totaling 11 sacks. The secondary needs to figure out assignments without the vital presence of McLeod as the overhang safety.
As for the offensive line, they have allowed 14 sacks through four games. Last season they allowed 12 sacks through four games, so while three-plus sacks per game isn’t exactly great, at least the unit is consistent. The real trouble has been penalties. The Eagles line has committed 11 penalties through four weeks (five false starts and seven holding calls). It seems like every big Jay Ajayi run has come back due to a hold, and too many crucial third downs have been thwarted by a false start. The Eagles offensive line simply has been shooting itself in the foot, and it needs to get back to that “hand in the dirt and punish your opponent” mentality.
Vikings WRs are a “make-or-break” test for secondary as Captain Kirk returns
During his tenure with the Washington Redskins from 2014-2016, Kirk Cousins quietly crushed the Eagles. He went 4-1 while averaging 388 yards per game. Cousins had a 12-2 touchdown to interception ratio and was sacked just four times. During the Jim Schwartz era, things have changed a bit. Cousins has gone 0-2 with Washington and his numbers have dropped to 271.5 yards per game, a 4-2 touchdown to interception ratio, and eight sacks. But on a new team with impressive offensive weapons, it’s hard to tell what Cousins the Eagles will see on Sunday.
I won’t put too many statistics in here because every NFL fan knows how deadly the duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been. Diggs has yet to record a 1,000-yard receiving season, but is always open on clutch plays and has an AB vibe to his game. His route running is crisp and the Eagles need to make sure to gang tackle #14. Speaking of tackling, Diggs has 55 yards after contact, as does undervalued tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Bird gang must wrap up when tackling, not be fooled by misdirection, and fly to the ball.
As for Adam Thielen, he is the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL. Thielen recorded 1,276 yards in 2017 and has started this new campaign on a tear. The “hard work pays off” mentality that has defined Thielen’s career has resulted in four-straight 100+ yard-receiving games and a 71.4 catch percentage in 2018. He also has 12 more targets than Stefon Diggs. To bring the significance of the Birds’ defensive mishaps and the Vikings’ weapons together into one stat: Thielen has 131 yards after contact this season. The Eagles secondary and linebackers need to fly to the ball, and the first man cannot miss in the open field. Otherwise, Adam Thielen could be dubbed the new “Eagles Killer” by Sunday night.
Most important players
The Vikings defense is a shell of itself, according to Armchair Vikings writer Luke Hanlon. Here is an interesting look at the Vikings’ performance since their divisional game against the New Orleans Saints:
Zach Ertz continues to lead the Eagles in targets with 47 and is followed by Nelson Agholor, who has 39. After that there is a huge dip in production, with the next highest targeted receiver being rookie tight end Dallas “Philly” Goedert at just 12 targets. It seems to be Ertz, Nelly or bust for the Eagles quarterbacks in terms of reads. But with the way the Vikings linebackers have been covering running backs and tight ends, I expect Dougie P to get the South Dakota State product involved as much as possible.
Since Carson Wentz has returned, he has thrown to his BFFAE Zach Ertz 10 more times than anyone else. When it’s all said and done, the Wentz to Ertz connection could be one for the record books. While Alshon Jeffery looked like a physical mismatch on every play in his comeback, the Vikings linebackers that have shown they can be exploited in pass coverage. In Minnesota’s first two games. the unit allowed 11 catches for 189 yards to George Kittle and Jimmy Graham. The next two weeks, they let up a combined 10 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns to the Bills and Rams. Whether it’s tight end or running back, it appears as though the Minnesota linebackers have trouble in pass coverage.
If we ignore that I got the player on the interception wrong in last week’s article (there was still a rookie’s first interception, fight me), I’ve had two-straight weeks of player predictions come true. You know what that means. This week I’m doubling down.
Zach Ertz will have a career day with over 150 yards receiving. Not only that, but Dallas Goedert will get close to 100 yards receiving and have a career-high day for catches.
For all the fans doubting this Eagles team, I will leave you with this Jalen Mills tweet:
I see all the chatter keep that same energy!
— Jalen Mills (@greengoblin) September 17, 2018
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