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October 09, 2019

Eagles vs. Vikings: 5 matchups to watch

On Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles will take on a familiar NFC foe in the Minnesota Vikings, a team they have faced every season in the Doug Pederson-Jim Schwartz era.

Our five matchups to watch:

1) The Vikings' rushing attack vs. the Eagles' rush defense

There's zero doubt what defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer wants to offensively, and that is run the football, a lot. So far in 2019, the Vikings have run it on 52.8 percent of their snaps, with is the second-highest run:pass ratio in the NFL.

The Vikings have a running back in Dalvin Cook who has made a jump to the elite level this season, as he is second in the NFL in rushing after five games, with 542 yards. He has at least 100 rushing yards in four of the Vikings' five games:

 Dalvin CookRushes Yards YPC TD 
 Falcons21 111 5.3 
 Packers20 154 7.7 
 Raiders16 110 6.9 
 Bears14 35 2.5 
 Giants21 132 6.3 
 TOTAL92 542 5.9 

You can see game highlights of Cook in each of his four 100-plus yard games below:

  1. Falcons game
  2. Packers game
  3. Raiders game
  4. Giants game

"It looks like they've clicked the speed of the film up a little bit," Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. "They're making big plays everywhere. It's not just Dalvin Cook. That rookie [Alexander] Mattison is a good running back; [Ameer] Abdullah. They have four running backs averaging 5.7, 5.8, and 5.9 and then 9.3 a carry. So that will get your attention real quick."

Here's what Schwartz is referring to:

 PlayerRushes Yards YPC TD 
 Dalvin Cook92 542 5.9 
 Alexander Mattison34 189 5.6 
 Ameer Abdullah34 5.7 
 Mike Boone28 9.3 

I'm not sure how much stock I'd put into the two guys with lofty yards per carry numbers who have combined for 9 carries, but Mattison has certainly popped in games as a rookie. He has 9 carries of 10-plus yards on his 34 carries. While Cook is a slippery runner, Mattison is more of a downhill guy.

"They play well as a unit, a lot of zone blocking," Schwartz said about their blocking scheme. "A lot chop blocks, stretch run. You can see Gary Kubiak's influence into their run game. And that's the thing. When you talk about the zone run game, it's not a one-on-one blocking endeavor. It's five guys, six guys, plus a fullback all working together and tying the running back into it. They're all on the same page and they do an outstanding job of it."

Kubiak was hired this offseason to be the Vikings' Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor. In 22 seasons as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, Kubiak has 10 top 5 finishes in rushing yardage. 

Conversely, the Eagles have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL, as they are allowing just 63 rushing yards per game, despite trailing by 10 or more points in four of their five games. Here is what they have done against opposing lead backs so far this season:

Player Carries Yards YPC TD 
 Derrius Guice10 18 1.8 
 Devonta Freeman11 22 2.0 
 Kerryon Johnson20 36 1.8 
 Aaron Jones13 21 1.6 
Le'Veon Bell 15 43 2.9 
 TOTAL69 140 2.0 

"We're a pretty strong run defense; they're a pretty strong run offense," Schwartz said. "It's going to be a great matchup on Sunday."

2) The Vikings' receivers vs. the Eagles' corners

Against this Eagles' defense, Zimmer would be smart to get away from the the run for one week and try to attack the Eagles' injury-ravaged corners. In Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the Vikings have one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL.

In 2018, they combined for 215 catches for 2394 yards and 18 TDs. Against the Eagles in 2018, they combined for 17 catches for 206 yards and a TD. Thielen in particular killed the Eagles in that matchup:

Once again, the Eagles won't have Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, and Cre'Von LeBlanc. To be determined if Sidney Jones will play this week, after being active Week 5 vs. the Jets, but not playing.

The Eagles are down to Jones, Rasul Douglas, and a handful of street free agents such as Craig James, Orlando Scandrick, and Ryan Lewis.

Throwing to Diggs and Thielen will be the embattled Kirk Cousins, who was indirectly criticized by Thielen, whether Thielen wants to acknowledge it or not. While Cousins has struggled so far this season, he always seems to save some of his best for the Eagles. In 8 career games against Philly, Cousins has thrown 17 TDs vs. 5 INTs.

3) The Eagles' pass rush vs. the Vikings' offensive line

As usual, the Vikings' offensive line has some serious concerns. They're fine enough on the edges, with Riley Reiff at LT and Brian O'Neill at RT, but they give up way too much pressure on the inside, as the trio of LG Pat Elflein, C Garrett Bradbury, and RG Josh Kline have really struggled in pass protection.

This was my favorite example, with all three interior linemen ending up on the ground on a sack-fumble:


And oh by the way, if Schwartz wants to dial up blitzes like he has at a higher rate this season, it's not as if Cook is a stud in pass pro: 


This is a game in which the Eagles badly need Fletcher Cox to be the Fletcher Cox of old. Against the Jets, Schwartz credited Cox for causing the Rodney McLeod's interception of Luke Falk. Here's Cox on that play:


The Eagles will hope Cox can build on that. They would also be smart to allow Brandon Graham to get more opportunities rushing from the inside, where he ate all day on Sunday.

"Matchups had a lot to do with it, said Schwartz. "There was some of that. It was mainly on third down. It really wasn't first and second down. But we liked some of his leverage matchups and things like that. I thought that was -- really one of the biggest sequences of the game was our opening drive. We haven't done a great job on the opening drive this year, and we expected Le'Veon Bell to carry a load for them. We were able to get after him twice and limit his effectiveness on the first two runs, and then come back and get a sack on the third play.

"BG was really a great tone setter for us when it came to that, whether he was outside or inside for us."

4) Jason Peters and Lane Johnson vs. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter

Just like the Vikings' run game vs. the Eagles' run defense above, the Eagles' offensive tackles vs. the Vikings' edge rushers is a strength-on-strength matchup.

Since Hunter entered the league in 2015, he and Griffen have combined for 85 sacks. So far in 2019, they have combined for 8. Zimmer is of course known for his exotic blitz packages, and he'll show them on occasion on Sunday.

"He's got the full complement of pressures," Mike Groh said. "His defense, those guys are veterans in that defense. They've been running his defense for a long time now. With the guys that he has, the talented group that he has, they can get a lot of pressure on you just with their front four, so they don't need to bring the overload blitz as you call it too often, but they have your attention with the front four, and then they have the exotic blitz package that Coach Zimmer is known for.

"We have to be on our game like we talked about with the communication. Quarterback, center, the entire offensive line, and the running backs. The running backs did a greater job picking up the pressures last week. A lot of perimeter pressures, a lot of corner, safety pressures, and I thought Miles [Sanders] and Jordan [Howard] both did a great job stepping up and protecting the quarterback."

But ultimately, the Vikings do their damage with Griffen and Hunter winning one-on-one matchups.

5) Zach Ertz vs. Harrison Smith

Ertz has owned the Vikings the last two times these teams have played:

 Zach Ertz vs. Vikings TargetsRec Yards YPC TD 
 2018 1110 110 11.0 
 2017 (NFCCG) 893 11.6 

18 catches on 19 targets. Is that good? Here he is owning Harrison Smith's soul in the NFC Championship Game:


Against a stingy run defense (the Vikings are allowing 3.6 YPC, by the way), the Eagles will need Ertz to be his usual self in this matchup.

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