Eagles-Vikings Game Predictions: Three-and-out
The Eagles play the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Here’s how we expect the game to unfold.
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
BLG: Carson Wentz.
Sunday’s game is a huge test for the Eagles’ rookie quarterback. The Birds really need a win after dropping their last two games. Wentz will be looking to rebound after having the worst outing of his young career against Washington.
It won’t be easy for Wentz. The 23-year-old passer will be tasked with trying to have success against the best defense in the NFL. Minnesota leads the league in interceptions (7). The Vikings also rank first in sacks per game (3.8).
Mike Zimmer’s team is bound to make life very hard on Wentz. Minnesota was the best blitzing team in 2015, per Football Outsiders. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich had very high praise for Zimmer’s defense this week.
“Everybody runs the Double-A Gap system, but in my mind, this guy is the master of it,” said Reich. “Zimmer is the master of it. It’s his baby. He probably didn’t invent it, but he’s mastered it. They run every kind of combination there is known to man. They know exactly what you’re doing. What takes it to a different level, is they know what you’re trying to do. They know what teams have done to try to counter it. So they try to counter that and it’s just a cat-and-mouse game that you play.
“We have our things that you try to plan to do to it and that we’ll do, but you can’t do the same thing every time because they are making in-game adjustments to what you’re doing and we are making in-game adjustments to what they’re doing. Sometimes you’re going to hit it right and we’ll get the big play. Other times, we tell our guys, ‘Hey, they might get us once or twice. When you play this team, they might get you once or twice. We have to get up off the canvas and get back into third-and-manageable or punt the ball, don’t turn it over, and let’s just keep playing ball.’”
The good news for the Eagles is Wentz currently leads the league in completion percentage against the blitz at 80% (32 completions on 40 attempts). He’s also second in passer rating against the blitz at 125.7.
The bad news for the Eagles is that Minnesota might not need to blitz very much to get pressure. The Birds allowed Wentz to get sacked five times and hit 11 times last week. Philadelphia’s offensive line really struggled with Halapoulivaati Vaitai starting in place of Lane Johnson at right tackle. “Big V” is getting the start again this week so the Eagles are hoping the rookie blocker can improve quickly.
Despite his struggles last week, Wentz still had some real good moments. He’s shown special potential in his first five starts. With that said, this week is his toughest challenge yet. If he can overcome it, that would be a very great sign for the Eagles.
I don’t really like picking the same guy as a player to watch in back-to-back weeks, but the rookie right tackle will have a substantial role in determining the winner of this game. He played poorly last week against Washington, but Minnesota’s pass rush — as a whole — is better than Washington’s. The Vikings rank first in the NFL in sacks per game with nearly four, and they have four players with at least three sacks.
The Vikings will really challenge Vaitai mentally as Zimmer has a plethora of blitz and pressure schemes, which could give Vaitai problems after missing multiple assignments last week. However, the Eagles coaches, as BLG pointed out, are sticking with Vaitai as the starter.
“Honestly, playing tackle at home is easier because you don’t have to worry about the noise — a little bit better on the snap count. The quarterback, we can mix our snap counts up more, which that helps them out as well,” Reich said.
“I think he’s fine. It was not our best performance as an offensive whole unit, and so that tends to accentuate anybody who had a negative play here or there. So, I think we all learn from it, including ‘Big V.’ Certainly in our business, we want to have the maturity to understand not to overreact but yet to still have a sense of urgency. And so, it wasn’t a great performance, like I said, as a unit. [We need to] have a sense of urgency to get better individually, collectively and make improvements this week.”
Doug Pederson will also play a big role in Vaitai’s performance. Although the Eagles consistently slid protection toward Vaitai, they allowed him to be in too many one-on-one situations against Ryan Kerrigan. Having a tight end, running back or wide receiver chip a defensive end does disrupt their route a bit, but it’s a necessary tool Pederson must use more this week.
OVER/UNDER: 100.5 passer rating allowed by the Eagles — Whaddya got?
Former Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is clearly off to a great start in Minnesota. Sammy Sleeves has a 109.7 passer rating heading into this game. He’s thrown six touchdowns to no interceptions. Will he have success against an Eagles defense that’s struggled over the past two weeks?
I don’t expect Bradford to have a flat out bad game, but I don’t expect him to look great either. So basically I’m expecting him to play like the mediocre Bradford that Eagles fans are familiar with.
Philadelphia’s pass rush should have a better outing this week than the 0-sack performance they turned in against Washington. Decreasing Connor Barwin’s snaps could help since he’s been ineffective at times. Jim Schwartz said he expects his unit to have chances to bring Bradford down. I think the Eagles largely keep Bradford in check during his return to Philadelphia.
Josh: I’ll also take the under.
I expect Jim Schwartz‘s unit to bounce back this week after a pair of subpar performances in the last two weeks. I anticipate the Eagles’ defensive line will give the Vikings’ injury-plagued offensive line trouble, with guys like Cox and Brandon Graham landing multiple quarterback hits. I’d be surprised if Bradford stays upright for pretty much the entire game.
What this ultimately comes down to, however, is the Eagles’ ability to stop the run. They had success rushing the passer in the second halves of the first three games, in part, because they didn’t have to worry about the run and they could tee of on the quarterback. Against Washington, however, the defensive line slowed down because they were concerned about the run, according to Graham.
If the Vikings get the run game going, it will be easy for Bradford to prove us wrong.
BLG: Minnesota 13, Eagles 10
The obvious story-line heading into this game is all about Wentz versus Bradford, but the real battle on Sunday will be between two defenses. The feeling here is Schwartz’s unit will rebound against a lackluster Vikings offense.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, Minnesota’s defense could prove to be too tough to crack. Wentz is bound to get hit a lot given the Vikings’ pass rush and the Eagles’ sketchy offensive line situation. Vaitai is the obvious concern, but Jason Kelce going up against defensive tackle Linval Joseph could really be the matchup to watch. Kelce has struggled at times this season, as he’s admitted, and Joseph is a good player.
Wentz will give the Eagles a chance in this game but he could struggle to get enough help from his teammates in order to pick up the win. I’ll predict Philadelphia’s offense struggles yet again and the Birds fall to 3-3 with two big division road games up next.
Josh: Vikings 17, Eagles 9
Minnesota is obviously the favorite here, but the Eagles’ 3-0 start followed by a pair of losses is a good reminder of how unpredictable the NFL is. It wouldn’t surprise me all that much if the Birds pull out the win in a low-scoring affair, but I’m taking the Vikings.
As worried as I think the Eagles should be about Vaitai, I’m happy you brought up Kelce, BLG. The Vikings’ pressure schemes make life very tough for centers, which could expose Kelce. The Eagles’ running backs will also be critical in protecting Wentz, as Minnesota loves to scheme their blitzing linebackers to get one-on-one situation against backs.
To win, the Birds will probably have to get a big play out of their defense or special teams. They got a touchdown from both units last week and still lost, so the offense will have to play a better game against a better defense on Sunday.