Eagles-Vikings Preview Q&A: Mark Craig

Discussing Sam Bradford's return, whether the Eagles can beat the 5-0 Vikings and more.

Sam Bradford. (USA Today Sports)

Sam Bradford. (USA Today Sports)

In this week’s installment of Opposition Research, we talked to the (Minnesota) Star Tribune’s Mark Craig. We discussed Sam Bradford’s return to Philadelphia, a key matchup and who will win, among several other topics.

What are the Vikings’ strengths?

“The defense, and the defensive line in particular. The way they’re playing defensively starts with the run defense. It’s more consistent than it was last year. I think they ranked 17th last year, and they’re fifth this year. Once this team shuts down the run or contains the run, all of [Vikings head coach Mike] Zimmer’s schemes and blitz packages and the young, fast talent they have takes over. The defensive line has done a really good job; they have like 17 of the 19 sacks. Backup Shamar Stephen stepped in for Shariff Floyd and he’s a better run stopper. Between him and Linval Joseph, that’s pretty good size inside. They’re stopping the run and getting after the pass.”

What are the Vikings’ weaknesses?

“The offensive line right now is really beat up. Even before the bye week, both starting tackles were on Injured Reserve. Guard Mike Harris, who started all of last year, had a non-football injury and never even suited up at training camp. I don’t know if he would’ve started automatically, but he would’ve definitely been in the mix. They have not been able to run the ball, even with Adrian Peterson. When Adrian was in, they actually ran the ball worse in that game and a half. He only averaged 1.6 yards per carry. What they’re doing is pretty amazing when you consider the offensive line hasn’t played that well. I wouldn’t say they’re playing horribly, but if there’s a weakness on the team, I’d say it’s the offensive line.”

When the Bradford trade first happened, what was the reaction in Minnesota?

“There was one side that praised it because it basically salvaged the chance to have a competitive season. At that point, they were down to [36-year-old] Shaun Hill, who’s satisfactory in the short-term, but physically, he’s never played 16 games and there was nothing to indicate he could physically make it 16 games. It put life back into the team. When Teddy [Bridgewater] went down on that day in practice, it was like the life was sucked out of players and fans — everyone. To get another team’s starting quarterback eight days before the season is pretty incredible. But the other part was people who thought they overpaid for him, and that Bradford wasn’t worth a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick, which could be a second-round pick. Part of me thinks some people like the draft more than they like the season. Obviously, everyone’s on board with it now.”

How has Bradford played to start the season?

“There’s no such thing as a perfect game in the NFL, but he’s as close as you can get. He hasn’t turned the ball over, and he’s taken some hits behind this offensive line. His accuracy is off the charts — his completion percentage is over 70 percent now. He’s doing a lot of what they were hoping Teddy would do. Sam is probably about five or six years further into his career, so it’s not a surprise, but last year Teddy was conservative and he would pass up opportunities for bigger plays so he wouldn’t turn the ball over. Sam has not only not turned the ball, but when he sees a receiver open, he lets it fly and he’s giving guys a chance to catch the ball. He’s doing everything they want. He’s making some quality deep throws, and he’s been remarkably poised. He’s willing to take hits and deliver the ball. They absolutely could not ask for anything more than what he’s given them.”

What’s a key matchup that could determine the winner of the game?

“I just watched the Eagles’ game against Washington, and I’d say the Vikings’ defense against that rookie right tackle (Halapoulivaati Vaitai). He looked pretty bad, I thought. The Vikings’ best pass-rusher is on the other side, but they have so many different blitz packages and moving guys around. Brian Robison is their left end, and he’s got four sacks. He’s probably their third-best pass-rusher. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, the backup who can play both sides, if they put either of those guys on that side, (Vaitai) is not going to be able to block guys one-on-one, I think. He’ll need some help blocking on that right side, so that will help the Vikings.”

Who do you think will win the game on Sunday?

“I was thinking whatever goes up has to come down, and whatever goes down has to come up. It’s two teams meeting going different ways and, initially, I thought the home team [would win]. But after watching that Washington game — I’m not saying the Eagles will play the same way, but their inability to stop the run and just how sloppy they were the last two weeks with penalties, I think the Vikings will win. I think the Vikings are the better team and if they can stop the run, they’ll put a lot of pressure on Carson Wentz he hasn’t seen yet. I like the Vikings, 23-20.”