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Fan-Demonium: Options Galore

Posted Dec 14, 2013

Nick Foles has to be one happy man.

Last Sunday, he played in snow and windy conditions. It was very difficult to throw the ball. This week, he gets to play in a dome. The temperature will be a cozy 72 degrees and there won't be any wind. Even better, he gets to face a Vikings defense that struggles against the passing game.

Minnesota is 30th in passing yards allowed. They are dead last in touchdown passes allowed. The Vikings are 25th in opposing passer rating. Put simply, teams throw the ball on them very effectively. Foles and the Eagles passing game could be in for a big day. The Vikings don't have a good secondary. There is no standout cornerback. Rookie Xavier Rhodes has excellent potential, but is likely out with an ankle injury. The overall group just doesn't cover well.

The Vikings do have some talented defenders up front. Defensive end Jared Allen is a player we're all familiar with. He is one of the most productive pass rushers in recent years. Allen has seven sacks this year. If he can come up with three more sacks this year, that will give him seven years in a row with double-digit sacks. That's pretty darn impressive.

The left end is Brian Robison and he's also got seven sacks this year. Kevin Williams is still a dangerous rusher up the middle. He's in his 11th year in the NFL. I remember when Andy Reid and Eagles scouts were studying him closely at the Senior Bowl back in 2003. The Eagles had a lot of interest in him, but Williams was long gone by the time the Eagles picked. How time flies. Everson Griffen is a valuable role player. He can play tackle or end. He has three sacks on the year and is an ascending player.

The Vikings don't have to blitz much since they have a defensive line that can get pressure. They do have linebackers who can get to the quarterback when they do decide to blitz. Both Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson have three sacks this year. Oddly, the Vikings don't have one defensive back who has registered a sack. They really prefer to focus on the line getting to the quarterback, with the occasional linebacker blitzing. If you can block the Vikings line, you can usually give the quarterback time to throw.

The offensive line will need to do their part. Last week, the Eagles had to deal with a good defensive line, but one where the star players were the tackles. This week, the stars are the pass rushing ends.  It will be interesting to see Jason Peters going up against Allen. Those are two talented veterans. Lane Johnson will have his hands full with Robison.

The line also has the challenge of opening holes for LeSean McCoy. He ran for a team-record 217 yards last Sunday. Don't look for him to top that, but the Vikings no longer have a great run defense. When Pat Williams and Kevin Williams controlled the middle for them, you just didn't run well against them. Only Kevin is left, and he's not a dominant run defender. Minnesota is 21st in the NFL in run defense. In the last five weeks, teams have run for more than 140 yards a game against the Vikings. You can bet Chip Kelly will attack them on the ground as well as in the air.

There should be holes for McCoy to exploit. There should be open receivers for Foles. The Eagles should move the ball and score points if they can avoid sloppy play and careless mistakes. The Vikings have some good individual pieces, but the overall defense just isn't functioning well. There is no lack of effort or toughness. Leslie Frazier still has his team playing hard.

The Eagles defense is in for an interesting day. Adrian Peterson wants to play. He remains one of the special players in the entire league. Even if he's not 100 percent, Peterson will be a challenge. He is one of those rare runners who it is almost impossible to game plan for. You can load up the box and he will still break runs up the middle. If you sell out to stop the downhill runs, he can cut to the outside and use his speed to get down the field. Peterson is incredibly hard to tackle. He is one of the league leaders in yards after contact. You can't count on a single defender tackling him. Defensive players need to bring several friends with them. Peterson is truly a bull.

The problem is that you need to attack him like this every time he has the ball and that might be 30 times a game. If you slip up on a play, even just slightly, that's when Peterson burns you for a big play. Peterson's backup is no slouch either. Toby Gerhart was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in college. Gerhart doesn't get a ton of touches with Peterson being such a workhorse player, but check this out. Gerhart averages 8 yards a carry. He's only got 36 carries for the season, but that is still an incredible figure. He showed just how dangerous he can be last week when he broke off a 41-yard touchdown run late in the Ravens game. Gerhart is a powerful downhill runner with just enough wiggle to give defenders problems.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis will use plenty of eight-man fronts to try and deal with the Vikings running duo, but you can't ignore the passing game. Minnesota is much better on the ground than in the air, but they do have some weapons. Rookie receiver Cordarelle Patterson is a unique talent. He can score any time he touches the ball. He showed that last week when he had a 79-yard touchdown on a short pass that he turned into a huge play. Patterson has great run-after-the-catch skills. He is dynamic in space. He has scored a touchdown as a runner, receiver and returner this year.  Don't be surprised if the Vikings get Patterson the ball in a variety of ways. They need him to get touches so the offense has a better shot at coming up with big plays.

Wide receiver Greg Jennings is an older player who no longer has the speed to consistently burn you, but he is still dangerous after the catch. Receiver Jerome Simpson is another player who is dangerous when he gets his hands on the ball. We've seen the Eagles struggle with this at times. The Chiefs repeatedly burned the Eagles after the catch. So did the Giants in the first game. The Raiders got a couple of big plays. The Eagles are playing better defense these days, but I'd be lying if I said this still wasn't a concern. Safety Patrick Chung must take good angles to the ball.

Matt Cassell will be the quarterback. He's played better than Christian Ponder this year. Cassell isn't blowing anyone away, but he's had some good moments. Cassell has 80 fewer passing attempts than Ponder, but has the same number of touchdown passes. You can also see the impact that a quarterback can have on the number of sacks a team gives up. Ponder has been sacked 27 times this year. Cassell has been sacked six times. That tells you that Ponder is part of the reason for the sack total. He doesn't read things quickly enough and holds onto the ball too long.


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

The Vikings line has some good pieces. I still think Matt Kalil can be an elite left tackle. Right tackle Phil Loadholt is a massive guy who can be a force as a run blocker. The weak spot is left guard Charlie Johnson. He will have a tough time when matched up with Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry in various sets. As excited as Foles and the offense might be to play in a dome, you can bet Trent Cole and the pass rushers feel the same way. They got very little pressure last week due to the snow. Pass rushers need clean ground to push off so they can explode upfield. Cole and his cohorts will have that in Minnesota.

The noise in the dome should give an advantage to Minnesota, but it probably won't be as bad as usual due to the down season. Allen's sacks are almost evenly split between home and away. I was surprised to see that five of Robison's seven sacks came on the road. Normally speed rushers thrive in a home dome environment. Kelly will have the Eagles ready to deal with the noise.

Don't get up for a sandwich when it is time to punt or kickoff. Patterson is an electric return man. He leads the NFL in kickoff returns with an average of 33.3 yards per return. He's taken two kickoffs all the way back for scores. One of them covered 109 yards. Alex Henery will need to really boot the ball this week to help out the coverage units. Marcus Sherels is all the way down at fourth in the NFL in punt return average (13.1). That is one scary set of returners. I'm sure Dave Fipp was hard on his special teams units for the breakdowns that happened last week. The Eagles must be strong in the kicking game to win this game. The Vikings are third worst in the league when it comes to covering kickoffs. Maybe this is the week when the Eagles return game will get going.

There is some talk among fans and media members about the Eagles having a letdown. The Vikings don't have a good record. Their star player is banged up. They aren't a big rival. Is it possible the Eagles could overlook them? I really don't think so. Chip Kelly has this team living in the moment. They've already forgotten about the win over the Lions. I bet half the team couldn't tell you who they played the week before that.

Kelly has done a masterful job of getting the Eagles to focus on what is directly in front of them. This week that is the Vikings. Any struggles the Eagles have will likely be due more to the Vikings making big plays than the Eagles being cocky or not focused. That's just not the character of this team. They're playing good football and dealing with the task at hand. They leave worrying about big-picture stuff to those of us on the outside. This Eagles team is all about the here and now.

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