I love this week. I love the transition into a different phase of the season. It just feels like, in some ways, the regular season is here after the NFL’s preseason extended through September. The 31-6 win over the Jets? A good breakout game for the defense and a “blah” second half for the offense.
Time to move on.
With that in mind, we’re looking forward to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the site of the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII win, of course. The sentimentality, honestly, really doesn’t hold much space here. It was a different set of circumstances when the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots. The crowd was on the Eagles’ side in that game.
That won’t be the case on Sunday, even with the tremendous support shown by Eagles fans thus far in 2019. This is going to be a loud, hostile, fantastic environment and it’s the start of a critical and very difficult three-game road trip.
Some thoughts …
1. Every morning in the parking lot at the NovaCare Complex, Jason Peters has his vehicle – he’s got quite a few automobiles at his disposal – parked in the No. 1 spot in the player area. He’s here early, he’s getting his rehab, taking treatment, and keeping his body as fresh as possible. Peters has played 337 snaps in the Eagles’ five games, well over 90 percent of the team’s offensive plays. This is a huge number. Peters’ ability to stay on the field and continue to play at a high level at left tackle has been a reason the offense has functioned the way it has this season (28.2 points per game, seventh in NFL). Peters, it has to be said again, is a remarkable player and he’s extremely important to this football team.
“I just take care of my body,” Peters said. “You learn to do the little things to keep you straight. I feel good. It’s fun to be out there. I just have to stay on top of it and things are going to be fine.” This week, Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson have their most difficult test of the season, collectively, going against Vikings edge rushers Danielle Hunter (five sacks) and Everson Griffen (three sacks). They key Minnesota’s defense. The Eagles must win that battle.
2. One of the marks of a strong coaching staff is making the most of a player’s skill set. With that in mind, the Eagles put cornerback Orlando Scandrick in position to make plays on Sunday against the Jets and Scandrick responded with successful blitzes of the edge. He had two sacks and two forced fumbles, one of which he ripped from quarterback Luke Falk’s hands and returned for a touchdown. The Eagles knew that Scandrick had 11.5 quarterback sacks in his nine seasons in Dallas, and that he had some skills coming off the edge as a pass rusher. So, he got the green light and he delivered.
“Yeah, showed he could do that out of the nickel position previously, so we dialed it up and he got home,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. “That was good to see. That adds a new element to the defense.”
When you’re trying to get the pass rush to provide more production, you look everywhere on the field for a chance to get to the quarterback. It’s something that the Vikings will have to account for when Scandrick is on the field this week.
3. Jordan Howard has played his way into a “lead back” kind of role in the offense with his hard-charging, decisive style. He’s a downhill runner who is breaking tackles and moving forward in this offense. The Eagles aren’t going to phase out Miles Sanders by any means – he’s a dynamic playmaker who has 10 receptions for 133 yards, with five first downs gained – but Howard has earned more carries. These two form a good tandem and the Eagles are going to want to establish the ground game early in these road games.
4. Which cornerbacks are going to play in Minnesota? At this point, the Eagles think Sidney Jones, who was in uniform and did not play against the Jets, will be good for practice this week. Rasul Douglas is good. Craig James is healthy. So is Scandrick. No word yet on Avonte Maddox (concussion, neck) or Ronald Darby (hamstring). Tough matchup against Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings.
5. The Eagles are first in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 63 yards per game on the ground. Why isn’t anyone talking about this? It’s probably because the defense hasn’t gone against a true powerhouse rushing attack, and that’s about to change. Dalvin Cook is as versatile and explosive as any back in the league and Ezekiel Elliott is on the schedule in two weeks. The Eagles shut down Le’Veon Bell on Sunday (15 rushes, 43 yards; 7 receptions, 45 yards), but Cook produces at a different level. Cook is second in the NFL with 742 total yards from scrimmage through five games, averaging 108.4 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards per game. We’re going to find out a whole lot about the Eagles’ front seven on Sunday.
6. Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins is 5-3 against the Eagles in his career, with 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Four of those wins came against the Chip Kelly Eagles when the defense just didn’t play well. But Cousins also beat the Eagles last season at Lincoln Financial Field, 23-21, completing 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown. The key here is pressuring Cousins. In the two games the Eagles beat Cousins and his Washington team in 2017, they sacked him four times in each game and recorded an interception in each outing. In the other six games against Cousins, the Eagles sacked him just six times total. There is a simple correlation here …
7. Carson Wentz averaged 8.03 yards per pass attempt in the opening-day win over Washington, a healthy number helped by the long-ball connection with DeSean Jackson. The dynamic wide receiver played in only 11 snaps against Atlanta and hasn’t played since and Wentz’s yards per passing attempt have dropped – 5.37 yards in Atlanta, 7.19 against Detroit, 5.93 in Green Bay, and 6.52 in the win over the Jets. The difference might not seem like a lot of yards, but it makes a difference. The Eagles, Pederson said, have adjusted by using 12 personnel more – with both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the field – and it’s working. This is a versatile offense. It is obviously better with Jackson on the field, but the Eagles have other options and in the long run, when Jackson is good and at his peak and threatening defenses on every play, the Eagles are going to have a lot of ways to win when they have the football. Until Jackson is back, expect to see a lot of personnel packages and creativity coming from the offensive coaching staff.