MINNEAPOLIS – Given the options, the Eagles determined during the course of the week leading to Sunday's game, they would rather have the football in the hands of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins rather than running back Dalvin Cook, so the defensive strategy started there: Do anything and everything to take Cook, the NFL's second-leading yardage producer, out of the Vikings' offense. Mission accomplished for the Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium. Cousins, though, had other ideas.
The veteran quarterback lit up the Eagles in a 38-20 Vikings win, completing 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, compiling a passer rating of 138.4 Most of Cousins' damage came in the first half when he threw three touchdown passes, two of them to Stefon Diggs, but he added a dagger late in the third quarter to put some distance between the teams after the Eagles valiantly came back from a 24-3 deficit to close to within 24-20.
Whether Cousins was settled into a nice, comfortable pocket, or throwing a quick screen to his receivers, or bootlegging to his left and throwing to open receivers in the flat, the Eagles had no answers. As has been the case for much of the season, the Eagles didn't generate a consistent pass rush and couldn't cover down the field. Diggs had a career day, catching seven passes for 167 yards and three scores, beating cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones equally and catching that late third-quarter touchdown in a contested back-of-the-end-zone play against cornerback Craig James.
"They just beat us," safety Rasul Douglas said. "We knew that if they got their play-action passing going that it was going to be tough. We just have to be better. There's no other way to say it. We're going to put this behind us and correct our mistakes. That's what we do."
Said Jones: "I'm confident in myself. I felt good out there and I just didn't make plays. We know how good that offense is and how good those receivers are. It's on us. It's about what we're doing. We all have to be better. I know I have to be better. It was a big loss for us. We have to execute better. We have to execute the details as a whole. The energy is there. The physicalness is there. We just have to sharpen the detail."
Jalen Mills is now eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list, but how quickly he can return to the field remains to be seen. Ronald Darby is still out with a hamstring injury. Avonte Maddox remains sidelined with a neck injury and a concussion. The Eagles head to Dallas for Sunday night's prime-time game, a midseason clash for first place in the NFC East, struggling to stop the passing game. They entered Minnesota 27th in the NFL in pass defense – helped enormously by the game against the woeful Jets offense – and didn't help themselves a bit against Cousins and his near-flawless outing.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the game that the defense needed to "find our identity." Through six weeks, the Eagles have been strong against the run for the most part and they've struggled against good passing teams.
On Sunday, Minnesota was a great passing team.
The game was all Minnesota's right from the start on Sunday as the Vikings drove 75 yards on 13 plays, consuming more than seven minutes off the clock. That drive served as a template for what the Vikings wanted to do against Jim Schwartz's defense. Cook had a couple of rushing attempts in Minnesota's stretch game, testing the edges of the Eagles' defense. Cousins got the ball out of his hands quickly and put Jones on an island, forcing him to make tackles in the open field. The Vikings showed some razzle-dazzle with a reverse to Diggs that gained 10 yards. Cousins took a deep shot that was incomplete.
Finally, he tested Jones and won, connecting with receiver Adam Thielen for a 6-yard touchdown play. Thielen ran an out-and-up pattern to create separation. Cousins threw a perfect pass and Thielen won against Jones, setting the tone for the afternoon.
Minnesota scored 24 points on its first four drives, including Cousins touchdown passes of 62 yards and 51 yards to Diggs.
"We need to start better. We need to get off the field. The deep passes, the big plays, that's what is really hurting us," Jenkins said. "It's one of those situations where we started slow and then corrected some things, and then they made some plays against us to put it away. It was a tough one. We didn't play our defense. We didn't play well at all and that's very disappointing."
So, there are serious areas to fix with this Eagles defense. Same with the offense, which moved the ball well enough but turned the ball over three times, failed on an early fourth-down try on a missed Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffery pass from the Vikings' 49-yard line early in the second quarter – one play before Cousins and Diggs hooked up for the 51-yard score – and then missed a chance for three points late in the first half when the Eagles tried some trickery on a field goal try. Instead of having Jake Elliott attempt a 39-yard field goal after a gift Andrew Sendejo interception – he picked off a Cousins pass that clanged off Diggs' facemask on the sideline – the snap went directly to Elliott, who looked for tight end Dallas Goedert on a quick release. The Vikings sniffed it out and covered Goedert and Elliott ended up throwing an interception to defensive end Everson Griffen.
The half ended with the Vikings ahead, 24-10.
It was that kind of day.
"We had the look we wanted," head coach Doug Pederson said of the fake field goal try. "They made a great play."
Linebacker Zach Brown, who on Friday called Cousins the "weakest part" of Minnesota's offense, talked briefly to the media after the loss and didn't directly address his previous comments, instead saying, "I'm here to talk about the game, not about that. Any other questions, besides about Kirk Cousins?"
For the 3-3 Eagles, yes, there are. The loss ended a modest two-game winning streak.
It won't get any easier as this season-defining stretch continues in Dallas on Sunday night. The Eagles have a lot to fix in a very short period of time.
"We know it's early in the season," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "We have to get back on track. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you in this league. We have to help ourselves and play the kind of football we know we can play. Today, we didn't do that. Not at all."
Check out the best photos from the Eagles' clash against the Vikings.