The Eagles' offense will face a difficult test on Thursday night when they take on the Brian Flores-led Minnesota Vikings defense. Last year, when these two teams met, Minnesota had a defense that played a lot of soft, umbrella zone coverage stacked with defenders over the top. Critics reeled as the team was viewed as too passive, both up front and on the back end. This offseason, a change was made at defensive coordinator, and it's not a stretch to say that this defense is the polar opposite of last year's unit.
A week into the NFL season, the Vikings blitz at the highest rate in the entire NFL (55.3 percent, according to Pro Football Focus), and this matches up with Flores' history. When he was the head coach in Miami, his defense led the league in blitz percentage with the Dolphins. As Shawn Syed said on the latest Eagle Eye in the Sky Podcast, "Flores wants to solve problems with aggressiveness."
If you watch the Vikings' defense in the Week 1 performance against the Tampa Bay Bucs, one thing you will see early and often is the extremely aggressive defensive fronts, where they often lined up six or even seven defenders on the line of scrimmage before the snap. For some, this may look familiar, as it harkened back to Mike Zimmer’s days patrolling the sideline in Minnesota. Zimmer often "mugged" linebackers up into the A gaps (the spaces between the center and the guards) before the snap, often sending one or both.
As I continued to get through the film of this game, however, something began to stand out. Yes, the Vikings often lined up in these "Double Mug" mug fronts ... but they didn't always send them. Still, the damage had already been done, and the Bucs struggled to work through the challenges the looks presented. Here's a great example.
When it was all said and done, the Vikings lined up in these looks 12 times on Sunday, by far the most of any NFL team in Week 1 (the second-highest was five by the Atlanta Falcons). But they "only" blitzed three times on those 12 snaps! More often than not, they actually rushed only three from these looks, choosing instead to drop eight into coverage, causing further confusion for quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Bucs' passing game.
(Side note: It is pretty crazy to think that the Vikings blitzed 55 percent of the time despite only doing it 25 percent of the time from these looks. That speaks to how often they sent extra pressure at Mayfield the rest of the time! And it's why the Eagles have to respect the pressure package every time they line up that way.)
Even if the defense doesn't always send the house from these looks, you really can't just "guess" when they are going to blitz. Because these linebackers and safeties are right up in the face of the quarterback, one bad decision can make or break the game. You have to have a plan on every snap on how to handle the worst-case scenario. All of that extra thinking is exactly what Flores wants you to have to work through before the snap of the ball.
Tampa Bay started 0-for-6 on third down in this game. Mayfield was impacted by the rush and coverage several other times as well outside of the sack shown above, taking shots from free hitters, hitting frenetic checkdowns, and falling short of moving the sticks.
You can be sure that the Eagles will have multiple plans ready for this pressure package, and they'll use a handful of the tools in their toolbox once kickoff happens on Thursday night.