Back in 2000, Duce Staley was hurt and the Eagles had no real replacement. I was worried the season might fall apart, but the team played good defense, great special teams and Donovan McNabb made just enough plays for the Eagles to finish 11-5 and win a Wild Card spot.
Two years later, it was McNabb who was on the sideline with a fractured ankle. A.J. Feeley took over at quarterback and the team kept winning, mostly with great defense and a strong kicking game. Those teams had good talent, but they had great chemistry. They were the epitome of what it meant to be a team. The players brought out the best in one another.
That's what I see when I look at the Minnesota Vikings this year. Their best player is Adrian Peterson and he's out for the year. They just keep winning. The Vikings have a good roster, not a great one, but they play as a team. That's helped them start 5-0 and look like the best team in the NFC, if not the whole NFL.
The Vikings had a bye last week and it will be interesting to see if that affects them. Teams that are playing at a high level don't want time off. They don't want to lose their edge. That happened to the Eagles, who were 3-0 going into the bye and have lost both games since then.
This is a winnable game for the Eagles. Minnesota is the better team right now, but that can change on Sunday. The NFL is a league of matchups. The Vikings don't have a great offensive line, in part due to injuries. The Eagles have one of the best front sevens in the league. That should favor the Eagles
I say "should" because the Vikings have won the battle against some talented defenses this season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes in a balanced offense and will run the ball even when it isn't working. Minnesota is dead last in the league in yards per carry with 2.5. That's incredibly low. It is amazing that Turner sticks with the run game, but that's exactly what he does because it is such a big part of his overall offense.
The Vikings love to run so that it helps their play-action passes. They want chunk plays, not just short gains. Sam Bradford averages 7.9 yards per pass attempt, easily the highest figure of his career. Some people called him Checkdown Charlie in the past, but that's not the case this year. For the first time in his career, Bradford is throwing the ball down the field.
Bradford knows the Eagles' playbook and can share his thoughts with the Vikings' defense. On the flips side, the Eagles know him. Who does this help more? I think that stuff is usually overblown. Games are won and lost by execution and mistakes, not by inside knowledge. Those advantages can help here and there, but they make better storylines than anything else.
The Eagles gave up 230 rushing yards last week. That won't happen again. Minnesota's season-high is 104 yards in the Week 5 win over Houston. The Eagles need to be able to handle the run with linemen and linebackers so the defensive backs can focus on coverage.
The big thing for the defense is not to try to do too much. The defense has played sloppy football the past two games. Players are trying to make big plays when sometimes all you need is a simple tackle. I know the defensive line will be fired up. The linemen didn't have a sack last week and will be facing an old friend this time out. They would love to put Bradford on the ground four or five times. You can bet Fletcher Cox and his guys will be fired up, but they do need to play under control. Penalties on the line in the last two games really hurt the Eagles.
Carson Wentz and the offense must also play better than last week. The Eagles didn't produce an offensive touchdown in the loss to Washington. This is a far better defense, so moving the ball and scoring points is going to be a major challenge,
A lot of attention will be paid to right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He struggled last week, to put it mildly. Still, he did improve as the game progressed, as Doug Pederson pointed out. Vaitai didn't get discouraged. He didn't give up on himself. He kept battling and got better. The big challenge for him this week will be to not get beat to the inside. Tackles are scared of speed rushers flying by them on the outside, so they focus on that and become vulnerable elsewhere,
I'm curious to see what Pederson does in terms of his game plan. He could use a lot of max protect looks and throw downfield. He could also spread the offense out and throw the ball quickly. They did that to open the Bears game and it was effective.
Nothing will be easy. The Vikings have four guys with at least three sacks each. They have seven interceptions on the season. They have scored a couple of touchdowns and a safety. There are playmakers at each level of the defense. Tackle Linval Joseph, a former Giant, is playing at a high level and linebacker Eric Kendricks, Mychal's brother, is outstanding against the run and the pass.
This is another week when the Eagles need to be good in the kicking game. Minnesota has returned a pair of punts for touchdowns. Marcus Sherels averages 16.5 yards per punt return. Cordarelle Patterson has been a weapon on kickoff returns throughout his young career. He doesn't have any touchdowns this year, but returned a kickoff 61 yards.
Another week. Another test for the Eagles.
They host the last undefeated team in the league. Pederson, Wentz and the defense all have a chance at redemption after a rough couple of weeks. One thing is for sure, the Eagles are back to being the underdog and that just might be a role that suits them. It brought out the best in them earlier this year. Sunday will be another chance for them to show what they can do when they have something to prove.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.