With the heartbreaking week four loss to the Tennessee Titans put behind them, the Eagles are preparing for an NFC Championship rematch with the Minnesota Vikings. Going into the season, this matchup was expected to be a clash of two powerhouses, but both teams are coming into Week four with more questions than answers. The Vikings will have ten days to prepare for this game, but they are playing in hostile Lincoln Financial Field, where they were embarrassed by the Eagles last season. Beating the Vikings is a demanding task, but the Eagles have more than a fair chance. Doing just two things well this Sunday will give the Eagles an advantage to pounce on a reeling Minnesota team: cutting down penalties on both sides of the ball and playing aggressive offense.
Looking back at the first four games, it is evident to see that the Eagles have not been playing disciplined football. They trail just the Pittsburgh Steelers in penalties, with a whopping 35. This has allowed opponents 343 free yards against the Eagles throughout four weeks. What’s even worse is that the Eagles have the second most penalties in the league at home as well. Doug Pederson understands this, and is working with the team to play mistake free football this week.
After the Titans game, Pederson stated, “The penalties are racking up and that can’t happen…We have to eliminate that. It’s something we have to look at. I’ll look at it over the next couple of days and try and put my finger on it. We have to keep coaching our guys.”
Penalties especially cost the Eagles against the Titans. Philadelphia racked up 8 penalties for 77 total yards. Two of these penalties came during the Titans game winning overtime drive. Sidney Jones was called for pass interference on a fourth down play, which would have otherwise ended the game. Just minutes after, Malcolm Jenkins was flagged in the red zone which set up the Corey Davis touchdown to end the game.
Penalties are most definitely a fixable issue. Scaling back on mistakes will allow the Eagles to put the game away in critical situations this season. Even more so, these penalties have served as a wake up call for the players. Jalen Mills knows this better than anyone, as he was quoted stating “That’s the first thing Coach (Doug) Pederson preaches every week. Before our meeting on Saturday, he said, ‘The number one thing is eliminate the penalties.’” Aside from cutting down from penalties, the Eagles can also attack the susceptible Minnesota defense aggressively.
Although they were among the best in the league last season, the Vikings defense has been nowhere near as good this year. In 2018, the Vikings are 21st in yards allowed with a hefty 381.5, and are giving up the 22nd most points in the league per game. Last thursday night against the Rams, Minnesota’s defense gave up an absurd eight 20-plus yard plays, with LA scoring on three of these. This bodes very well for the Eagles offense. In Carson Wentz’s third game back from injury, the Eagles can take advantage of a big-play susceptible Vikings defense. Although the mini-bye will give Mike Zimmer some time to try to fix their defensive woes, Pederson will look to utilize RPO’s and the running game to gash the Vikings defense.
Run pass options work very effectively with Wentz running the offense since: “The ball’s out, the ball’s out fast before a guy takes two or three steps. We did that some in the second half, we were able to get the ball out on the perimeter, we hit (TE) Dallas (Goedert), hit (WR) Nelson (Agholor), also part of your RPO game, the ball’s out fast, so it’s a tough thing to defend.”
Against a Vikings secondary that has not found its rhythm yet, look for the Eagles to get the ball out quickly to better protect Carson Wentz. With the Eagles offensive line not pass blocking particularly well, getting the ball out of his hands will tire out the Vikings defense and reduce the pressure they are able to put on him. Utilizing a variety of stretch and trap runs will allow the Eagles offensive to keep the Vikings defense honest.
Pederson also looks to attack the Vikings passing down the field early on in the game. The Vikings defense is allowing a favorable 27.5 points per game, and has allowed 75 out of the 110 total points in the first half. By coming out throwing deep shots to Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Nelson Agholor, Wentz will be able to build confidence early on at home. Wentz will have the ability to look for his tight ends all game since the Vikings do not have a good pass defense linebacker. Giving Wentz an opportunity to control the game from the start will open up the playbook down the course of the game.
In what many fans consider a “must-win” game, the Eagles are playing at home where they have historically performed better. Doug Pederson knows exactly why the Eagles haven’t looked as great in the first few weeks. By changing up the game plan and giving Wentz more autonomy, the Eagles look to bounce back against the Vikings. This rematch of the 2018 NFC Championship game looks to be a great one Eagles fans. Let’s give the Eagles more time to show exactly why they are the defending Super Bowl champions.
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