How the Eagles defense can slow down Dalvin Cook


After a dominant performance against a struggling Jets team, one in which the Eagles had more sacks (10) than their opponent had points (6), there is a new-found belief in the Philly defense. Getting off to a slow start, often allowing teams to jump out to early leads, the defense has since buckled down and became the catalyst for a key win in Green Bay, and a follow-up performance last weekend. There are some reinforcements coming on the horizon and the outlook going deeper in the season is positive. However, the Eagles will again face a tall task containing a familiar foe in what has been an at-times electric Vikings offense in Minnesota later today.

One of the boons for game-planning against Minnesota is that they’re very upfront about what they want to do. It’s no hidden secret that the Vikings’ offensive machine runs through third-year runner Dalvin Cook. Using a stretch-heavy zone run scheme, new OC Gary Kubiak uses lateral movement to create running lanes, exploit holes at the second level and set up their lethal play-action game. Needless to say, stopping the run will be priority one this week.

Stopping the run.

On paper, this looks like a good matchup for the Eagles defense who have allowed a league lowest 63.0 rush yards per game. However, Philadelphia’s opponents through the first five weeks of the season haven’t posed anywhere near the threat the Vikings do on the ground.

OpponentRush Yds/ GRank
Washington Redskins68.827th
Atlanta Falcons67.628th
Detroit Lions120.513th
Green Bay Packers93.023rd
New York Jets66.030th

Jim Schwartz unit can take some solace in the fact that they held the best rushing offense they’ve faced, the Detroit Lions, to just 86 yards. That number would be even more impressive if not for a 44 yard run from J.D. McKissic. Still, the Philly defense hasn’t yet done battle with a ground game so potent, and there is some risk of being outmatched. The Vikings’ offensive line is one of the few teams that can go toe to toe with the Eagles’ staunch run defense.

Vikings ORank*Eagles DRank*
Rush Yds/ G166.43rd63.01st
Yds/ ATT5.443rd3.22nd
Run DVOA10.0%6th-21.0%4th
Adj. Line Yards4.976th2.901st
RB Yards5.872nd2.811st
Power Success67%16th67%14th
2nd Level1.553rd0.561st
Open Field1.823rd0.6510th

In the chart above, strength matches strength. The Eagles have a slight edge in adjusted line yards that is more than made up for by Dalvin Cook’s incredible vision and elusiveness (RB yards). The biggest advantage the Eagles have is in the “stuffed” category. To slow down the Vikings rushing attack, it goes without question that the Eagles will need to make plays in the backfield. If not, the worry is that Minnesota will capitalize on second-level and open field yards, which they have all season. While Philadelphia has limited second-level yards so far in 2019, they have been less efficient limiting open field yards. Zach Brown and Nigel Bradham cannot afford to miss tackles, and the secondary will have to do a near-perfect job in run support.

The next two charts demonstrate exactly how the Vikings will attack Jim Schwartz’s defense. It will come as no surprise that Minnesota leads the league in carries. Gary Kubiak’s offenses have always leaned on the run game and the 2019 Vikings are no exception.

FrequencyVikings ORank*Eagles DRank*
RB Carries1351st856th
Left End19%3rd19%1st
Left Tackle19%3rd9%25th
Right Tackle16%10th15%10th
Right End14%6th16%4th

It will also come as no surprise that, in a stretch/ outside zone run scheme, Minnesota generally hands the football off on a wide track. Last in the league in attacking the middle of a defense, that won’t change facing Fletcher Cox this week. This isn’t news for Jim Schwartz. For years teams have shied away from attacking the middle of the Eagles defense and this year has been no different. Opponents have instead preferred to target the left side, where some new faces at defensive end have created somewhat of a weakness. Derek Barnett has always been a prolific pass rusher, but his run defense is a work in progress. Alternatively, Vinny Curry has been stalwart against the run his entire career, but is getting older and is seeing less of the field.

The Philadelphia defense has also been targeted on the other side of the defensive line as well. However, as you’ll see from the chart below, it has been to varying success.

Adj. Line YardsVikings ORank*Eagles DRank*
Left End5.558th4.5418th
Left Tackle5.1912th2.714th
Right Tackle5.454th4.7821st
Right End5.029th0.274th

*Does not include statistics from the Thursday night game between NYG and NE.

Essentially, the Vikings have been proficient at picking up chunks of yardage in any direction they decide to run the football. However, they are somewhat less potent when forced to attack the middle of the defense. This also limits how creative they can be in their play-action as they will not be able to stress the defense laterally as much as they would like. This will be the key for the Eagles. In a perfect world, it will look like:

Continued on the page below:

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports