The Vikings are ranked 22nd against the run, 30th against the pass and 31st in the NFL in total defense. They’re also 31st in points allowed, and the fewest they’ve given up in a game all season is 20. Simply put, this is very bad.
On paper, Minnesota is no match for Philadelphia’s third-ranked offense. The Eagles are number one on the ground, 13th through the air and ninth in scoring.
Adjust your fantasy lineups accordingly.
The Vikings’ secondary in particular is in rough shape, and will be further hampered by injuries at cornerback. Rookie Xavier Rhodes, the club’s top corner this season, is ruled out of Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. Josh Robinson is not expected to return from a chest injury this week, and is terrible to boot.
That leaves Chris Cook and Marcus Sherels to handle the bulk of the duties on the outside. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), Cook has the highest passer rating against of any CB who’s played at least 25 percent of his teams snaps (145.5), while Sherels is one of the most targeted corners in the league, allowing a reception every 7.1 snaps.
Free safety Robert Blanton has seen a lot of action at nickel corner with all the injuries.
All of which sets up well for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and by far the most explosive passing attack in the NFL. Philadelphia leads the league in completions of 20 or more yards with 64, as well as passes of 40 or more with 17. The offense will have some opportunities to add to those totals this week.
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And in what has become an almost weekly reminder, the Birds’ record is 6-1 this season when explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson catches a touchdown pass. Once Foles hooks up with his Pro Bowl target again this week, they will be well on their way to victory.
At which point, it will be LeSean McCoy’s time. The NFL’s leading rusher is one of the most dominant finishers in the game, compiling 137 of his franchise-record 217 yards in the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ recent win over the Detroit Lions according to CSNPhilly.com’s Reuben Frank. Who wants to see an encore?
Philadelphia Defense vs. Minnesota Offense
Despite the bad juggling act at quarterback, the Vikings can be surprisingly potent on offense. Minnesota is averaging 24.2 points per game, which is good for 14th in the league. That’s actually respectable.
Of course, a lot of that has to do with the reigning Most Valuable Player, Adrian Peterson, who is doubtful to play this week due to a foot injury. His backup, Toby Gerhart, has run for an impressive 7.9 yards per carry this season, yet he’s also questionable with a hamstring.
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Even if the AP and Gerhart are both no-goes, DeMeco Ryans still expects Minnesota to pound the rock. The Birds linebacker spoke to reporters on Wednesday about what stands out to him about the Vikings offense, per video from PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
They're very committed to running the ball. You know they're running it, they know they're running it, so they're gonna line up, push you out of the way and run the ball right at you. It's kind of like old-school, smashmouth football that we really have to prepare for.
We're ready for the run game because that's what they've relied on so much.
That means even if it’s unheralded second-year back Matt Asiata making his first career, the Eagles better focus on stopping the run first. Minnesota’s ground attack is seventh in the NFL, third in yards per carry, and first overall in touchdown runs.
Plus, it’s going to be Matt Cassel under center. You could say he’s been the Vikings’ best quarterback this season with a passer rating of 84.9, but the difference between he and Christian Ponder is negligible. Cassel is less accurate, he’s equally as ineffective from the pocket and historically he’s been a bit of a turnover machine.
In nine games for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, Cassel managed to throw 12 interceptions and lose nine fumbles. Assuming the Eagles’ front can get pressure on him, as it has all quarterbacks during their nine-game run of holding opponents to 21 points or fewer, you can count on a few takeaways.
The Eagles have been winning the turnover battle almost every week, which is how they built their record up to 8-5. They’ve been especially good over their five-game winning streak however, with just two giveaways to 12 takeaways for a turnover margin of plus-10. If that continues this week, chalk up victory number six.
X-Factor: Cordarrelle Patterson
The one player the Eagles need to keep a close eye on is Cordarrelle Patterson, the explosive rookie who has been beating opponents every which way.
Patterson’s numbers don’t jump off the page. A wide receiver by trade, the Tennessee product has 35 receptions for 395 yards this season for a mediocre 11.3 average. However, Patterson is also a threat to carry the football, and he leads the league in kick returning at 33.3 yards per attempt—almost three full yards ahead of second.
Four of Patterson’s five touchdowns this season have been spread over the last six games. He caught a 79-yard pass against Baltimore on Sunday, ran one in from 33 yards versus Chicago two weeks ago and tied the longest play in history with a 109-yard kick return back in Week 8.
There may not be a more dangerous all-around weapon in the NFL right now than Patterson.
The biggest concern is probably in the return game, which gave the Birds trouble in their recent win over the Detroit Lions. Jeremy Ross took a punt and a kick to the house against Philadelphia’s special teams unit, piling up more return yards (243) than the Lions had total offense (231).
Those returns nearly swung the outcome in Detroit’s favor, and could easily do the same for Minnesota. There’s a tendency by some to write off the Vikings at 3-9-1, but they’re 2-2-1 over their last five, and have only lost by more than one possession once in the last six.
The Eagles must take special care not to let Patterson swing the momentum in Minnesota's favor, especially on the road. Kicking away from him would be a start. Having two sets of eyes on him in any offensive set wouldn't be a bad idea, either.