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2023 NFL season: Four things to watch for in Vikings-Eagles on Prime Video

Minnesota Vikings
2023 · 0-1-0
Philadelphia Eagles
2023 · 1-0-0
  • WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
  • WHEN: 5:20 p.m. ET | Prime Video

One year ago, the Minnesota Vikings rolled into Philadelphia for a Week 2 game on a Monday night and left humbled, battered and bruised by the Eagles.

The two 2022 division winners are again set to do battle in prime time -- this year on Thursday Night Football. Like last year, the Eagles enter this contest 1-0 following a hotly contested Week 1 road game. The Vikings, who were coming off a big Week 1 victory over the Packers in 2022, enter this year’s game in Philly after a humbling home loss to the Buccaneers, which included three first-half turnovers from Kirk Cousins.

The Eagles didn’t thrive against the Patriots last week, winning 25-20 thanks to an early pick-six, three long second-half field goals. Philadelphia's defense preserved the win after New England came up just shy on the final drive.

Jalen Hurts enjoyed something of a breakout performance against the Vikings last season. He’d had big statistical games previously, but the way he sliced Minnesota with his legs (57 yards, 2 TDs) and diced them with his arm (333/1), it elevated Hurts to the national spotlight. He finished last season as the league’s MVP runner-up. In the opener, the Patriots kept Hurts mostly under wraps, as he threw for 170 yards and ran for 37. 

Meanwhile, Cousins had a big statistical game against the Buccaneers in Week 1 (33-of-44 passing, 344 yards, two TDs) but also lost two fumbles and threw a pick near the end zone. Last season at Philly, Cousins had one of his worst games of 2022, completing 27 of 46 passes for 221 yards with a TD and three picks.

Here are four things to watch for when the Vikings visit the Eagles on Thursday night on Prime Video:

  1. Justin Jefferson needs to get his. Feeding Jefferson is always one of the first orders of business when the Vikings draw up a game plan. He had 12 targets last week, which was actually ahead of last year’s pace of 10.8 per game. Jefferson finished the game with nine catches for 150 yards, but after Cousins' late second-quarter INT in Jefferson’s direction, he threw the All-Pro’s way only twice more in the final 30 minutes -- both in short yardage. The Vikings know they need to keep feeding Jefferson throughout games, but if last year’s matchup is any indication, they’ll have to be creative doing it. The Eagles held Jefferson to six catches for 48 yards on 12 targets in 2022. The Vikings tried freeing Jefferson up from outside CBs Darius Slay and James Bradberry, who will miss Thursday's game due to a concussion, by moving him into the slot vs. Avonte Maddox. Jefferson had all six of his receptions when lined up in the slot (26 routes) and zero when lined up outside (20 routes), per Next Gen Stats. Could the Vikings get cute and, say, line up Jefferson in the backfield for a play or two? We did see it occasionally last season. One way or another, Kevin O’Connell needs to scheme his star receiver open because the Vikings might not have enough weapons to consistently get him separation strictly on the outside.
  2. Plug back in the Eagles' high-powered offense. Dismal might be far too strong of a word to use, but the Eagles’ offense certainly was well-contained in last week's opener at New England. The Patriots held them to 251 yards -- 138 fewer than their 2022 season average and the second-fewest they’ve had under Nick Sirianni. He and new coordinator Brian Johnson must find ways to prevent bogging down the way they did in Week 1, including a long dry spell in the second quarter that included four straight three-and-outs. The Patriots played more zone than man coverage, but they blitzed selectively -- and effectively -- to help contain Hurts. Mostly, though, they forced Hurts to throw underneath. His longest pass play netted 23 yards, and Hurts didn’t attempt a pass longer than 20 yards downfield all game. Hurts also didn’t do a lot as a designed runner, according to Next Gen Stats, with only five called carries for 26 yards. This was not the same Eagles offense we saw last year, even if philosophically not much has changed. The emphasis should be on generating more big plays, but also sustaining drives better and more consistently.
  3. Brian Flores’ defense showed improvement Week 1. The Vikings fired coordinator Ed Donatell this offseason after Minnesota ranked in the bottom five in many defensive categories. Enter Flores, the former Dolphins head coach and Patriots defensive coordinator, who whipped the Vikings’ defense into respectable shape in Week 1, especially early on. The Vikings held the Bucs to 95 yards and four first downs in the first half, limiting them to 2.2 yards per carry throughout the game. But Minnesota also couldn’t get off the field on three long second-half drives that ended in Tampa scoring an at-the-time go-ahead TD, kicking the game-winning field goal and running the clock out to seal the win. The Vikings' defensive depth remains shaky, and pressures were hard to come by without Marcus Davenport, who is questionable for this game (ankle). Would Flores consider a zone-heavy scheme against a run threat of Hurts’ caliber? Flores traditionally has played a lot of man coverage, but Baker Mayfield faced zone on 31 of his 35 dropbacks, via Next Gen Stats. Perhaps Flores didn’t fully trust his corners in man vs. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, so it would make sense to take a similar approach vs. A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Co.
  4. Eagles have the horses up front to test Vikings’ offensive line. It was an up-and-down Week 1 for the Minnesota offensive line, as Cousins took two sacks on 46 dropbacks and the run game averaged a meager 2.4 yards per carry, with a long run of 9 yards. The Bucs’ front is no joke, of course, but this week’s matchup looks even more daunting. The Eagles boast rare D-line depth as eight different players registered at least one pressure last week, led by impressive performances from rookie DT Jalen Carter and LB Haason Reddick. Minnesota’s job -- especially dealing with Carter, Fletcher Cox and Jordan Davis (who also had a strong game last week) -- will be a lot tougher with center Garrett Bradbury (back) ruled out and LT Christian Darrisaw (ankle) questionable. Austin Schlottmann replaced an injured Bradbury last week and had some struggles in pass pro. If the Vikings can’t keep the A-gaps clean, it could be a long night up front for the offense. The Eagles can send waves of rushers at you for 60 minutes.

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