— Story by Will Holt @Will_Holt_4
Is Antone Davis Available…for Either Team?
The line this week screams “Eagles!”
That’s all you hear from the fans and talking heads as the Minnesota Vikings roll into Philadelphia this week. Think about it for just a little bit. Minnesota is the only undefeated team in the NFL, and fresh off a bye. They’re also gonna try to win one for the Gipper, or in this case Sam Bradford, who is making his first start in Philadelphia since being traded offseason. And it’s not like Minnesota is going to look ahead to their next opponent considering it’s the lowly Chicago Bears.
Meanwhile, the Eagles lost two consecutive road games as a favorite and Carson Wentz displayed signs of being a rookie quarterback from North Dakota State University.
So why in the hell are the struggling Eagles only 2.5-point underdogs to the hottest, and possibly best team in football? It’s pretty simple: The Eagles actually matchup pretty well against Minnesota. Shoot, they may even hold advantages in several “Keys to the Game.”
The Battle of the Lines
Through four games Lane Johnson was a boss at left tackle, Wentz was about to change his name to Peyton Aaron Young and Eagles fans couldn’t buy enough Super Bowl tickets. Oh how that quickly changed.
Within five plays of their game against Washington the Eagles allowed two sacks. Pretty alarming stuff considering they had given up just seven sacks in the prior four games. Wentz needed to borrow a jersey from someone in the stands, get a change of underpants and a new offensive line. Hopefully the offensive line chipped in for Wentz’s new jersey
The game was the first of Lane Johnson’s 10-game suspension and also Halapoulivaati Vatai’s NFL debut. Fittingly, Wentz was sacked two more times during the Eagle’s final drive to pretty much seal up the loss. You didn’t think the defense was getting off the field did you? Panic mode hit Philadelphia. And rightfully so.
Minnesota is not exactly a slump-buster for an offensive line that resembles a broken levee. Minnesota leads the NFL in sacks per game with 3.8 and appears very likely to pick up at least four against the Eagles. I’m not going to say things are going to be easy down at the Linc on Sunday afternoon. But let’s not forget that there is another side to this story and a key question to be asked:
What about Minnesota’s offensive line?
After some quick Google searches, we begin to see the Vikings are in some serious trouble up front and we better understand why Vegas put out such a skinny number. This is exactly where the Birds can turn the game into an ugly defensive battle.
Minnesota will enter the game without starting right tackle Andre Smith and starting left tackle Matt Kalil. Go ahead. Read it again and tell me you don’t feel better. Smith most recently played in Minnesota’s fourth game and Kalil has not played since the second game.
Of course the counter argument is that the Vikings have been playing well despite those losses and they will only get better. Fine. Be the eternal pessimist. But if you’re hanging onto any hope then read the following excerpts from the Star Tribune about the issues along Minnesota’s o-line.
Oh. Quick heads up: TJ Clemmings is Kalil’s replacement.
“Blocking has been a problem for the Vikings, who have given up 27 quarterback hits in five games and rank last in the NFL in yards per run.”
“The offensive line is still a work in progress,” Zimmer said. “We’ll have to get better there.”
“(T.J. Clemmings) has struggled in pass protection against the Giants and then the Texans. On Sunday, Houston standout pass rusher Whitney Mercilus blew by Clemmings on a pair of sacks.”
“There were a lot of times during the game (Clemmings) played well,” Zimmer said after watching tape from the Texans game. “Then he’ll have five just crazy things he does — he sets too wide, he lunges with his hands, he gets beat quickly. So we’ll have to get that fixed.”
It also now makes sense why the Eagles and Vikings have the lowest Over/Under total (40) of the week. Fine. I’ll give a slight edge to the Vikings if we compare the matchups between each team’s offensive and defensive lines, but you have to admit the advantage isn’t as a great as you initially thought.
Get the Early Lead and Hold On
Despite an undefeated record the Vikings haven’t exactly been dominant. In three of their five games they have actually trailed, which includes away games against Tennessee and Carolina and a home game against Green Bay. Things have been much different for the Eagles. In all three of their wins, they scored first and never relinquished the lead.
Basically don’t be surprised if the Birds get an early lead against Minnesota. The surprise is in how the Eagles manage this game if they hold a late lead. And that brings us to the next point…
Don’t let Minnesota’s Defense Make Plays
When Minnesota does come back it’s due to their defense scoring or setting up the offense with a short field to operate. Through five games the Vikings have an NLF-best plus-11 turnover margin. The good news for Philly fans is that the Birds are third in the league at plus-six.
So what happens if the game gets ugly and the Birds have a late lead? Will you see Doug Pederson go conservative and protect the football at all costs or is he going to let Wentz make plays that win game? I hate the conservative approach, but it only makes sense to hold on for dear life and pray the final “key” works in the Eagles favor.
The Kicking Game
Look, if Vegas is right about the spread, this game comes down to a field goal and you have to ask yourself if you want Blair Walsh or Caleb Sturgis.
Walsh entered the NFL in 2012 and was named First Team All Pro. So yeah, he was the best kicker in the league and if you needed someone to make a game-winner he was your guy. Then Walsh missed from 27 yards out against the Seahawks in the playoffs last year and he hasn’t been the same since. He’s already missed two extra points and three field goals this year.
It’s gotten to the point where fans are placing ads for a new kicker. Sturgis isn’t exactly perfect as he’s missed an extra point and field goal, but I’ll take the guy who doesn’t have demons swirling around his skull.
So there ya have it Eagles fans. There’s basically no need to tune in. We will end up seeing both teams struggle along the offensive line. The Eagles will score first and then hold onto a slim 13-11 lead only get ultra conservative late and punt it away with under 2:00 remaining. Bradford will march his squad down the field and then watch Walsh shank one from 38 yards as time expires.