Vikings-Eagles preview, predictions: What will Justin Jefferson do for an encore?

Vikings-Eagles preview, predictions: What will Justin Jefferson do for an encore?

The early returns on the new coaching regime are positive, but we won’t know much about them until we get a number of games on record. To that end, the Vikings are fighting to start 2-0 in a game against NFC East division favorites, the Philadelphia Eagles, who surprisingly needed to gut out a win against the Detroit Lions last week.

The Eagles’ struggles and the Vikings’ dominance Week 1 were probably both flukes, so we’ll get to find out something more substantial about these teams in a primetime matchup on Monday night.

Alec Lewis, Arif Hasan and Jon Krawczynski will preview the Week 2 matchup to see if the Vikings can maintain their momentum

What I’m watching

Lewis: How the Eagles attempt to prevent Justin Jefferson from an encore of his Week 1 performance. Catching nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns speaks for itself, but the way Jefferson amassed the numbers was informative. After the game, Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander was steadfast that he wanted to match up with Jefferson play for play. That, however, was not going to be easy, considering the Vikings motioned Jefferson to different sides of the field and even into the backfield, complicating communication for the Packers’ secondary. The Eagles now know the types of strategies Vikings first-year coach Kevin O’Connell will deploy to put a strain on the backend. Will they respond by manning Jefferson with Darius Slay and a safety over the top? And if so, how will they adjust when O’Connell motions Jefferson across the field? To push the thought further, how much will the Eagles’ need for a safety over the top affect their ability to limit the Vikings’ run game? As Jefferson’s Week 1 performance proved, the answer for opposing defenses will not be an easy task. Which makes observing the Eagles’ approach all the more interesting.

Hasan: Last week, I said the new defensive scheme would catch my eye, and this week I’m keeping my eyes glued there. How they approach Aaron Rodgers is one thing, but how they take on a running threat like Jalen Hurts is quite another. They cannot approach the game with the same coverages or front seven setup and will need to be much more disciplined in their run fits while ever cognizant of the deep threat that Devonta Smith and A.J. Brown offer. Their ability to adapt week to week will matter more than their occasional success against a particular quarterback or scheme.

Krawczynski: I’m watching Adam Thielen this week. He had a pretty quiet opener, getting a lot of attention from Alexander. One would think the Eagles will pay a ton of attention to Jefferson in an effort to not have their 2020 draft blunder smack them in the face on their home turf. That should open the door for Thielen to get some better opportunities, especially in the red zone. 

 

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Justin Jefferson, his WR ‘sensei’ and the art of running silky-smooth routes

Biggest concerns

Lewis: The man who in his Eagles debut last week caught 10 passes for 155 yards: A.J. Brown. Asked about the challenge Brown presents, Vikings veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson said on Friday: “He’s a very big, physical receiver who doesn’t mind contact. He’s very good after the catch. He’s a receiver you definitely have to be on your Ps and Qs every down.” By “you,” Peterson seemed to be referring not only to the cornerback lined up against him but the entire defense, which brings to mind a story The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen wrote this week on how teams are using wide receivers. While the Eagles will attempt to prohibit Jefferson from going off the way he did in Week 1, the Vikings will try to do the same with Brown. If they play as much Cover 6 as they did in Week 1 (20 defensive plays, which ranked second-most in the NFL, per TruMedia), can the secondary communicate to pick up Brown across the field? Working in tandem, will the Vikings’ pass rush be able to apply pressure to Hurts to ease the strain Brown puts on those in coverage? If they’re not able to, it could be a long night in Philadelphia.

Hasan: Jordan Davis. Davis only played 26 snaps last week against the Lions and didn’t look quite like the Georgia nose tackle college football fans became familiar with. But he’s one of the strongest players in the NFL and happened to be a more even matchup for the Lions’ Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow. He’s a terrifying matchup for Garrett Bradbury. Bradbury and Ed Ingram combined to give up nine pressures against the Packers and could give up much more against that Eagles front.

Krawczynski: Hurts making plays out of the pocket. Rodgers held the ball for a long time last week, a sign the secondary was covering well, but also Rodgers’ hesitancy to take off and run at his advanced age. Hurts won’t have the same concerns. If he is more decisive with pulling it down and running when the Vikings hold their own against Brown and Smith and the rest of the Eagles passing game, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the front seven. And if Hurts picks up big chunks of yardage on the ground, it could lead to bigger plays down the field later in the game. 

 

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

How the Vikings defense might be able to keep Jalen Hurts, Eagles in check

Biggest opportunities

Lewis: The offensive line can continue to solidify a comment right tackle Brian O’Neill offered after last Sunday’s win: “I think you’re going to see a better offensive line from us than you have the past couple of years.” Davis, Fletcher Cox and Josh Sweat pose challenges both in blocking the run and the pass. But, as the Lions showed last week against the Eagles, some of the Eagles’ defensive front structures are susceptible, especially against the run. How much space will Dalvin Cook have if guards Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram pull and lead the way? Conversely, will Kirk Cousins have enough time to find receivers downfield as plays develop? For the offense to shine in primetime, those two elements must go the Vikings’ direction. Whether they do or not will largely depend on an offensive line that believes it has made a leap.

Hasan: The Eagles have a remarkably talented defense, but the coordination is suspect. Though Jonathan Gannon has been a popular head-coaching candidate, it very much seems like they cannot get all their talent on the same page. With upgrades at cornerback, linebacker and along the defensive line, there’s not a weak point from a personnel standpoint. But the scheme demands quite a bit from its secondary, and there should be some large seams between zones {that a} player like Jefferson is perfectly suited to attack. It might seem a little bit of a copout to pick the player who just earned 184 yards last week to have a big game again this week, but the matchups are there.

Krawczynski: Cook making it happen. It’s kind of crazy, but he had a quiet 90 yards and 20 carries. Maybe it was lost in Jefferson’s shadow, but he was a big part of shortening that second half ensuring the the Packers never got back into it. He didn’t make splash play in the game, but a Monday night stage might be just what he needs to make his presence felt.  

Most interesting storyline

Lewis: It has to be all of the hoopla surrounding Jefferson, Jalen Reagor and the 2020 NFL Draft, right? The Eagles selected Reagor with the No. 21 pick, and you know what happened next. The Vikings brass, meeting together on Zoom, erupted. And, in the years since, the Eagles fanbase has lambasted their front office for the decision. Now, Jefferson will arrive in Philadelphia as a teammate of Reagor’s, whom the Vikings traded for in late August. What response will Jefferson receive? How about Reagor? All of it is a backdrop to an important football game between NFC rivals.

Hasan: Last week, Za’Darius Smith was on the warpath in a revenge game. This week, we see Reagor suit up against his old team. But this one doesn’t seem like revenge so much as redemption. While Reagor’s relationship with the Eagles fanbase was rocky, any big plays that come this week from him would mean more for his internal motivation than anything external. Reagor’s approach has been to attack this second opportunity with zeal, and it seems like he doesn’t begrudge the Eagles for moving him. So the storyline to me seems similar to my pick last week, but what’s interesting about it is that there are very few similarities at all.

Krawczynski: “Reagor’s Revenge” is the most obvious, but I’m going to go a little broader. I just think after a very impressive performance in Week 1, the Vikings have the chance to assert themselves as a legitimate NFC contender if they go into a hostile environment and beat a very talented Eagles team on Monday night. We didn’t really know what to make of this new-look team heading into the season. But the Packers performance, which was so solid in all phases, got everyone’s attention. Beating the Eagles, in my opinion, would be even more impressive, because they are not short-handed on the offensive line like the Packers were, and they have so many more weapons in the passing game. 

Quote of the week 

“I mean, every mock draft had me going to Philly (in 2020). When Philly was on the board, getting the phone call and it being Minnesota was definitely a shocker. But I’m definitely way more happy to be here than there. Like I said, I’m excited for it. I can’t wait.” — Justin Jefferson

Stat of the week

(-)10.0 percent — The completion rate over expected of Jalen Hurts’ throws last week after taking into account field position, the distance the ball was thrown in the air and the  direction. That ranked 29th of 33 quarterbacks in Week 1. 

Predictions

Lewis: 31-17 Vikings. Two reasons guide this pick. First, the Eagles ranked 31st in EPA defending the run last week. And second, though Jalen Hurts’ legs do present different challenges, the Vikings can show many looks that will overcomplicate the picture for the Eagles’ quarterback and induce a couple of Vikings takeaways. 

Hasan: 35-30 Vikings. I’ll take the Vikings to start out hot. I don’t really have much trust in the Eagles defensive coordinating, and I need to see more from Hurts to trust him to consistently win games. But I still have worries about the Vikings defense, so I see a high-scoring game.

Krawczynski: 28-24 Vikings. I’m not sure if the Eagles just relaxed against the Lions last week after getting out to a big lead or if they really do have serious defensive issues the Vikings can exploit. Either way, I just like how the Vikings are carrying themselves early. 

(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

About the Author: Mofazzal Hossen

You May Also Like