The Minnesota Vikings are matching up with one of the best defenses in the NFL when they travel to Philadelphia to face off with the Eagles. They will do so with one particular mismatch: The Vikings’ offensive line versus the Eagles’ defensive line.
So far this season, Eagles players have registered a total of 96 pressures in four games. That might not bode well for the Vikings, who gave up 13 last week to Aaron Donald and 12 two weeks ago to Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes.
Philadelphia has the best of both of the Vikings’ last two opponents with an inside rusher in Fletcher Cox and four starting-caliber defensive ends in Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham.
In last year’s NFC championship game, the Eagles’ stars up front dominated. Cox, Long and Graham alone registered 19 pressures on Case Keenum.
How will the Vikings slow down the rush this time around? Here are a few tactics they could use…
Play-action with heavy set
Since the 2016 Atlanta Falcons had absurd success with throwing out of sets that featured three tight ends, teams have copy-catted them around the league, including the Vikings. On the play below from Week 1, the Vikings used David Morgan and Dalvin Cook as extra blockers and sent Kyle Rudolph underneath, Tyler Conklin on an intermediate route and Adam Thielen deep.
The 49ers were still able to create some pressure, but Cousins had both Thielen and Conklin open on the play. This particular concept in which Cousins uses play-action and his receivers cross the field, was used by Tennessee in the Titans’ victory over the Eagles. It can be especially effective against cover-3 if the linebackers bite on the run. Notice the 49ers’ linebacker has his eyes in the backfield as Conklin runs by him on the intermediate route.
Quick passes out of empty formations
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has been fond early this year of screens to Stefon Diggs. He used one for a key first down late against Green Bay and picked up a huge gain against the Rams with the play below.
All the linemen let the D-linemen run free at the quarterback while the tight end and running back outside immediately turn into blockers. Against man-to-man coverage, it creates a numbers mismatch if the linemen can get out to hit the DBs. The play gives the Rams’ D-line almost zero chance to pressure the QB unless something goes wrong.
Tennessee sent running back Dion Lewis out wide in an empty set and ran a slant route against off coverage for an 11-yard gain against Philly.
The Eagles sent a blitz, leaving Lewis one-on-one. Tennessee’s running back made a play in space, which is what DeFilippo will be looking for from his running backs, whether it’s Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mike Boone or Roc Thomas.
According to an article by The Ringer teams are using jet sweep action and fake jet sweeps far more than they did last year — likely a copycat of the Rams from 2017. The Titans used it effectively on the play below. Notice the linebackers have to shift when it appears a jet sweep is possible in order to stay with their gap assignments. That combined with a blitz took away any underneath zone defender, leaving the comeback route open.
This concept can also be used in the run game. Last week the Rams used fake jet sweeps on several occasions to take one linebacker out of the middle of the field, leaving more room for Toddy Gurley to work. Receivers can also chip the defensive end.
Create mismatches vs. Cover-0
The Eagles like to use cover-0, which means leaving everyone one-on-one and sending the rest at the quarterback. On the game-winning play by the Titans, Tennessee found open space in the middle of the field for Corey Davis, a former top pick, to work against his man.
If the Eagles are equally as aggressive, the Vikings can use Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the inside to find extra space — although they will have to make their moves quickly to make plays before the rush gets home.
Outside runs out of condensed formation
Running straight at Fletcher Cox probably isn’t going to succeed. The Eagles have a top run defense and they largely slowed the Titans. But one of Tennessee’s successful runs came on a toss from a condensed formation in which the tackle pulled to the outside and receivers blocked back inside.
Finding more space outside may be the key to getting rolling in the Vikings’ struggling run game. And if they can strike any fear into the Eagles’ D-line, that will provide some help for Cousins and the pass protectors.