The Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1) head to Philadelphia to play the Eagles (2-2). Here is how the two teams match up at each position…(all stats per PFF and Pro-Football Reference)
Vikings starter: Kirk Cousins
Minnesota fans have been treated to every aspect of Kirk Cousins’ game in the first four weeks. At times he has been spectacular a la the fourth quarter of the Packers game and a large portion of the Rams game, but he has also allowed key fumbles and seen the offense go cold for stretches (three quarters against the Packers, the loss to the Bills). Of course, Cousins has been hindered by being pressured on 42 percent of his drop backs — which is unlikely to change this week. The Vikings’ franchise quarterback has shown the depths of his arm talent, making a number of high-difficulty throws to receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and is maximizing their talents. As the team faces some adversity here early in the season, he will need another big performance.
Eagles starter: Carson Wentz
Recovering from a severe knee injury last season that kept him out of the Super Bowl, Wentz hasn’t quite regained his MVP-caliber play, but he hasn’t been bad in his first two starts either. He’s completed 66.7 percent of his throws, gained 603 yards and tossed three touchdowns, but is only averaging 6.9 yards per attempt thus far. At his best, Wentz proved last year he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw 33 TDs and flashed a rare dynamic playmaking ability. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s seen Wentz grow quite a bit since Minnesota saw him in 2016.
“We played him his rookie year, and they kind of kept things pretty basic,” Zimmer said. “Now he’s scrambling and running, a big-time arm, throws the ball well, sees the coverages.”
Vikings starter: Dalvin Cook (questionable)
Between struggles on the O-line and a hamstring injury, Cook’s season has not gotten off the ground. He was routinely forced to break tackles to gain positive yardage in the first two weeks and then was out Week 3 and slowed to just 16 snaps against the Rams. When healthy, he’s shown elite-level big-play skills and a rare receiving ability out of the backfield. His 24-yard slant route catch against the Packers put fear in the minds of opponents. But Cook still isn’t 100 percent. If he’s missing, the Vikings’ offense is less dynamic with Murray — though we may see more of rookies Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, who both got a couple snaps last week.
Eagles starter: Jay Ajayi
The addition of Ajayi at the deadline last season changed the look of the Eagles’ offense, forcing opponents to pay attention to Philly’s running game. Through four games, he isn’t quite putting up the same numbers as last year, but still averages an impressive 4.6 yards per carry. Ajayi is spelled by Wendell Smallwood, who’s picking up 5.6 yards per carry on 22 rushes. Corey Clement, who was a huge part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots, is questionable. The Eagles’ RBs play a significant role in the passing game, combining for 23 catches this year.
Advantage: Eagles (unless Cook is fully healthy)
Vikings starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph
What could the Vikings’ receivers do with a highly-talented quarterback? We are finding out. Cousins has a 118.6 rating when throwing to Diggs, 110.6 when targeting Thielen and 135.7 when he looks Rudolph’s way. Thielen leads the NFL in catches and catches out of the slot while Diggs has been incredibly efficient. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has used Diggs at times with screens that have created key first downs or big plays. Rudolph has been his usual self, dominating in the red zone.
Eagles starters: Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
If Vikings fans weren’t aware of the excellence of Ertz last year, they certainly found out in the NFC title game when he caught eight passes for 93 yards.
“Ertz is really good,” Zimmer said. “He’s sneaky, catches the ball well, runs great routes. Dallas Goedert, they’re using him a lot. Sometimes they’re using three tight ends. It’s a tough matchup.”
We have seen both Xavier Rhodes and Alshon Jeffery get the best of each other throughout the years. With Jeffery back to 100 percent, he will be the biggest threat for the Eagles aside from Ertz. Last week he made eight grabs on nine targets for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Goedert is the wild card. The rookie tight end has a good mix of speed and route-running ability. He creates mismatches in the secondary.
Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings
Vikings starters: Riley Reiff – Tom Compton – Pat Elflein – Mike Remmers – Rashod Hill
The Vikings’ O-line is in for an incredible challenge against the Eagles. Last year in the NFC title game, Hill struggled mightily against the Eagles’ rushers — though he was hardly the only one who had problems. Last week the interior of the Vikings’ line was mauled by the Rams’ defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. They won’t get any breaks against Fletcher Cox. The good news is that Reiff had a bounce-back week after a tough time against the Bills. However, he’s facing much better talent off the edge. The Vikings also have to find some way to run the ball, but that will be no easy task.
Eagles starters: Jason Peters – Stefen Wisniewski – Jason Kelce – Brandon Brooks – Lane Johnson
The Eagles have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Last year they were able to slow down Minnesota’s pass rush, giving Nick Foles opportunities to throw downfield. Surprisingly Lane Johnson has struggled to start the year, giving up four sacks and 19 pressures. The center Kelce is one of the elite players at his position. He will play a huge role in the Eagles’ run and screen game.
Vikings starters: Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Stephen Weatherly
After a hot start to the season against San Francisco, the Vikings’ defensive line hasn’t been as dangerous — partly because of the absence of Everson Griffen. So far, Stephen Weatherly has filled in admirably, creating eight pressures in 80 pass rush snaps, but teams do not have to account for Weatherly the same way they did Griffen. Both Richardson and Hunter are having good starts to the year overall. Hunter has a sack in each game and Richardson leads the team in pressures.
Eagles starters: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long
Even without Derek Barnett in the lineup, it doesn’t get much better than this. Last week the Vikings were crushed by Aaron Donald, this week they face the second best interior lineman in the game in Fletcher Cox, who has 21 QB pressures already this season. On the edges, Philly has a top-10 rusher in Brandon Graham. He hasn’t picked up a sack yet but has 14 pressures. Michael Bennett has been even more successful in a part-time role with 17 pressures and Chris Long, who gave the Vikings nightmares in the NFC Championship game, has 18 pressures. The Vikings’ offensive line could be in for a long day.
Advantage: Slight edge to Eagles
Vikings starters: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon
You couldn’t have imagined a much tougher week than what Barr had against the Rams — though his issues could mostly be pinned on the Rams out-scheming and executing the Vikings. Where Barr and Kendricks have been a strength over the last three years, they seem to be the area that opponents are attacking most in the passing game. Kendricks is credited with allowing 15 receptions on 19 targets for 263 yards. That’s extremely unusual compared to his first three years.
Eagles starters: Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugler-Hill
Through four games, opposing teams have had success throwing in Hicks’ direction, completing 15-of-19 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown. That was very much the case last year as well with teams completing 81.0 percent of throws at Hicks. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings attack him in coverage. Bradham has proven to be a quick, athletic linebacker who can cover effectively. The Eagles send Hicks more often on the pass rush than Bradham.
Vikings starters: Mike Hughes, Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander, Andrew Sendejo, Harrison Smith
Something has to change in order for the Vikings to return to their usual form under Zimmer. Opponents have gone 10-for-10 throwing against Alexander so far and 14-for-20 against Hughes. With Trae Waynes out, they will be tested by the Eagles’ offense. Harrison Smith has been effective against the run and when pass rushing, but he hasn’t been asked to rush the passer very often. It’s possible that changes this week.
Eagles starters: Jalen Mills, Ron Darby, Sidney Jones, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham
Mills has been shredded so far this year, giving up a 118.8 rating against. Darby has been more effective but can also be beat at times. Sidney Jones’ career has gotten off to a solid start as he’s only allowed 79 yards in coverage and the Eagles will need Graham to step up with Rodney McLeod out.