Well….that was fun. That was amazing. That was….wow. I consider myself lucky to be able to say that I witnessed that game. I had said earlier in the season that the second game against the Redskins was among the most remarkable games I’d ever witnessed. That now takes the backseat to what happened this past weekend. That was incredible. But it’s time for the team and for myself to move on and set sights on the Minnesota Vikings as we begin the final two weeks of the regular season.
The Vikings are a team that I had in the Super Bowl prior to the season beginning. Last season they went 12-4 and nearly made it to the big game but this season they’ve struggled mightily and have a record of 5-9. Clearly, my prediction is wrong. However, the Vikings still have some dangerous weapons and no game is a gimme in the NFL.
The Vikings offensive line has not been great this year. They’ve given up 31 sacks which is right in the middle of the road for the NFL but they’ve also given up 81 quarterback hits which is among the worst in the league. One of the biggest hits that this team took was the loss of guard Steve Hutchinson, one of the better guards in the league. In his place has been Chris DeGeare who, from what I’ve seen, hasn’t played incredibly well. The entire left side of the line is suspect now and that’s where Trent Cole and Antonio Dixon take over. Dixon is becoming someone who needs to be at least chipped on the inside, if not doubled, and he will take pressure off Cole who will find himself in many one on one battles with left tackle Bryant McKinnie. The Eagles defensive line was very good against New York and I expect them to continue to have success against the Vikings.
Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league in my opinion and that’s no to take away from Chris Johnson. But Peterson has the rare and deadly combination of speed and power that very few have had in league history. To make matters even better for him, he’s an excellent pass catcher and blocker. However, he is a little banged up. This past Monday he was slated to start against the Chicago Bears but a knee injury forced him to sit out. He was literally a last minute scratch against the Bears and that makes me believe he’ll likely play against the Eagles. Last week the Eagles gave up a total of 100 yards to a Giants offense that was among the best rushing offenses in the league. A big part of that success was the play of rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney who had a total of 16 tackles including one for a loss. His contribution were lost in the praise of the offense but Chaney put together an excellent game for his first start. The Eagles have done a very good job of shutting downs back like Peterson this season and given the Minnesota Vikings’ issues on the offensive line, I expect the Eagles to have a very good day against Peterson if he plays. Should he not play the starting running back will likely be Toby Gerhart, the rookie out of Stanford. I like Gerhart a lot but he too is the type of rusher the Eagles have had success against.
Visanthe Shiancoe is the starting tight end for the Vikings after he had a burst out season last year. This season has been a different story however, as he’s only caught 42 passes for 485 and 2 touchdowns. But the Eagles are starting to get burned by the tight end again. Against the Cowboys two weeks ago, the Eagles let Jason Witten carve them to pieces and followed up by letting Kevin Boss gain 59 yards and a touchdown. Luckily for the Eagles the Vikings offensive attack has become very one dimensional. As I mentioned, with a weak offensive line, the running game is hurting which makes it easier to defend, allowing teams to drop more players in coverage to take care of the receiving threats. This should sound similar as well: Shiancoe is being used more as a blocker this season, again going back to the weak offensive line. I won’t be surprised of the Vikings try to get Jamar Chaney isolated in coverage with Shaincoe however, as Chaney has shown he struggled in pass coverage.
Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice head up the Vikings’ wide receiving threats. Both help to make up one of the better receiving cores in the league. It’s not their fault that they’ve had a lame duck getting them the ball all season. Rice, when healthy (which he is now), is among the best receivers in the game. Standing at 6-4 he can overpower many of the better defensive backs in the game but he still has the speed to outrun defenses. Had he been healthy for the first half of the season I believe the Vikings might still be trying to fight for a playoff spot rather than simply playing spoiler. That said, they do pose a threat to the Eagles’ weak pass defense. Last weekend they allowed Eli Manning and Mario Manningham to dominate them for the entire first half. By the end of the day Manning had 289 yards, 4 touchdowns, and just 1 interception. Manningham account for 113 of those yards and 2 of the touchdowns. Much of this was due to a very poor game by cornerback Dimitri Patterson. He looked lost in coverage for much of the first half and had what was easily his worst game as a starter so far. However, I’m not too worried. What does worry me is the loss of free safety Nate Allen for the season. That loss hurts the team and now it appears that fellow rookie Kurt Coleman will have to step it up for the remainder of the season. Coleman has been excellent in run support and decent enough in pass protection. He’s found success in the time that he has played but I expect the Vikings to go after him early and often with Percy Harvin to test him.
It looked for a few minutes like the Eagles would be facing Brett Favre for one final time. Favre started the game against the Bears, despite the warning by medical personnel that he shouldn’t, but he was knocked out early anyways with a head injury. The week prior to the game Tavaris Jackson was placed on season ending IR. That leaves them with rookie Joe Webb who looked less than stellar in his game against Chicago. He put threw for 129 yards and 2 interceptions. Granted he was facing an excellent defense. However, he will again be facing a ballhawking defense in Philadelphia and I expect Asante Samuel to abuse the poor rookie. He can bait just about any quarterback in the NFL into bad throws and I think he comes away with 1 or 2 picks this game.
Let’s flip to the Eagles offense. The Giants had their way with the Eagles for the entire first half and most of the second half. Their defensive line was abusing the Eagles’ offensive line and the defensive backs were keeping the receivers in check. However, as we all know by now, the Eagles offense came to explosive life in the final eight minutes of the game.
The Eagles offensive line was, in a word, awful against the Giants. They were letting the Giants smack Vick around like a rag doll on almost every play. However, they are fortunately facing a team that, despite tons of talent on the defensive front, has struggled to get through protection schemes. For the season they’ve recorded only 24 sacks which is fourth worst in the league. Defensive end Jared Allen leads the group with 9.5 of those sacks and he will be lined up against Jason Peters who is having a spectacular season at left tackle. The other starting defensive end, Ray Edwards, will line up in front of Winston Justice who is returning from a knee injury. Justice is a crucial piece to this line because he protects Vick’s blindside and he has been sorely missed in his absence.
LeSean McCoy had a fairly quiet game against the Giants, accounting for only 77 yards in both receiving and rushing. The Vikings have been fairly stout on defense when it comes to defending the rush all season and given their fairly weak secondary, I expect the Eagles won’t focus on rushing the ball too much. That said, I fully believe McCoy will be a crucial piece in the passing game this weekend. As we all know (due largely in part largely to every color commentator telling us this every week) the Eagles are masters at running the screen. For whatever reason the Giants have figured out how to stop it but they and the Bears are basically the only teams that have been able to. I expect McCoy to take advantage of the team that isn’t built for speed and break off a few good sized gains, mainly in the passing game.
Brent Celek has made two of the biggest plays of the season. His first down on 3rd and 19 against the Texans was huge and his 65 yard touchdown last weekend was even bigger. Celek is still primarily used as a blocker and he’s been doing a a very solid job of that this season. The Vikings have been solid against the tight end all season and I don’t see a reason for that to change. Celek will likely still only get between 2 and 4 catches but he will still contribute on the line.
The Vikings have an incredibly slow defensive backfield. Injuries and lack of consistency up front have hurt them but as a whole they are not very fast. The Eagles wide receiving core has some decent speed. By decent, I mean other worldly. Both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson have combined for a total of 1,914 yards on the season with Jackson already eclipsing 1,000. It seems every week that team will focus their double coverage on one of them and the other will take full advantage. Last weekend the coverage was focused on Jackson and Maclin was able to bring in 7 passes for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jackson still had himself a solid day, however, catching 3 passes for 52 yards. The Vikings struggled to keep the Bears’ wide receivers in check on Monday Night and now they have their hands full with an even greater challenge. The Eagles receivers are in for a great game. As a side note, Jason Avant will play this weekend despite suffering a concussion against the Giants.
Words can’t describe how amazing Michael Vick has been. Everyone is looking at DeSean Jackson’s punt return as the big play of the game but in reality it wouldn’t have mattered without the play of Vick prior to that. He rallied that team. They believe in him. Other than on the first drive of the game, he did an excellent job of taking care of the ball. He was under constant duress but didn’t make rash decisions and when it was time to be clutch he was as clutch as can be. The Vikings defense has intercepted 13 passes which is right in the middle of the pack for the entire league. Vick has thrown 5 on the season. With the speed of the receivers he’ll be throwing to and the Vikings’ inability to shut down quarterbacks I am expecting a huge game from Vick.
Is this the first week in which the Eagles have a better special teams than someone? The Vikings’ special teams coverage are pretty horrid as evidenced by Devin Hester’s two huge returns last week. DeSean Jackson is among the most explosive return men in the league and that was also evidenced at the end of last week’s game. You already know what happened. The Vikings have a solid kicking game with place kicker Ryan Longwell making 14 of 15 field goal attempts. However, he does not have a particularly strong leg as his longest field goal as been 41 yards. David Akers continues to have an excellent season and even Sav Rocca isn’t breaking down late in the season.
The Vikings are among a handful of teams that decided to go with an interim head coach this season and their man is Leslie Fraizer, their former defensive coordinator. Fraizer was among the first coaching staff that Andy Reid implanted back in 1999 back when he joined the Eagles. Since then he’s risen to his current position on the Vikings. I like Frazier as a coach. He’s been responsible for many very good defenses and the Vikings have been playing slightly better under his leadership. But, at the same time I cannot go against Andy Reid in December. He is darn near unbeatable at this point in the season.
HOW I SEE IT:
The Eagles are going to win the NFC East this weekend. This was literally the most boring preview I’ve ever written because the Vikings really are awful. Nothing about the Vikings really scares me at the end of the day. The Eagles showed me a ton in their win last week and I firmly believe this team is en route to the playoffs and very possibly a first round by. I like the Eagles to win it convincingly at home on Sunday Night Football.