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Eagles-Vikings Preview: Breaking the SI Cover Jinx
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which normally precedes a horrible performance for that player. Foles says he isn't worried about any curse, but maybe he's just confident because of this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are a bad football team. Their three wins (3-9-1 record overall) are due mainly to star running back Adrian Peterson, but he's been in a walking boot all week and may not play on Sunday. With options like Matt Cassell, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman at quarterback, the Vikings could be in trouble against the hottest team in the NFL.
Eagles Offense Versus Vikings Defense
Foles didn't have a great statistical game last week, but most of that can be blamed on the snowy conditions during the game. He was 11-for-22 for 179 yards, 1 TD and his first interception of the season. That pick ended his chances of tying Peyton Manning for the most TD passes to start a season (20) without an interception. Oh well, Foles was just happy to get the win and is now 5-1 as a starter, along with another win he got against the Giants when he subbed for an injured Michael Vick in the second half. Foles leads an Eagles offense that ranks 3rd in the NFL (409.3 yards per game) and 5th in scoring (25 points per game). Plus he still leads the NFL with 9.04 yards per attempt and in passer rating (120.0). That can only get better against a Minnesota defense that is ranked 31st overall in defense (409.2 ypg), 30th against the pass (282.5 ypg) and 31st in scoring defense (30.4 ppg).
As if that isn't bad enough, Minnesota's first round pick and starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes hurt his ankle and won't play this week. That leaves Chris Cook and Josh Robinson to try to deal with DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Jackson is 9th in the NFL with 1,080 yards receiving (and 8 TDs), on 65 catches and Cooper has 37 catches for 714 yards and 7 TDs. His 19.3 yards per catch currently rank 2nd in the entire NFL. Bet you didn't see that one coming.
The only way Foles doesn't come close to tying the record of 7 TD passes in a game again is if the Vikings can generate a pass rush. Unfortunately, they only have 30 sacks on the season, which is 21st in the NFL. Their best bet might be LDE Brian Robinson against rookie RT Lane Johnson. Robinson has 7 sacks, including one in each of the last four games. On the other side, LT Jason Peters will have to deal with Jared Allen who has 7.5 sacks.
The best way for the Eagles to keep the pressure off Foles is to give the ball to the No. 1 running back in the NFL, LeSean McCoy (1,305 yards and 7 TDs). After McCoy racked up a career-high 217 yards against a Lions defense that was No. 3 in the NFL, facing a Viking run defense that is ranked 22nd (118.8 ypg) should be much easier. The Lions have DT Kevin Williams in the middle and LB Chad Greenway, who leads the team with 116 tackles, but they shouldn't present much of a problem for the middle of the Eagles offensive line. RG Todd Herremans, C Jason Kelce and LG Evan Mathis dominated Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh last week, so this should be easy, right? The Eagles are the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL (158.5 ypg) on merit.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Vikings Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Vikings are also a good running team, ranked 7th in the NFL (131.3 ypg). Unfortunately for them, that was with a healthy Adrian Peterson and he's still in a walking boot. Even if Peterson plays, he'll be hobbled. To make matters worse for the Vikings 14th ranked offense (346.1 ypg), Peterson's backup, Toby Gerhart strained his hamstring and is questionable himself for the Eagles game. If neither can play, that would leave only Matt Asiata to carry the load and he doesn't have a single carry this season. Something tells me the Eagles 15th ranked run defense (112.8 ypg) is going to shoot up the rankings after this matchup.
Matt Cassell will be the quarterback for the Vikings because Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman stink. Cassell isn't great, but he threw for 265 yards and two TDs last week against the Ravens, so he's OK. In six games this season, he has a 84.9 passer rating. Again, just OK. Luckily for the Vikings, the Eagles pass defense is horrible. They're ranked 31st in the NFL ( 285.3 ypg). The Eagles bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy leads to lots of yards but not many points given up, which is working for them in spite of the low ranking.
Another problem for the Vikings is that their receivers are average at best. Jerome Simpson leads the team with 670 yards receiving. Gregg Jennings hasn't had a single 100-yard receiving game all season. And rookie Cordarrelle Patterson isn't consistent enough. He is a home-run threat though, as he caught five passes for 141 yards, including a 79-yard TD last week against Baltimore. It's a good thing Brandon Boykin is fast enough to keep up with Patterson, because he'll be charged with covering him most of the day. Let's just hope safety Patrick Chung stops knocking over his own teammates and allowing long touchdowns.
Part of the problem with the Minnesota passing game is the poor QB play, but some of that is because the offensive line has allowed 34 sacks this season. Tackles Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are good, but not great. Loadholt will be facing Connor Barwin, while Kalil will be seeing a lot of the suddenly resurgent Trent Cole.
With all of their issues, the Vikings have scored at least 20 points in each of their last seven games and are ranked 14th (24.2 ppg). The Eagles have held their last nine opponents to 21 points or less and rank 13th in points allowed (23.2 ppg). Seems like the Vikings will score right around 21 points, doesn't it?
Who is a better return man?
The Eagles special teams were playing very well since the debacle in Denver in Week 4 and punter Donnie Jones was the special teams player of the week twice. Unfortunately, that all changed when they allowed a punt return TD and a kickoff return TD to the Lions last week. Maybe it was the snow, but now they have to face the explosive Cordarrelle Patterson, who leads the NFL with an average of 33.3 yards per kick return, including 2 TDs. Punt returner Marcus Sherels is also dangerous and is fourth in the NFL at 13.3 yards per return, with a touchdown. The Eagles return teams have not looked very dangerous even with DeSean Jackson returning punts.
Eagles Win Snow Bowl
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier is on the hot seat and might not last the season. A disappointing 3-9-1 record will do that to you. Chip Kelly, on the other hand, has been pushing almost all of the right buttons lately with the hottest team in the NFL. He made some masterful halftime adjustments last week in the snow against Detroit and the Eagles scored 34 second half points. Eagles fans aren't used to halftime adjustments after 14 years of Andy Reid never making a single one.
This is a game the Eagles should win going away. Their high-octane offense should thrive on the fast track under the dome in Minnesota. The Vikings QB situation is a mess and the reigning NFL MVP, Adrian Peterson has been in a walking boot all week and is doubtful for Sunday. Of course, there is that SI cover jinx. And I still haven't forgotten about how the Vikings came into Philly two years ago (on a Tuesday night, after the Sunday game ironically got postponed due to snow) and stomped on the Eagles with a no-name backup quarterback named Joe Webb, so anything can happen.
There will be no Joe Webb miracles and Nick Foles and I don't believe i jinxes.
Eagles 31 - Vikings 20