Purple People Beaters
Hurts, Slay Humilate Vikings In Linc Landslide
PHILADELPHIA — In the hours before kickoff, a stroll around the Lincoln Financial Field parking lot foreshadowed the palpable energy that would overtake the Eagles’ 60-minute bout with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Eagles struck first in the clash between the two NFC upstarts and never looked back en route to a 24-7 masterclass victory Sunday at the home opener, scoring on four of its first five possessions, forcing the Vikings to become one-dimensional early, and putting the game out of reach with three interceptions off the scattershot arm of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Following a Week 1 victory that raised more questions than answers, the Eagles returned to form on a national stage, answering the proverbial bell that sounded and putting skepticism to rest for at least another week.
Let’s get on with the observations:
1.) Masterful first-half script architected by Eagles’ offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. The offense made a statement on its opening possession, striking first on an 11-play, 82-yard drive, and yielded scoring drives on four of its five possessions. Operating primarily out of 11 personnel on the opening drive, the offense unveiled an innovative blueprint, showing no-huddle and a multitude of looks, and Hurts effectively executed.
2.) With Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox occupying the top three cornerback slots, the Eagles have fortified the oft-maligned position for games like this, and on the first two possessions, Slay and Bradberry pass breakups forced Minnesota punts on the Vikings’ first two possessions. Slay came up with timely interceptions in the red zone on Minnesota’s second-half opening possession and late in the fourth quarter for a touchback, and Maddox also happened to be on the receiving end of an errant pass from Kirk Cousins in the red zone.
3.) Jalen Hurts followed up his most mature outing as a starter with his most efficient, completing 17-of-20 first-half pass attempts for 251 yards — including a 53-yard strike to wide receiver Quez Watkins – and carrying seven times for 51 yards and two touchdowns. The second-year starter delivered the ball with touch, timing and accuracy, demonstrating exponential growth as passer and decision-maker.
4.) On Minnesota’s 9-play, 75-yard third possession scoring drive, which culminated in a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Irv Smith, the Eagles’ pass rush proved troublesome, failing to generate much pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins and surrendering five first downs. Given the team’s sizeable investment in pass rushers and long-standing philosophy of building through the trenches, the Eagles must remedy a sporadic pass rush to unlock the defense’s full potential.
5.) Third phase production is often overlooked throughout the course of a game, but Zech McPhearson has been an early-season standout. The second-year cornerback, who also doubles as a gunner for special teams coordinator Michael Clay, made a terrific stop on Jalen Reagor’s initial punt return opportunity on the heels of being named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. With McPhearson, Shaun Bradley, and Patrick Johnson, the Eagles have quite the coverage nucleus.
6.) Too many penalties for a veteran-laden team with an extra day to prepare. By the end of the third quarter, the Eagles had been tacked with seven infractions for 50 yards. In most instances, that lack of discipline can manifest itself in self-inflicted setbacks. In all, the Eagles totaled 8 penalties for 60 yards.
7.) While a lot has been made of Hurts seemingly only having eyes for A.J. Brown, it was DeVonta Smith – who was blanked in Week 1 – who was the recipient of Hurts’ first pass attempt. The former first-round pick finished with seven receptions for 80 yards on seven pass targets. As I noted last week, Smith’s production figures to be volatile playing opposite Brown, but he’ll have his opportunities. As for Quez Watkins, who failed to garner a single target last week, he made the most of his two targets on Monday night, including one for 53 yards and a touchdown.
8.) Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon played the role of public enemy No. 1 following a week in which his unit surrendered 386 total net yards and 35 points to the presumed lowly Detroit Lions. Against the Vikings, a viable NFC contender, Gannon’s defense held the Vikings to just 4-of-12 on third downs and forced three interceptions. The second-year defensive coordinator was much more varied with his pressure packages and showed a multitude of looks on the backend.
9.) Speaking of Gannon’s unit, the run defense displayed marked improvement from a week ago before the Eagles ultimately pulled away in the third quarter, keeping the Vikings largely one-dimensional by collectively filling gaps and rallying to the football. Minnesota only managed 62 yards on 11 carries.
10.) While the Eagles’ gameplan defensively was indubitably schemed to limit Justin Jefferson’s impact – the third-year phenom mustered only six receptions for 48 yards on a whopping 12 pass targets – the defense also managed to bottle up the Vikings’ talented supporting cast, who combined for 21 receptions for 140 yards. One week is never a cause for concern and could well have been a byproduct of an amalgamation of moving parts learning to play together as a unit. Nevertheless, an encouraging showing against a formidable opponent.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.