Zero Sum Outcome
Swift Fuels Dominant Ground Game, Compensates For Spotty Pass Offense In Win Over Vikings
PHILADELPHIA – The captivating light show beaming across Lincoln Financial Field moments before the Eagles took the field foreshadowed the abnormal circumstances surrounding Thursday night’s showdown against the Minnesota Vikings.
Despite some tense moments, the Eagles pulled away after the break, cruising to a 34-28 victory and managing to avoid the missed opportunities and poor execution that threatened to spoil their home opener.
The game turned on its axis moments before the break with the Eagles up by three, when Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson lunged across the goal line but lost handle of the football, which shuttled out of bounds over the pylon. eventually ruled a touchback with 41 seconds remaining.
The Eagles parlayed the turnover into a booming 61-yard field goal from Jake Elliott, reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, for a 13-7 lead into the break.
The second half was powered by wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who reeled in a 63-yard touchdown, and a heavy dose of running back D’Andre Swift, who rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in his homecoming.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts finished 18-of-23 for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Josh Sweat and linebacker Zach Cunningham led the defensive brigade, with Sweat collecting a sack and five quarterback hits and Cunningham posting a team-high eight tackles (one for loss).
Let’s get on with the observations.
* Veteran S Terrell Edmunds replaced Reed Blankenship (ribs) opposite Justin Evans. LBs Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham started at off-ball linebacker, with Morrow – who was actually released on cutdown date before being signed to the practice squad – wearing the green dot. On offense, Philadelphia native D’Andre Swift started at running back.
* The Eagles failed to capitalize on a 54-yard strike on the opening drive from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith, setting the Eagles up at the Minnesota 10. They mustered only a field goal. Swift showed questionable vision on a 2nd-and-9 run and Hurts gained just two yards with his legs on the ensuing play.
* The Eagles’ opening defensive series foreshadowed the onslaught, with DT Jordan Davis and Josh Sweat each getting to Kirk Cousins to hasten his reads and disrupt timing.
* After going three quarters without being targeted against New England in Week 1, TE Dallas Goedert snared receptions on each of the first two series.
* Special teams once again proved to be a mixed bag, with PR Britain Covey fumbling before Kelee Ringo pounced for the timely recovery. Conversely, Vikings PR Brandon Powell ripped a 19-yard run-back, only to have it dislodged by Justin Evans. Morrow recovered for the Eagles, but Philadelphia saw the drive stall six plays later after a Hurts interception to Vikings S Theo Jackson.
* Jalen Hurts looked like a shell of himself early on – dropping his eyes, missing open receivers, and drifting into sacks. The fourth-year quarterback was sacked twice and hit three times in the opening quarter. The offense failed to cash-in on two takeaways, punting on both occasions.
* Perhaps the lone positive takeaway is the fact that Jordan Davis is becoming a dominant force up front, registering a sack, tackle for loss, and two quarterback hits.
* Justin Evans continues to have his challenges in coverage, perhaps the most egregious example being a 24-yard Kirk Cousins completion to TE T.J. Hockenson down to the Eagles’ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Minnesota struck paydirt, courtesy of a 5-yard completion to Hockenson. Nickel CB Avonte Maddox, injured two plays prior, was replaced by second-year CB Mario Goodrich, who was picked on immediately. On the Hockenson touchdown, Goodrich met the tight end at the goal line but was bowled over.
* Swift provides the explosive element absent from any other Eagles running back. He coaxed the offense out of a funk with his legs, rolling up 62 yards on 12 carries through two quarters. He should be the featured runner. For perspective, on the Eagles’ first scoring drive, covering 16 plays and 75-yards, Swift accumulated 38 yards – more than 50%.
*Perhaps Brian Johnson, the Eagles’ newly minted offensive coordinator, is still finding his way, but the offense has largely looked stagnant and vanilla, free of any creative elements.
* Heads-up play by Terrell Edmunds to get over in time to force the touchback fumble on Jefferson as he lunged over the goal line.
* Far too many designed runs for Hurts. Curious decision to continuously risk putting the quarterback in harm’s way when Swift and Boston Scott are running the ball well.
* K Jake Elliott’s 61-yard field goal just before the break tied his own record. Elliott has been so steady that he’s often taken for granted, but the seventh-year kicker has been another tremendous find for this front office.
* The Vikings came undone in the second half. On the second play from scrimmage, Eagles DE Josh Sweat converged on Cousins, who lost the football. Fletcher Cox recovered, and the short drive culminated in a 1-yard Hurts run. The Eagles’ defensive line was relentless against an undermanned Vikings offensive line and eventually took over. Feels like Sweat spent most of the night in the Vikings’ backfield.
* Facing his share of outside skepticism, second-year CB Josh Jobe performed fairly admirably for someone entering the game with just 20 career snaps and making his first NFL, despite the bomb TD he allowed to Jordan Addison. While on the subject of young cornerbacks, Goodrich – who was targeted early – seemed to settle in as the game progressed.
* Notable that it took two injuries to both Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott to get Rashaad Penny on the field. I’m not sure what it means for his long-term viability, but for now, Penny appears to be the odd man out in the running back rotation.
* Speaking of Penny, his fourth-quarter holding penalty that nullified a 25-yard A.J. Brown touchdown was questionable. So also was the ensuing play, where it appeared that Brown had been interfered with in the end zone by Vikings CB Akayleb Evans.
* Not sure who was at fault in the communication on the touchdown to a wide-open K.J. Osborn, which drew the Vikings within six in the fourth quarter, but Slay, Edmunds, and Jobe all swarmed Jefferson in the left corner of the end zone like a moth to a flame.
* The Eagles have started slowly in back-to-back games. They’ll have 10 days to catch their collective breath and return to the drawing board before playing another prime-time game against an inferior team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in two Mondays.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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