Vikings are improved, but dominant Eagles provided a dose of reality

By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

We might want to pump the breaks on the Minnesota Vikings hype train.

The Vikings came storming out of the gate in Week 1, making a statement over the division-rival Green Bay Packers behind a 184-yard performance from third-year receiver Justin Jefferson.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins looked reborn under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, the defense looked rejuvenated with the tandem of Danielle Hunter and former packer Za’Darius Smith and Minnesota looked to be one of the most complete teams in the NFC.

That all came crashing down thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles (and maybe a Monday Night Football curse).

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 19: Fletcher Cox #91 of the Philadelphia Eagles forces a fumble against Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarterat Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Let’s get this out of the way: the Eagles are good. Really good. Quarterback Jalen Hurts put on a clinic in versatility, making good decisions all night in each phase of the ball on his way to completing 26 of 31 pass attempts for 333 yards and a passing touchdown (plus a rushing score) along with a 108.7 passer rating. 

Where the Eagles were diversified and flexible on offense, the Vikings were rigid and stiff on defense. They refused to come out of the two-high shell they had convinced themselves would work yet again, even against a true dual-threat quarterback like Hurts.

As a result, he took what they gave him — which was a lot of room in the intermediate area of the field — and took advantage of the ensuing light boxes. Hurts hit 23 of his 25 pass attempts within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage — and that’s not to say Hurts didn’t take his shots, either. He hit Quez Watkins for a 53-yard score in the second quarter after being given a pristine pocket by perhaps the best offensive line in football. Lost in Hurts’ heroics was, in fact, the play from the front five. They unlocked the full scope of this Philly offense, leading the way for 163 rushing yards on top of the passing game efficiency. Minnesota was on its heels the entire night.

The Vikings did nothing to help themselves, either. Dallas Goedert dropped a first-down ball placed perfectly by Cousins in the first quarter. Most egregiously, Kenneth Gainwell gifted his team with the ball at the Philadelphia nine-yard line after nabbing the only interception off Hurts all night. Instead of coming away with much-needed points in the fourth quarter while down by three scores, Eagles cornerback Darius Slay registered his second interception of Cousins on the night — again in front of wide receiver Justin Jefferson and this time, in the end zone.

While the ball to Jefferson in the end zone was undoubtedly underthrown by Cousins, the first interception may not have been all on the quarterback. Jefferson dipped behind Slay in the third quarter, allowing Slay to be in the spot Jefferson was supposed to fill. Cousins threw the ball anyway, with the expectation Jefferson would be there, and it felt like that was the beginning of the end for the Vikings.

After that interception in the third, the Vikings’ drive chart went interception, punt, interception and then finally (maybe mercifully) they ran out of time on their last possession, succumbing to the Eagles 24-7.

So while the Vikings looked damn near unstoppable in Week 1, Week 2 revealed the cracks that still exist in Minnesota. Cousins still struggles on Monday night. The defense still looks limited against perhaps more unfamiliar opponents. And while he remains a phenom, Justin Jefferson isn’t immune from making mistakes himself. 

This won’t make or break Minnesota’s season. Like we stated earlier, the Eagles are a really good team. The Vikings will play the Lions in Week 3 before facing another road test in the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints. A playoff berth isn’t out of the question by any stretch of the imagination, and it could end up being a really successful first season of the O’Connell era in Minnesota. But there’s no denying some wind was taken out of the Vikings’ sails in Philly and maybe expectations are just a little bit lower than they were after last week. 

Through two weeks, every team in the NFC North is 1-1.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.

Source link