Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Eagles-Vikings: Seems like old times?

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 6

The Vikings return to the scene of the crime this Sunday (4:25 p.m.) when they visit Lincoln Financial Field. Actually, the Eagles’ 38-7 destruction of the Vikings in last season’s NFC Championship Game was more of a massacre than a crime. The Eagles blew open a close game in the second quarter and steamrolled their way to victory.

There is some carryover from last season’s NFC Championship game, but a lot is different. Both starting quarterbacks are different, with Nick Foles and Case Keenum replaced by Carson Wentz and Kirk Cousins.

A more important difference is that both teams are struggling. The Vikings juggernaut of last season is nearly in desperation mode after a 1-2-1 start. In particular, their once-dominating defense is being scorched for tons of points.

The Eagles (2-2) also haven’t looked like last season’s championship team. All of their games have been close, with the outcome decided in the final minutes – and with two of the games decided on the final play. Their defense was picked apart by the Titans’ Marcus Mariota last Sunday during a 26-23 overtime defeat.

Both the Eagles and Vikings are at a crossroads. The outcome of Sunday’s game could determine which path they take the rest of the season.

Here are 10 questions to consider prior to and during Sunday’s game.

Why is Sunday’s game important?

The Eagles (2-2) need a bounce-back win after Sunday’s overtime loss to the Titans. From a psychological perspective, the Eagles, with both losses on the road, want to maintain their invincibility at Lincoln Financial Field. For the Vikings (1-2-1), it’s still relatively early, but a loss would put them in a pretty deep hole in  in both the NFC North and wild card races. It also would be quite a psychological blow to the Vikings to lose again in the stadium in which they were embarrassed in last season’s NFC Championship Game.

Why are the Vikings so bad?

They really aren’t that bad. Aside from inexplicable loss to the lowly Bills, the Vikings haven’t been bad. They missed three field goals in their 29-29 tie with the Packers, so they probably should have a winning record. And nobody should be faulted for losing a Thursday night road game against the undefeated Rams.

Why aren’t the Vikings as good as last year?

The biggest difference appears to be their defense. The Vikings have allowed 29, 27 and 38 points in their past three games. After their 38-31 loss to the Rams, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s never seen the Vikings’ pass coverage been that bad.

Has the change in quarterbacks hurt the Vikings?

No. If anything, Kirk Cousins has been better than Case Keenum was in the best year of his career. Cousins has completed 131 of 189 passes (69.3 percent) for 1,387 yards and 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

What’s the biggest challenge for the Eagles defense?

Pass coverage. I was concerned about the impact of safety Rodney McLeod’s absence against the Vikings. That concern is elevated after watching Marcus Mariota and the low-scoring Titans pick apart the Eagles’ secondary. With much better receivers, the Vikings are a much more dangerous opponent. Cornerback Jalen Mills is struggling, and safety Corey Graham made an inauspicious debut as McLeod’s replacement in the starting lineup. Rookie Avonte Maddox, who was beaten for the game-winning touchdown against the Titans, is expected to play more.

How good are the Vikings’ receivers?

Adam Thielen has 40 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns. Stefon Diggs has 27 receptions for 311 yards and three touchdowns. And don’t forget about tight end Kyle Rudolph, who has 18 catches for 188 yards and two touchdowns. In other words, all three of them are averaging at least 10 yards per catch and are threats to score. This is a much better group than the Titans used to gash the Eagles. It’s no wonder that the Vikings throw the ball a lot.

How can the Eagles contain the Vikings offense?

The key is getting pressure on the quarterback. The Eagles’ defensive line hasn’t generated consistent pressure this season. Pressure on Sunday would certainly make the defensive backs’ jobs easier. Another factor that helps the Eagles is that Kirk Cousins isn’t nearly as mobile as the Titans’ Marcus Mariota. The Eagles won’t have to dedicate a defender to keep an eye on Cousin in the same way they did – or should have done – against the Titans. One negative for the Birds is they will be without second-year defensive end Derek Barnett, who will miss the game due to a shoulder injury.

Why is Carson Wentz getting hit so much?

One reason is that the offensive line isn’t playing up to its reputation as one of the NFL’s best. Isaac Seumalo received some reps with the first team during practice this week, but it’s not clear if he will replace starter Stefen Wisniewski this Sunday. It’s even less clear that starting Seumalo would fix the problems with the offensive line. Head coach Doug Pederson could limit the opportunities for opposing defenses to hit Wentz by calling more running plays, but, to be fair, the Eagles’ running backs are banged up, with Darren Sproles (hamstring) to miss a fourth straight week and Jay Ajayi (back) and Corey Clement (quadriceps) both battling injuries.

Do the Vikings have a “secret weapon?”

The Vikings’ offensive coordinator is John DeFilippo, who was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. DeFilippo is familiar with the Eagles’ personnel, so he may know how to take advantage of their secondary.

Can the crowd make a difference?

Absolutely. The crowd was a factor during last season’s NFC Championship Game. After Patrick Robinson’s 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, the already raucous crowd was whipped into an absolute frenzy. The Vikings looked as if they were deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming tractor trailer that was about to run them over. Can it happen again? It couldn’t hurt. The defensive, in particular, seems to feed off the Lincoln Financial Field faithful. On the other hand, the Vikings shouldn’t be shocked by the crowd noise this Sunday.

Prediction: The Vikings defense hasn’t played well, but, can the Eagles, who haven’t scored more than 23 points this season, take advantage of it? The return of Alshon Jeffery certainly helps the offense. Perhaps the Eagles can run the ball a little more often to control the clock and reduce the number of times Carson Wentz is hit. The Eagles defense has been much better at home, giving up 14 points per game, than it has been on the road, where it has allowed 26.5 points per game. However, the Vikings offense seems tailor-made to take advantage of the Eagles’ unsettled secondary. A huge pass rush could make the difference for the Eagles. But the defensive line has only produced 7½ sacks during the first four games, and 2½ of those sacks will be missing due to Derek Barnett’s injury. This week would be a good time for Brandon Graham to pick up his first sack of the season. Vikings 27, Eagles 23

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