Defensive sets and film observations: Week 15 vs. Eagles
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Welcome to another installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Philadelphia Eagles.
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Eagles.
Despite surrendering 428 passing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings defense held the NFL's second-ranked offense to nine points before back-to-back touchdowns at the end of the third quarter cut their lead to 27-22.
When the all-too-familiar defeat seemed inevitable, the Vikings responded with consecutive three-and-outs and held the Eagles to one fourth-quarter score for the 48-30 win. However, the Vikings caught two breaks in the first half as the Eagles started to roll.
Ten of the Eagles' 27 first-half plays went for 10-plus yards as they were forced into field goals on two separate drives that could've resulted in touchdowns - one as time ran out in the first half and another as receiver DeSean Jackson's 18-yard, double-reverse touchdown on 4th-and-1 was nullified by quarterback Nick Foles' peel-back block on linebacker Erin Henderson.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly continued his up-tempo, no-huddle offense that is supposed to wear down defenses - if you stay on the field. The Vikings allowed just one of the Eagles' 13 drives to go for 10 or more plays as they forced four punts, an interception and a turnover on downs. The one-dimensional nature of the Eagles offense made rushing the passer that much easier as defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison each sacked Foles twice. NFL leading rusher and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had just 13 touches and his last carry came with more than three minutes left in the third quarter as Foles dropped back 55 times in 65 plays.
Ravaged by injuries, the Vikings secondary grabbed one interception from unheralded cornerback Shaun Prater. The Vikings now have four picks in the last two games. Safety Harrison Smith returned from a foot injury he suffered in his most recent game on Oct. 13. Despite not starting, Smith played 88 percent of the snaps and tied for the team lead with eight tackles. After allowing 475 yards and 30 points, the Vikings now allow 406.5 yards/game (31st) and 30.4 points/game (31st) on the season.
Base: 2/27 [7%]
Nickel: 25/27 [93%]
Yardage allowed: 201
Base: 7/38 [18%]
Nickel: 31/38 [82%]
Yardage allowed: 274
1) Playing with replacement cornerbacks, the Vikings secondary looked overmatched when the pass rush allowed a five-step drop. However, on 48 throws, Foles consistently whiffed on passes farther than 20 yards as he completed on just two of his 11 deep shots - including the pass cornerback Shaun Prater jumped in the third quarter for his first career interception.
Cut in October by the Eagles, Prater was told before Sunday's warmups that he would make his first career start against his former team. Foles had just one interception in 218 throws entering last week and had his second picked off after he timed a pass to receiver Desean Jackson too late. After driving to the Vikings' 44, Foles missed an open Jackson along the sideline and pulled the trigger too late as Prater broke off coverage on receiver Riley Cooper and undercut the deep ball. Prater allowed just two receptions in his debut on seven targets as he filled in for cornerback Chris Cook, who was ruled out before kickoff with a knee injury. The Eagles executed a slew of screens and Prater missed a couple tackles, but flashed an awareness on plays like the interception that seems to be fleeting for Vikings defensive backs. Prater forced another Foles incompletion downfield after he shoved Cooper out of bounds following a 35-yard catch near the goal line.
Eagles receiver Desean Jackson caught 10 of the 15 passes thrown his way as he was covered by both safety-turned-cornerback Robert Blanton and Marcus Sherels. Blanton continued to fill in the slot cornerback role as cornerback Josh Robinson was placed on injured reserve a day before the game. Blanton did not draw a yellow flag after seeing one fly his way in each of the last three games, but he allowed seven catches on seven targets, including two touchdowns. On Sunday, Blanton had trouble with his footing downfield and keeping pace with speedy receivers Jackson and Jason Avant, who caught touchdown passes of 30- and 16-yards respectively. Sherels started in place of Rhodes and allowed four catches on seven targets to Jackson as the Eagles lined up the dynamic receiver caught a handful of his passes with a running start out of the backfield.
2) Nearly 240 of the Eagles' 428 receiving yards [55%] came after the catch. Linebacker Audie Cole made his fourth straight start in the middle as he and both linebacker Chad Greenway struggled staying on top of the Eagles' screen game. McCoy averaged nearly 14 yards on each of his five catches as tight end Brent Celek also went for a 25-yard screen in the third quarter that helped lead to one of the Eagles' three second-half touchdowns. The Eagles three longest completions were results of huge YAC gains. Foles longest gain went to Jackson for 51 yards and set up their lone fourth-quarter touchdown. Sherels couldn't keep up in coverage as Jackson outran him up the sideline and dodged both Prater and safety Andrew Sendejo before being knocked down inside the Vikings' 5 by Smith.
Foles was the Eagles' leading rusher as he scrambled three times and took two options for 41 yards, including a 21-yard scamper in the first half. The Eagles abandoned the running game in the second half as they handed off to McCoy just eight times - with his last carry coming with more than 18 game minutes left. Both Greenway and Cole kept McCoy in check downhill, including back-to-back stuffs for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 in the third quarter.
Linebacker Erin Henderson saw 11 snaps as he played all nine of the Vikings' base snaps as the weak-side linebacker and stepped in for Cole for two plays as he was being checked on the sideline by trainers.
3) Defensive end Jared Allen now has four sacks in the last three games after he brought down Foles twice on Sunday. However, the 31-year old had much more impact on the game as he caused multiple errant throws with three QB hits and often crashed down to disrupt the handful of read-option plays that the Eagles called. Allen tackled Foles on three third-down attempts that ultimately resulted in punts or a field goal. On Foles' 21-yard run, Allen and rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd ran a stunt that left a hole that Floyd didn't fill as Foles escaped over him and under the blitzing Greenway. The Vikings' first overall selection in the draft played 46 percent of the snaps - his highest total since a Nov. 17 loss at Seattle - but did not record a single accolade on the stat sheet.
Defensive end Brian Robison recorded two sacks, but really should've had half a sack credited to defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Guion played just 22 snaps but had a handful of impactful plays, including the third-quarter sack with Robison that helped force a three-and-out to open the second half. Guion and defensive tackle Kevin Williams proved to be the Vikings' most effective nose and three-technique combo as they combined for multiple stops on McCoy for two yards or fewer. Williams played just over half of the snaps as the Vikings used defensive end Everson Griffen at the one-technique in the many late-game passing situations.
4) The Vikings allowed 7-of-14 third-down conversions to the Eagles, but made the necessary stops to keep one of the NFL's more potent offenses out of the endzone. Three of the Vikings' four sacks on Foles either forced punts or set up a 3rd-and-16 that led to a punt on the following play.
The Eagles had nine penalties, but only Foles' peel-back block on Henderson affected their production on offense.
5) Safety Harrison Smith made a handful of plays in his return, also reminding Vikings fans of his prowess in stopping the run. With a 27-9 lead, the Vikings forced a turnover on downs after both safety Jamarca Sanford and Smith crashed down on a read-option that Foles kicked out to McCoy. Sanford engaged the leading blocker and forced McCoy outside before Smith dragged him down. Despite not starting, Smith played 88 percent of the snaps as he would swap playing alongside Sanford and Sendejo every drive.
The Vikings have a decision to make as Sendejo has made a strong case to start alongside Smith on Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals. Sanford saw 47 snaps, while Sendejo played 30 on Sunday and neither one really stuck out. Sendejo missed on a handful of tackles and allowed one touchdown to tight end Zach Ertz, who could use only one hand to come away with the third-quarter score in the back of the endzone. Sanford made a couple run stops on Sunday, but Sendejo made his first two career interceptions last week at Baltimore, the latter of which negated by a penalty.
Game ball: Jared Allen. Allen had his most consistent game in recent memory in terms of disrupting the passer. Faced with just single blocks, Allen worked Eagles left tackle Jason Peterson to rack up three quarterback hits to go along with two sacks and a hurry.
Goat(s): Robert Blanton. Blanton was the most-exposed of the Vikings defensive backs on Sunday as all three corners were consistently put in tough positions. The focal point of the Eagles' passing attack is speed - and the Vikings didn't have their physical cornerbacks to counter that. Blanton allowed every pass thrown his way to be caught, even in minimal man coverage snaps, as he failed to keep up with Eagles receivers.