The Eagles (1-0) will host the Minnesota Vikings (0-1) in their home opener at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday Night Football.
Let’s get to the matchups:
Eagles answers vs. Vikings heavy blitz
The Eagles saw plenty of blitzes in their Week 1 win over the Patriots and will probably see even more when the Vikings’ defense, led by new DC Brian Flores, comes to the Linc on Thursday.
In Week 1, Jalen Hurts was blitzed on 42.1% of his drop backs, according to ProFootballFocus. On those 16 drop-backs, he completed 7 of 13 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. But he was also sacked twice and there were some issues with blitz pickup.
“I thought that there were ups and downs with that,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “Again, both as coaches and with execution, we’ve got to always have better answers for them when it’s not going the right way, and we’ve got to always execute. It’s always going to be those two things.
“But I thought especially in the second half, after we got out of our — I didn’t think we were great in that first rut of the game, but in the second half I thought we were better handling that.”
Sirianni pointed out that the Eagles got themselves into tough situations, saying it’s harder to seal up a blitz on 3rd-and-10 than it is on 3rd-and-3. True. So one of the solutions is just being better on early downs and avoiding clear pass situations.
Flores has been known for his aggressive blitzing defenses. His Dolphins teams always had high blitz percentages and he has brought that to Minnesota in 2023. This is a much different version of the Vikings defense than the Ed Donatell Vikings defense Hurts tore up in Week 2 last year. While the Vikings lost in Week 1 to the Bucs, they blitzed Baker Mayfield on 55.3% of his drop-backs.
It was a tougher Week 1 for Johnson than you might have expected. Patriots rookie Keion White had some good rushes against him, which is a really good sign for the young rookie. Things don’t get any easier for Johnson in Week 2 but at least there’s seven years of Hunter on tape.
Hunter, 28, has been a good player for a really long time. At 6-foot-5, 263 pounds, Hunter is long and powerful, which can be a deadly combination in an edge rusher. Hunter has a strong bullrush but has plenty of moves working off it it.
For the most part, Hunter works on the left side of the defensive line, which sets up a game-long matchup against Johnson. According to PFF, just two of Hunter’s 58 snaps in Week 1 came on the right side of the defensive line. Hunter has two career sacks in four games against the Eagles.
Dallas Goedert vs. Vikings’ linebackers
In the Eagles’ opener, Goedert didn’t have a single catch and his only target came in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were doing things to take Goedert away but Hurts also missed him a couple times. Goedert is too good to not be involved in the offense and the Eagles know that.
“You know, sometimes it's going to be – this reminds me a lot of last year against the Lions,” Sirianni said. “Smitty had no catches against the Lions last year. This year, it was Dallas. We can't go a game without getting him the football.”
After DeVonta Smith had zero catches in the 2022 opener, he was targeted on the first play of the Week 2 game and finished with 7 catches for 80 yards in that one. We could see a similar scenario playing out with Goedert in Week 2 of the 2023 season.
If Goedert gets some matchups against the Vikings’ linebackers, he’ll see former Eagle Jordan Hicks and Ivan Pace Jr. in coverage. While former third-round pick Brian Asamoah seemed like a probable starter in 2023, he played just two defensive snaps in Week 1.
The Eagles will likely be short-handed against Cousins and the Vikings offense. James Bradberry is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, which means second-year UDFA Josh Jobe will likely start in his place.
Jefferson is arguably the best receiver in the NFL and is coming off a 9-catch, 150-yard performance in the opener. Ho hum. But as a reminder, Darius Slay locked him up in Week 2 last year, traveling with Jefferson from side to side. Jefferson was targeted 6 times with Slay in coverage and had 1 catch for 7 yards. Slay had 2 interceptions and a pass breakup on those 6 targets.
But even if Slay can lock up Jefferson again — and that’s really, really hard to do — the Vikings might try to target Jobe. Addison was the 23rd overall pick after a strong college career split between Pittsburgh and USC. He had 4 catches for 61 yards and 1 touchdown in his NFL debut. Not an easy matchup for Jobe’s first-career NFL start.
Jalen Carter vs. susceptible Vikings iOL
One of the biggest stories coming out of the Eagles’ Week 1 win over the Patriots was the dominance of their first-round pick Carter. He played 40 defensive snaps and had 8 pressures, 7 hurries and a sack. He was a monster working against a couple of weaker Patriots guards but will have another advantageous matchup in Week 2.
The Vikings might be without center Garrett Bradbury (back). And right guard Ed Ingram is the weak spot of the Vikings’ OL. In the opener, Ingram surrendered 4 pressures, 2 hurries, a QB hit and a sack.
Fletcher Cox (ribs) is a little banged up but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he plays. Early in Week 1, protection slid Cox’s way, giving Carter some 1-on-1s. As the game went on, Carter began to see some help shift his way. That’s what makes this Eagles’ line so dangerous. Can’t double everybody and Cox, Jordan Davis and Milton Williams also looked very good to start the season.
Eagles LBs, safeties vs. T.J. Hockenson
It was clear that the Patriots found the weak spot in the Eagles’ defense in Week 1 and it was right where we all expected it: The middle of the field. Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki combined for 8 catches and 92 yards. The Eagles came into this season with two new starting linebackers and safeties and now Nakobe Dean is going to miss a few weeks and Reed Blankenship (ribs) is a bit banged up.
Here comes Hockenson, who had 86 catches for 914 yards and 6 touchdowns last season between his time with the Lions and Vikings. He didn’t put up big numbers in the 2023 opener but he was targeted nine times and that likely won’t change on Thursday night. There are some legitimate reasons to worry about the middle of the Eagles’ defense.