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Eagles-Vikings: Five reasons for the Birds’ loss | Paul Domowitch

How did the Eagles lose Sunday's game to the Vikings? Let's count the ways.

Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas reacts after Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches his second touchdown pass against him.
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas reacts after Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches his second touchdown pass against him.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

This wasn’t the way the Eagles wanted to start their string of three straight road games, getting clobbered 38-20 by the Vikings on Sunday.

Here are five reasons that happened.

Coverage problems

Cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones both had bad-awful days as Kirk Cousins completed 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns.

Jones got beaten by Adam Thielen on a double move for a 6-yard touchdown on the Vikings’ first possession. On their next possession, Stefon Diggs took a quick pass at the line of scrimmage from Cousins and too easily ran around Jones for an 18-yard gain.

Diggs had seven catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his three TDs -- 62- and 51-yarders on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter that put the Vikings up, 24-3 -- involved Douglas.

On the 62-yarder, the Eagles were in a “quarters’’ zone look. Diggs ran a deep post route against Douglas. The Vikings ran a perfect route combination with wide receiver Olabisi Johnson that prevented Douglas from getting any safety help. He needed to stay with Diggs and couldn’t.

On the 51-yarder on a fly route just two minutes later, Douglas should have gotten safety help. But Malcolm Jenkins bit on an underneath route and Diggs sped by Douglas for another easy touchdown.

Through six games, the Eagles have given up a league-worst seven pass plays of 40-plus yards. That’s one more than they gave up all last season.

The Eagles finally might get cornerback Jalen Mills back this week. But he hasn’t played football in almost a year, and it remains to be seen how much of a difference he’s going to make.

Digging another hole

I’m not sure why Doug Pederson keeps choosing to defer when he wins the coin toss. The last thing he should be eager to do is put his defense on the field.

The Eagles are 23rd in points allowed (24.8). They’ve given up 94 of 149 points in the first half, 37 in the first quarter. The Vikings became the fifth team in six games to score on the Eagles on their first possession, and the fourth team to score on their first two possessions.

Actually, the Vikings scored on their first four possessions. The Vikings averaged 9.4 yards per play on their first four possessions Sunday and had 11 first downs. Jim Schwartz’s defense has given up 116 first downs this season. Thirty-six, or 31 percent, have come on their opponents’ first two possessions.

Not catching on

Carson Wentz’s overall numbers weren’t bad: 26-for-40, 306 yards, two TDs, one interception. But the only receiver who did any real damage to the Vikings defense was running back Miles Sanders, who had three catches for 86 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown catch and a 45-yard reception. A running back really shouldn’t be your best deep threat.

Tight end Zach Ertz, who had 10 catches for 110 yards against the Vikings last year, had just four catches for 54 yards on nine targets Sunday. And two of those receptions — consecutive 17- and 22-yarders — came in fourth-quarter garbage time.

Alshon Jeffery had 10 catches for just 76 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown catch. But once again Sunday, Doug Pederson and Mike Groh opted to use Jeffery largely on screens and quick hitters rather than 50-50 balls downfield, which is supposed to be his specialty given his superhuman catch radius.

Through six games, Jeffery is averaging a career-low 9.0 yards per catch.

Nelson Agholor had four catches for 42 yards. Just one of those receptions was for more than 8 yards. Mack Hollins, who was the third wideout in 11-personnel packages, was targeted just twice and didn’t have a catch. Rookie second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got on the field for just five garbage-time snaps. DeSean Jackson can’t get back soon enough.

» READ MORE: Eagles’ loss to Vikings shows DeSean Jackson’s absence isn’t only wide receiver problem

Money-down struggles

The Eagles went into the game ranked second in the league in third-down offense with an impressive 52.9% success rate. Wentz was fifth in third-down passing with a 117.5 passer rating.

But the Eagles converted only 4 of 12 third-down opportunities against the Vikings. They had four third-and-2s and failed to convert three of them, including one on their first possession when the Vikings blew up a Jordan Howard run.

Pederson never really seemed to have confidence in his run game the rest of the day. The Eagles threw the ball on their three other third-and-2s, including a critical one in the third quarter when they were trailing by only seven. They opted to run a bubble screen to Jeffery out of a three-wide-receiver bunch formation.

But the play failed abysmally. Hollins and Agholor both failed to execute their blocks, and Jeffery was tackled for a 1-yard loss. The Eagles had to settle for a Jake Elliott field goal that made it 24-20.

Wentz was just 3-for-9 for 18 yards and a sack on third down. In the Eagles’ first five games, 26 of his 51 third-down pass attempts produced first downs. Against the Vikings: just 3 of 9.

The penalty and the sack

After the Vikings took an 11-point lead on Cousins’ third touchdown pass to Diggs late in the third quarter, the Eagles drove from their own 25 to the Minnesota 43.

A touchdown on that possession would have put the Eagles right back in the game. On second-and-4 from 43, Wentz took an unsuccessful shot down the field to Agholor.

On third-and-4, the Eagles got flagged for an inexcusable delay of game. With the clock running down, Wentz clapped his hands and shouted for center Jason Kelce to snap the ball, but because of the crowd noise, Kelce couldn’t hear him.

That turned a third-and-manageable into a third-and-long. On third-and-9, the Vikes went after Wentz with a zero blitz. Running back Jordan Howard, who has done a good job this season in blitz pickup, made a mistake.

Instead of picking up linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was coming unimpeded between the left guard and left tackle, Howard went after cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who was blitzing off the right edge.

Kendricks and Alexander both got to Wentz. But if Howard had blocked Kendricks, who got there first, Wentz would have had an extra second to step up and dodge Alexander, or get the ball out to a receiver.

“That was a good defensive scheme there,’’ Wentz said after the game. “They schemed us up. They got us there.’’

Indeed they did.

The Eagles had to punt the ball, and the Vikings drove 88 yards in eight plays for a game-clinching touchdown.