Somewhere out there is an NFL general manager who is going to enjoy a healthy amount of leverage whenever Howie Roseman comes calling before the trade deadline. Whether the target is the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey or the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson or someone a little lower in the hierarchy, the Eagles almost have to do something to address their secondary, which spent another Sunday getting shredded with ridiculous ease.
It didn’t matter who tried to stay with Stefon Diggs, it did not end well. The speedy wide receiver scored three touchdowns and would have had a fourth if Kirk Cousins had not overthrown him by five yards on a deep ball late in the first half. On Diggs’ first touchdown, he easily outran man coverage by Rasul Douglas and hauled in a 62-yard pass that hit him in stride. His third touchdown was a work of art as he beat Craig James on a subtle double move and then kept his feet in bounds after going up over James to get Cousins’ throw in the back of the end zone.
But it was Diggs’ 51-yard touchdown in the second quarter that offered the tidiest summation of the state of the Eagles secondary, because he was one of two Vikings receivers who were running uncovered deep downfield on the play. Both Douglas and Sidney Jones seemed to think that they were supposed to be playing some sort of underneath zone on the play, leaving Cousins to decide who he wanted to reward with an easy scoring throw.
The Vikings, who entered the game throwing the ball less often than any team in the NFL, attacked the Eagles outside corners early and often. They scored their first touchdown when Adam Thielen beat Sidney Jones on an out-and-up and caught a six-yard pass from Cousins in the end zone. Jones was flagged for two pass interference penalties, including one in the end zone that set up a one-yard Dalvin Cook touchdown run that gave the Vikings a 38-20 lead.
The Eagles are fast arriving at a point where the situation at cornerback is no longer tenable, if they haven’t already blown by it. Cousins finished the afternoon completing 22-of-29 passes for 333 yards and a ridiculous 138.4 quarterback rating. In six games this season, the Eagles have allowed six receivers to eclipse 100 yards receiving, with Diggs joining a list that also includes Davante Adams (10 rec, 180 yards), Terry McLaurin (5 for 125), Julio Jones (five for 106), Calvin Ridley (eight for 105) and Marvin Jones (six for 101).
On an afternoon where the Eagles got everything they could have hoped for out of Carson Wentz and their offense, their inability to offer any semblance of resistance against Cousins and his wide receivers thwarted what should have been a valiant comeback. Some form of help should be on the way in the form of Jalen Mills, who could be back on the field as soon as next week. But it’s hard to imagine that will be enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Miles Sanders shows his skills
If Miles Sanders ever figures out the “running” part of being an NFL running back, he’s going to be a heck of a player. The receiving skills were on display on a couple of huge plays that helped the Eagles claw their way back into a game that they trailed 24-3 at one point. In the second quarter, Sanders beat Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks on a vertical route out of the backfield and hauled in a perfect 32-yard pass from Carson Wentz for a touchdown that cut the Eagles’ deficit to 24-10. Early in the third quarter, he caught a pass on a wheel route that went for 45 yards and set the Eagles up with a 1st-and-goal on the four-yard-line. Two plays later, Wentz found Alshon Jeffery in the end zone to cut the lead to 24-17.
Sanders entered the game with 10 catches for 133 yards, with five of those receptions going for first downs. His 86 yards on three catches led all Eagles receivers. With the ball in his hands, though, Sanders was once again a non-factor. He had an awful kickoff return where he only made it to the 10-yard-line after trying to beat the Vikings’ coverage team to the outside, and he gained just six yards on his three carries from scrimmage.
Not the quarterback’s fault
Carson Wentz was everything the Eagles needed him to be against a tough Vikings defense. Unfortunately, the Eagles still seem to be a playmaker or two short of a truly dynamic offense. The lack of speed on the outside is jarring. The Eagles simply do not have receivers capable of making plays on the ball the way the Vikings do in Diggs and Thielen. If you were making a shopping list for the trade deadline, that would be just behind a cornerback.
That being said, Wentz was as good as he has been all season. His 26-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery midway through the third quarter was a thing of beauty and would have gone for a 55-yard touchdown if Jeffery hadn’t lost his balance while tight-roping the sideline after the catch. On the Eagles’ opening drive of the second half, Wentz made a great play to find Nelson Agholor for 23 yards just before the pass rush arrived, and later finished off the drive with a play that only he and a select few other quarterbacks in the league can make, buying himself time with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield and finally finding Jeffery for a touchdown that cut the Vikings lead to 24-17 with 12:11 remaining in the third quarter. Late in the third quarter, he had another play where he kept a play alive while scrambling to his left and finally whizzed a, 11-yard pass to a tightly-covered Zach Ertz where only the tight end could get it.
Wentz finished 26-of-40 for 306 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Not Doug’s day
Doug Pederson’s aggressiveness did not pay off on this particular afternoon. In the first half, he kept the offense on the field on 4th-and-2 on the Vikings 48-yard line, setting the Vikings up with a short field after Carson Wentz’s pass to Alshon Jeffery was off the mark. At the end of the half, rather than kicking a field goal that would have had the Eagles in a two-possession game in the fourth quarter, Pederson called for a fake that the Vikings sniffed out (kicker Jake Elliott’s pass to Dallas Goedert was incomplete). That being said, given the Eagles’ struggles on defense, perhaps Pederson’s thirst for point was justified.