Good morning, Eagles fans. Minnesota Vikings prep is in full swing now, with the team’s hardest practice day in the books. The Eagles hit the field again this afternoon, and players will be available to the media afterward. They’ll likely be trying to enjoy the mild Philadelphia weather as long as they can before trudging into Minneapolis, where it might snow this weekend. This is the fourth straight season they’ll play the Vikings. Like the matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2, a bit of a rivalry is brewing between the two teams.
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Mike Zimmer thinks Andrew Sendejo is ‘singing like a canary’
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer embraced his new “Godfather” label during his telephone news conference with reporters on Wednesday with a chuckle. Zimmer got the nickname when Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh called him the “Godfather of the AA gap blitz” earlier this week, and Zimmer seemed to enjoy the title.
Then, in perfect Godfather form, he did what he could to intimidate a witness, jokingly saying that Eagles safety Andrew Sendejo, who played for the Vikings for eight seasons, would be eager to tell Minnesota’s state secrets to his new teammates.
“I’m sure he’s singing like a canary,” Zimmer said. “He’s a really good kid, he’s very, very smart. He’s going to go full-speed, 100 miles an hour, snap-to-whistle. … He’s going to go downhill and there’s going to be some friendly fire in there, but that’s just how he plays.
“He knows [the scheme] as well as anybody,” Zimmer added. “We’ll make adjustments.”
When asked about whether the Eagles’ offense could use Sendejo’s knowledge, Groh smiled and said “No, we wouldn’t ask him anything."
“He was there a long time. He knows the calls,” Groh said. “He’s in our system now defensively, so it’s not as fresh to him, but there are some things here and there that he might remember.”
The Eagles might need those secrets, too. Through five games this season, the Vikings defense has proven to be as dominant as it typically has been since the defensive-minded Zimmer took over in 2014. Zimmer uses a 4-3 front similar to the Eagles, but he is known for using exotic blitz packages, often overloading the “A gap," with linebackers crowding the center. This poses a threat of sending extra pass rushers.
In the last four seasons, Zimmer has led a top-five defense in the league. This year’s team is fifth in total defense and in points allowed.
The Vikings defense might be the stiffest test for the Eagles’ offense yet this season, but Zimmer said Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz have gotten his attention.
“Ertz is an unbelievable football player, catches the ball great, and Wentz looks the same to me. The way he moves, the way he’s hard to tackle, the way he reads the coverages,” Zimmer said. “They’re an aggressive offensive unit and I think [running back Jordan Howard] added another dimension to them.”
Minnesota is 3-2 this year, which has the Vikings tied for third place in the NFC North. But the team’s passing game, led by Kirk Cousins and his $84 million contract, has stumbled out of the gate. Cousins has the 28th-worst QBR (35.5), and the Vikings have focused heavily on using their effective run game, limiting opportunities for receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
Diggs and Thielen aren’t thrilled with the new situation, leading to unrest in the locker room. Diggs skipped out on meetings and practice last week, and Thielen criticized Cousins after the team’s Week 4 loss to Bears.
Zimmer downplayed the drama surrounding the receivers and Cousins.
“When we don’t win, people get frustrated," Zimmer said. "Everyone wants the ball, there’s only one ball to go around. We try to spread the ball around as best we can, and we’ll continue to do so, but we’re going to do what we have to do to win.”
What you need to know about the Eagles
The Eagles have been the best run defense in the NFL so far, but Dalvin Cook and Co. are about to really show us how good the unit is, writes Paul Domowitch.
The two aforementioned writers teamed up for Wednesday’s notes, which include Doug Pederson encouraging Sidney Jones to trust his rehabbed hamstring and get back in the swing of things.
Want to study up on what the Eagles need to do in order to come back from Minneapolis 4-2? Listen to Jeff McLane, Domowitch, and Bowen’s podcast discussing the keys to the game.
Have you noticed Carson Wentz is doing a better job of protecting the football? Marcus Hayes has.
From the mailbag
Has the lack of a deep passing game been a product of play calling (ie. routes that are less than 20 yards) or separation or Carson just being unwilling to take a shot in a game like the Jets game where he didn’t need to. I [know] Agholor almost had one, but still. — @_JBPotter7_ on Twitter.
I think it’s mostly a product of DeSean Jackson being out. Whether you agree with it or not, the Eagles have typically tried to have a receiver room that resembles a basketball team. The last few seasons, they’ve had a bit of a designated deep threat to complement Alshon Jeffery’s power-forward playing style and Nelson Agholor’s route-running ability out of the slot. But with Jackson out, there isn’t much of a deep threat in the group. It’s not a coincidence that the Eagles’ vertical-passing game has vanished with Jackson, despite it being such a major part of the team’s Week 1 win over Washington in which Jackson had two touchdown catches longer than 50 yards. Since then, the Eagles have managed just three completions over 30 yards. Agholor has one, and Miles Sanders has the other two.
Once Jackson returns, assuming he’s not slowed by injury, he’s still going to be one of the most effective deep threats in the NFL. I think the big plays will come back with him. Sanders could continue whizzing by overmatched linebackers, or Agholor could break free with a well-executed route, but the reality is nobody on the roster can run a go route and get open quite like Jackson.