Eagles-Vikings player matchups to watch in week 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles (1-0) spray the Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football in their home opener.
Here are some key matchups to watch:
Justin Jefferson vs. Eagles corner backs
Jefferson will always be remembered in Philly as the man the Eagles could have had but drafted Jalen Reagor instead. That hurts so much, because Jefferson is already on a Hall of Fame job in his third NFL season. That’s not hyperbole. In his first two NFL seasons, Jefferson had 196 catches, 3,016 yards, and 17 touchdowns. No other receiver in NFL history has posted those numbers in their first two seasons.
And Jefferson gets off to a fast start in Year 3, with 9 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Vikings’ Week 1 win over the Packers. Jefferson is as dynamic as they come and it will take a full team effort to slow him down on Monday.
“There are a lot of guys out there, but he’s a special player,” said Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon. “I don’t rank boys, but he’s in that top group.
“He can beat you in all sorts of ways, so if you look at his game, he’s not a one-dimensional guy. He can take the roof off, he can beat you underneath, he can beat you by yards after catch. They can beat him very well in different ways, so it’s hard to have a plan for him to always have two men with him. It’s going to be a nice challenge for us, and we’ll be ready for it.”
The Vikings use Jefferson all over the field, both sides wide and in the slot and in the opener they showed they will crack him open… not that he needs the help. So it’s not enough to say that Darius Slay has to travel with him. In recent years, even if Slay has traveled, he hasn’t gotten into the slot. So, in this game, you need all three corners of the Eagles, security help, and planning help.
Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison vs. the shaky defense of Eagles
The Eagles’ run defense comes from a game in which the Lions had 181 yards on the ground. The Eagles also missed 15 tackles in that game. And it doesn’t get any easier this week to face the duo of Cook and Mattison. In Week 1, Cook had 20 carries for 90 yards and Mattison had 8 for 36.
“We have to clean it up, because you can’t get stung like us,” Gannon said. “Just from a fitness and tackling point of view, I think our execution needs to be a little bit better. Of course that starts with me. We need to coach that a little bit better to make sure our guys know exactly where to fit on certain runs. ”
Some of the Eagles’ problems against the Lions were simple execution. They looked like a team that hadn’t tackled all summer. But part of it was about Gannon and his plan. We’ll see if both things get corrected on Monday.
Brian O’Neill vs. Haason Reddick
The Eagles only got one sack in Week 1, and that came after a bad blow. Except for a TFL on a run, Reddick was mostly quiet. He rushed from the left for most of the camp and through most of the first game, although Gannon moved him a bit. For the most part, former first-round pick-and-right tackle Penei Sewell shut down Reddick and Jared Goff got the ball out quickly.
Another tough test in Week 2. The Vikings’ best tackle happens to be their correct tackle O’Neill, who was PFF’s No. 2 ranked offensive tackle in the league after a week. Of course there is still a long way to go, but O’Neill is very solid. He only got one sack away last season.
But Reddick will have to win his matchups, even the tough ones, in 2022. The Eagles pay him $15 million a season to pressure the quarterbacks. Against Kirk Cousins in this game, the Eagles need to put more pressure than they had on Goff in the opener.
Eagles tackles vs. Vikings edge rushers
The Vikings have one of the best duos of edge rushers in the league with Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, who combined for 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and 5 tackles in the opener. Playing against his former team (Packers), Smith was great.
“I say that every week, but looking at those guys,” said Eagles OC Shane Steichen, “Za’Darius Smith, he was something else.”
Smith and Hunter switch sides every now and then, but for the most part in Week 1, it was Smith rushing from the right and Hunter from the left.
If that’s true in week 2, that means mostly Smith vs. Jordan Mailata and Hunter vs. Lane Johnson. This is a matchup between two strengths of these respective teams.
AJ Brown vs. Vikings cornerbacks
The Eagles $100 million receiver made every penny in Week 1, catching 10 passes for 155 yards. While it’s likely that production will be more evenly distributed between Brown and the other targets in the future, there’s no question that he’s #1. And the Eagles have to try and give him the ball until someone stops them.
The Vikings’ starting cornerbacks are Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler, while former Eagle Chandon Sullivan takes the nickel corners. Based on how Brown was used in Week 1, it’s up to all three to beat him on Monday Night Football. Peterson is an 8-time Pro Bowler, but he’s also now 32 and past his prime. Dantzler is a solid corner and Sullivan has built a fine career for himself. But still give the Eagles an advantage here as long as Jalen Hurts has time.
Special teams of Eagles vs. Jalen Reagor
A little bonus match here as Reagor returns for his first match against the team that drafted him in the first round. Reagor is the Vikings’ point returnee, a role he held in Philadelphia. While Reagor has some explosiveness, his focus falters at times. The Eagles must try to force him into a foul.
But in kick-off, Vikings returning man Kene Nwangwu may not give a chance. Nwangwu averaged 32.2 yards per return last year, taking home two as a rookie.
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