Vikings

NOTEBOOK: Defending the Tight Ends, Andrew Sendejo's Impact & Zimmer vs Pederson 4.0

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher (USA Today Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings did a nice job bottling up New York Giants tight end Evan Engram last Sunday, holding the young playmaker to six catches for 42 yards.

Once again, the Minnesota defense will be tested with another elite tight end from the NFC East. The Eagles’ Zach Ertz has 18 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown over his last two games against the Vikings, and he leads Philadelphia in receiving by a wide margin over Nelson Agholor.

But his counterpart Dallas Goedert can’t be overlooked either, even if he’s not a box score stuffer like Ertz. Goedert, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft out of South Dakota State, is Pro Football Focus’s top-ranked run blocking tight end in 2019.

“They’re probably two of the best packages as far as two tight ends that can really do a good job of blocking and also being able to go down the field and make plays,” said defensive coordinator George Edwards. “They’re both good receivers coming off the line of scrimmage and understanding what they ask them to do as far as protection and those types of deals. We’ve got our work cut out for us this week as far as matching these two tight ends.”

The Eagles have run the most plays out of “12” personnel this season, per Sharp Football, keeping Ertz and Goedert on the field together 31% of the time with the seventh-highest successful play rate in the league out of that formation. Ertz has at least five receptions and 50 yards in each game this year.

No tight end has more receptions since 2013 than Ertz, which made it surprising that the Eagles drafted Goedert 49th overall in 2018. But the 6-foot-5, 255-pound tight end has found a niche in Philadelphia’s offense while only having five catches on the year.

“We’ve got one who’s kind of the elusive route-runner in Zach and good down the field, and you’ve got Dallas Goedert who obviously can do the things that Zach does but he’s also a blocker,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said this week. “He’s a bigger, physical guy and we ask him to do some things on the line of scrimmage, so they complement each other that way. But they’re good together, I think can cause problems, matchup issues potentially, but it’s good to have both of them.”

With linebacker Ben Gedeon missing Sunday’s game with a concussion, the Vikings could lean heavily on Eric Wilson in their base defense. Wilson’s coverage skills may pair well against Ertz if he’s in a position to defend the Pro Bowler downfield.

FACING SENDEJO

After spending eight seasons with the Vikings, safety Andrew Sendejo has a new home with the Eagles.

Sendejo started 58 games with the Vikings and was one of the oldest members of the team at age 31 in 2018, but he was released before the final year of his four-year contract with no guaranteed money remaining on the deal. After hardly coming off the field as a starter for the Vikings, Sendejo is playing a part-time role with the Eagles, having only gotten over 60% of snaps in one game.

The undrafted safety was known for his big — sometimes illegal — hits on the Vikings as he amassed a pair of fines and a one-game suspension in 2017. His biggest hit as a member of the Eagles unfortunately came at the expense of teammate Avonte Maddox late in a victory at Green Bay.

Otherwise, says Pederson, Sendejo has been a welcome addition.

“This guy is a pro,” said the Eagles head coach. “He practices fast, he practices hard, he’s inserting himself as a leader on the team and on the defense, and I think guys really kind of feed off that, and outside of the friendly fire hit against Avonte Maddox against Green Bay, he’s a thumper. He knows how to hit and tackle, so he’s been a great addition to our team.”

As well as Sendejo knows the Vikings defense, there’s been plenty of talk that Sendejo will be “singing like a canary,” as Zimmer described in a conference call with Eagles reporters, about the nuances of Minnesota’s scheme. But it’s not the first time the Vikings have faced one of their former players.

“I’m sure he’s giving them little tips,” said Zimmer. “We’ll make adjustments. This is the NFL. Guys go on different teams all the time.”

And will Sendejo keep it clean if he’s given a clear shot at one of Minnesota’s playmakers?

“I think he does a pretty dang good job of keeping it clean,” said receiver Adam Thielen. “I know he’s had a track record of getting fined and stuff like that, but I remember when he was here, a lot of those hits were questionable as far as fines and stuff like that, but I think he’s a pretty clean football player in general. He just plays it one way, it’s full speed, and he’s going after guys, and I think that’s the way this game should be played. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of him as a dirty player.”

YEARLY SNAPSHOT

In a bit of an anomaly, the Vikings have matched up with the Eagles each of the last four seasons (including the 2017 playoffs), a rarity against a non-division team. That’s given Zimmer and the Vikings an annual snapshot of Doug Pederson’s offense since he took the job in 2016. The Vikings are 1-2 in the previous three games.

Has Zimmer noticed much of an evolution?

“You know, they’re very similar to how they have been really the last three years,” Zimmer said. “They got the RPOs, they got the zone bellies, the shots down the field. Wentz is a great player, so I think he’s added a lot to them. The things they do, the way he can scramble and move. They got a lot of no-back formations, so it’s similar to a lot of things.”

They’ve also had the same defensive coordinator in that time, Jim Schwartz, who is known for his “Wide Nine” that puts defensive ends far off the outside shoulder of the tackle. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is 3-2 when facing Schwartz’s Eagles defense and it’s Wide Nine.

Screenshot via NFL Gamepass

“It can affect a lot of play calls with protection and the run game,” Cousins said. “It can affect movements, so you’ve got to be aware of it. We’ve got to know how to block it, and the angles that it takes away from us and that it gives us and then react to it within the game. I think Coach Schwartz does a good job week to week with having changeups to his opponent.”

FINAL INJURY REPORT

The Vikings will be missing Gedeon at linebacker (concussion) and right guard Josh Kline (foot) on Sunday. As mentioned, Wilson will likely fill in for Gedeon, while Dakota Dozier will likely take Kline’s spot, where he filled in back in Week 4 and was the Vikings’ lowest-rated offensive player versus Chicago, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Eagles will be without a pair of running backs in Darren Sproles (quad) and Corey Clement (shoulder), meaning Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders will handle the bulk of the load out of the backfield. Philadelphia’s secondary remains banged up with Maddox (concussion/neck) and Ronald Darby (hamstring) out, potentially keeping the door open for former Viking corner Craig James to get big snaps. Receiver Desean Jackson (abdomen) will miss his fourth consecutive game, as will defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot).

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Photo Credit: Bill Streicher (USA Today Sports)

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