Following a picture-perfect debut against the Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles quickly humbled Ed Donatell’s defense. The Minnesota Vikings’ allowed a staggering 347 yards in the first half alone, and Jalen Hurts could do no wrong. For the Vikings, the game started ugly and got uglier. Worst of all was the coaching staff’s utter inability to deal with grim reality.
On Philadelphia’s opening possession, Hurts led an 11-play, 82-yard drive that lasted nearly seven minutes and ended with a touchdown. On that drive alone, five plays went for 10-plus yards.
The next time the Eagles had the ball, the box score will tell you that Minnesota’s defense was able to get a stop. But look a little closer, and it’s clear that Philadelphia shot themselves in the foot with a penalty on first down and a mishandled snap on the next play. For most of the first half, only the Eagles’ miscues could slow them down. But for a few yellow flags to halt their momentum, they glided down the field with apparent ease.
Sure enough, the next time the Eagles had the ball, they replicated their first possession by once again driving 82 yards for a touchdown.
At this point in the game, it became clear that Donatell needed to adjust. But he didn’t. He stuck with the same defensive coverage for not only the rest of the half but the remainder of the evening.
The coverage that Donatell was running was the same one that worked so well against Green Bay just a week ago. The coverage is a two-high shell that turns into cover 3 following the snap. Donatell called this coverage on 95% of defensive snaps in Week 1 and 86% of snaps in Week 2.
This type of coverage aims to prevent the possibility of being beaten over the top. However, it makes it far easier for the opposing team to run the ball, as fewer defenders are close to the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles took advantage of this by running the ball early and often. Their passing attack became an extension of the run game by getting the ball out quickly to wide-open receivers, allowing them to gain yards after the catch.
Looking at this graph below, which charts pre-snap two-high shell percentages, it’s clear that Donatell is far and away leading the league in this category, a testament to his commitment to his scheme.
“We made some adjustments, just not the proper ones….those guys [the Eagles] did a great job attacking some of the weaknesses of our defense,” said Patrick Peterson after the game.
You may be asking yourself, why was the defense so effective against the Packers but lackluster against the Eagles? The answer to the question lies at the start of each game.
The Vikings were able to get out to an early lead against the Packers, forcing Rodgers to pass the ball more often, which is precisely where this defense thrives. Against the Eagles, though, the Vikings were trying to claw their way back into the game, which incentivized Philadelphia to run the ball more often. That’s precisely where this defense falters.
Looking at this week’s game against the Detroit Lions, Donatell must make the proper adjustments. The Lions rank third in rushing yards per game this season.
Donatell will likely need to bring one of the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to discourage Detroit from running the ball. If Jared Goff beats you through the air, so be it. But allowing the Lions to run all over you is not a good game plan.
If Donatell fails to recognize this apparent weakness in his scheme and does not make the proper adjustments ahead of the game, the Vikings could easily fall below .500 and lose their early edge within the division. It would also stir up some unpleasant memories among the fanbase of Mike Zimmer’s stubborn refusal to change course — to say nothing of the mental anguish of losing to the NFC North’s perpetual cellar dwellers.