Vikings

Philadelphia Will Test Minnesota’s Biggest Weakness

Photo Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ thorough domination of the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 inside US Bank Stadium brought about plenty of encouraging developments.

  • Minnesota’s defense allowed just seven points against two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers.
  • Justin Jefferson erupted for a career-high 184 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
  • The Vikings demonstrated a seldom-seen killer instinct by going up three possessions to close out the first half.
  • The pass rush, led by Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, wreaked havoc throughout by recording 18 pressures, four sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery from Rodgers.
  • Kirk Cousins was his uber-efficient self, playing point guard for Minnesota’s offense to the tune of a 118.9 passer rating.

With so much praise to go around, the Vikings must’ve played a near-flawless game against the three-time defending NFC North champions, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

With the loss of Davante Adams over the offseason, it was the worst-kept secret that the Packers would rely heavily on their rushing attack spearheaded by Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. Fortunately for Minnesota, they were able to mitigate this strength of Green Bay’s by forcing the Packers to abandon the run once the Vikings went up by three scores. However, Green Bay still was able to gash Minnesota’s defense for 111 yards.

On the surface, an 111-yard day appears to be a serious step in the right direction for the Vikings’ efforts against the run. After all, this team has given up the fifth-most rushing yards throughout the NFL since 2020 — an average of nearly 132 rushing yards per game.

But due to Minnesota’s proactive and relentless offensive approach, a far cry from yesteryear with Mike Zimmer, Green Bay was never able to establish their ground game. The Packers only ran the ball 18 times on Sunday; their average rushing attempts last year were more than 26. But despite the limited volume, Green Bay managed to churn out serious yardage by averaging 6.2 yards per carry. That was the fifth-worst yards per carry allowed in Week 1, as Minnesota trailed only the Philadelphia Eagles (6.5 yards/carry), the Washington Commanders (6.8 yards/carry), Tennessee Titans (7.4 yards/carry), and Atlanta Falcons (7.9 yards/carry).

The most concerning part about this leakage on the ground? Minnesota’s next opponent, the Eagles, have pounded teams into oblivion with the league’s best rushing attack since head coach Nick Sirianni took over last season. Led by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who struggles with his ability to consistently beat opponents from the pocket, Siranni’s offense unapologetically runs right into the teeth of opposing defenses and leans on one of the best offensive lines in football.

No team averaged more rushing yards per game last year than Philadelphia’s 159.7. And the Eagles picked up right where they left off by demolishing the Detroit Lions’ defense with 216 rushing yards on 39 attempts. Hurts had the most carries for the Eagles with 17, but running back Miles Sanders led the way with 93 rushing yards and a score. All three of Philadelphia’s running backs — including Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott — found the end zone, along with Hurts.

Philadelphia’s effort in Week 1 at Detroit was good enough for the third-best collective rushing output of the young season, trailing only the New York Giants (238 yards) and the Cleveland Browns (217 yards).

Considering the Eagles’ struggles in defending the run last week against the Lions, Minnesota’s ability to do at least one of two things will be paramount to the Vikings’ chances of coming out of Philadelphia with a 2-0 record.

Similar to last week against the Packers, the Vikings’ defense will be more than content with an absurdly high yards per carry metric. As long as Minnesota’s offense can play the role of aggressor by getting out to an early two-or-three score lead, forcing Hurts and the Eagles offense to beat them through the air, Minnesota has to feel good about that potential outcome.

If Minnesota finds itself in a 60-minute dogfight inside Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night, the game could go off the rails. Suppose the offense struggles to get out to an early advantage. In that case, Philadelphia can wear on Minnesota’s weak rushing defense while simultaneously keeping the Vikings’ potentially lethal offense on the sidelines collecting cobwebs.

As we saw far too many times last year — most notably on the road at Baltimore and San Francisco — teams that can dominate the line of scrimmage against Minnesota’s front can singlehandedly control the entire game. An opponent with elite running ability presents serious complications for a team like Minnesota that needs to keep its playmaking offense on the field, not on the sidelines.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first-ever free-agent acquisition was former Buffalo Bills nose tackle Harrison Phillips. The first-year Vikings GM identified Phillips as the individual who could have the biggest impact on preventing Minnesota’s defense from ever experiencing another outcome like the one the Vikings had in Baltimore or San Francisco last season. In those games, the Ravens and 49ers gashed them on the ground and dominated the time of possession.

And when you consider that the Vikings passed on former Georgia Bulldog defensive tackle Jordan Davis and his unicorn-esque abilities to stop the run, all eyes will be on Minnesota’s defense in this heavyweight matchup between Philadelphia’s league-leading rushing attack and offensive line.

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