The Anatomy Of An Upset: How the Vikings Can Exploit A Key Matchup In Philly

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings look to quickly regroup after falling short, 20-17, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Vikings opened as 6.5-point favorites, but the defending NFC North champions didn’t make a good first impression. Minnesota will have a short week to shake off the loss. The NFL schedule makers have summoned them to Philadelphia for a Thursday Night Football matchup against last year’s NFC champions.

Lincoln Financial Field has historically been a house of horrors for the Vikings. The Vikings have amassed only two wins in their last 10 games in Philadelphia. The outlook is bleak after a grim game in which the Vikings could not hang on to win at home against a Bucs team that may end up in the Caleb Williams sweepstakes.

The Vikings will have to get past any rust they felt in the opening week and scout out advantageous positional matchups that they can maximize before the Week 2 battle. It starts with using Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson  together to create space downfield. To do so, they’ll have to use them more effectively than they did against Tampa.

After Week 1, the Vikings finished as a middling team, per NFLElo’s EPA/Play graph:

An inefficient running game damaged the offense’s versatility and hardly took advantage of Minnesota’s heavy personnel. The Vikings ran the fifth-most 21-personnel in the NFL on first down in Week 1. They were also 25th in 11-personnel on first downs, a departure from last year’s 11-personnel-heavy scheme.

Minnesota’s continued incorporation of Jordan Addison will help provide explosiveness and draw coverage away from Justin Jefferson. T.J. Hockenson will benefit from freer reign over the middle of the field. And seeing the running game against a less dominant defensive line will provide more clarity on Mattison’s effectiveness.

Week 2 will also hopefully provide a glimpse at a more consistent Vikings offense. In the first week, turnovers stalled two drives into the opponent’s red zone. That’s a theme Minnesota cannot afford to repeat against more difficult opponents like Philadelphia.

The first was a forced fumble caused by left guard Ed Ingram, whose left arm knocked the ball free from Kirk Cousins as he spun to bring the ball back towards the back:

The fumble Antoine Winfield forced was simply due to pressure overwhelming the offensive line. C.J. Ham was caught in space and forced to choose between two defenders that had free run at the quarterback:

On the following interception at the end of the half, Cousins may have been better suited firing a pass to Jordan Addison on his in-breaking route instead of attempting to fit a pass between two defenders to K.J. Osborn:

Despite injuries and miscues in Week 1, the Vikings came away as the consensus eighth-overall offensive line, sustaining high-level play past a high volume of passes.

We don’t know yet whether Christian Darrisaw will be available against Philadelphia’s daunting defensive line. He’s marked as questionable on the final injury report leading up to Thursday’s game. Darrisaw finished with 58 snaps against the Buccaneers despite sustaining an ankle injury during play.

However, starting center Garrett Bradbury will not be playing in Week 2 after suffering a back injury, priming Minnesota’s offensive line for the slaughter against a ferocious interior pass rush.

Philadelphia has injuries of their own, with the Eagles missing the most starters in a single game since prior to last season:

Nakobe Dean is reported to be out with a foot injury, creating ample opportunity for Hockenson to roam over the middle.

Luke Braun created a fantastic breakdown of the gravity Hockenson creates and how his vertical ability helps open up the offense:

With Jefferson demanding bracket attention, Hockenson should have an opportunity to thrive over the middle against inferior coverage. He should perform well against Zach Cunningham, PFF’s 51st-ranked linebacker.

With Hockenson roaming the middle of the field and Justin Jefferson demanding Darius Slay’s attention, receivers K.J. Osborn and Addison should have room to work against Josh Jobe, who is replacing All-Pro James Bradberry. Addison has the chance to have his breakout game on national television. After proving he can be explosive against a subpar secondary in Week 1, he has the chance to truly feast against backups like Avonte Maddox and Josh Jobe.

The Vikings also won’t have to face off with Kenneth Gainwell at running back for Philadelphia and may not even see Fletcher Cox, longtime defensive tackle for Philly. Gainwell is Philadelphia’s primary back and would’ve posed a threat in such a high-powered rushing offense.

If Cox is unable to return from his rib injury, Minnesota’s interior offensive line will have a much easier time only going up against one game-breaking defensive tackle. The Vikings will need to hold up in pass protection. However, with the advantageous matchups they have, they could end up pulling off an upset similar to the one they suffered against Tampa Bay.

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