PHILADELPHIA — Unlike last week, the Eagles’ defense is going to be tested Sunday.
The unit dominated the New York Jets last week, registering 10 sacks and scoring two defensive touchdowns in a 31-6 victory.
Minnesota presents a much stiffer challenge.
The Vikings feature one of the league’s best running games and have a talented cast of wide receivers.
“They’re making big plays everywhere,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.
Much of the Vikings’ prowess comes from the running game, which is ranked third in the NFL at 166.4 yards per game. Running back Dalvin Cook is the league’s second-leading rusher with 542 yards and five touchdowns on 92 carries (5.9 yards per carry). Only Carolina’s Christian McCaffery (587 yards, six TDs) is off to a better start this season.
The Eagles counter with a stout defense that has allowed a league-best 63 yards per game. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott gained 113 on Dec. 9, 2018, a span of 10 regular-season and playoff games.
“We know they want to run the football,” Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “But we pride ourselves on stopping the run.”
If the Eagles can contain Cook, at least one defensive player likes their chances against quarterback Kirk Cousins and company.
Eagles linebacker Zach Brown evidently wasn’t too impressed with Cousins during their season together with Washington in 2017.
“I think every defense is going to want that guy to throw the ball,” Brown told ESPN.com on Friday. “For me, that’s probably the weakest part of their offense is him. Everything else is good. They’ve got a good running game, probably one of the best in the league. They have real good receivers. You just want them to pass the ball. You want Kirk Cousins to get it in his hands.”
However, Vikings wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will be pitted against an injury-riddled Eagles secondary.
Cornerbacks Ronald Darby (hamstring) and Avonte Maddox (concussion/neck) will not play. Jalen Mills (foot) is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list until Monday, and Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot) is on injured reserve until midseason.
Schwartz has had to use 12 cornerbacks in the last 23 games, according to NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com.
It has gotten so bad that three of the corners who played in last week’s 31-6 victory over the New York Jets — Chris James, Ryan Lewis, Orlando Scandrick — weren’t on the team three weeks ago.
Sidney Jones, whose been hampered by hamstring injuries for the last two seasons, was in uniform against the Jets, but did not play. Coach Doug Pederson is hopeful he’ll able to get some snaps against the Vikings.
“Think of the times you’ve been ill or sick, and you still have to go to work, you still have to show up,” Pederson said. “You almost have to trick your body sometimes that you’re OK.
“It’s a little the same way with injury. In any athlete, not just Sidney, but in any athlete’s case, that is the case. We need to get them out on the practice field. We have to push them as coaches just a little bit. Not risk further injury. We’re not going to do that. But get them to feel comfortable and confident that everything is OK. Once they push past that barrier, we’re good.”
The Eagles can help the secondary by pressuring Cousins with a pass rush.
Brandon Graham had a personal-best three sacks against the Jets while alternating between end and tackle. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox didn’t have one but helped set up at least one of Graham’s by collapsing the pocket.
“Can he sell me some sacks?” Cox said with a laugh. “I’m not a selfish person, but (Graham) needs to sell me one. But I know my time is coming.”