Monday Night Football in Philadelphia was an unmitigated disaster for the Minnesota Vikings. After an impressive victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, optimism was high heading into the game with the Eagles, and the Vikings fanbase was left deflated by a first-half horror show. Defeat seemed inevitable at half time and so it proved.
Many things went wrong on both sides of the ball, but as I specifically stated pregame, the ground game would be vital to victory. That’s where I want to focus. It was an area I expected the Vikings to have lots of joy against the Eagles. That simply didn’t happen.
Through a combination of Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Jalen Reagor, and Kirk Cousins, the Vikings ran the ball just 11 times during the game. That is down from 28 rushes against the Packers in Week 1. Of course, the Vikings got behind early to the Eagles and stayed behind.
However, there was plenty of time in the game for the Vikings to keep a balanced attack. Cook struggled to get going early, but after that, the Vikings moved the ball on the few occasions they ran the ball, and the missed tackles that caused the Eagles so many problems against the Lions were evident.
I felt the Vikings were trying to force the issue too much with the passing game, and a more balanced attack would have been a better route back into the game, especially with a blocked field goal and an interception twice, giving them a short field twice in the second half. Was it overeagerness from the rookie head coach to quickly get back in the game? Perhaps.
Kevin O’Connell is learning his way as a head coach. Expectations of everything going as swimmingly as it did in the first game was too optimistic. There will be growing pains throughout this season. What’s essential is that O’Connell learns from mistakes.
This game gave us the bizarre stat of Cousins being the Vikings leading rusher — something I never expected to see. His 20 yards surpassed the 17 yards of Cook and Reagor and 8 yards of Mattison.
In comparison, in a game where Jalen Hurts excelled in the passing game and carved up the soft coverage on display from the Vikings secondary in the first half, the Eagles still moved the ball on the ground, helped by their dual-threat quarterback. Hurts accounted for 57 yards and two rushing touchdowns. However, led by their lead back Miles Sanders, with 80 yards, followed by Boston Scott with 19 yards, and Kenneth Gainwell with 7 yards, the Eagles running backs produced 106 yards of offense on the ground.
The finger of blame for poor gameplan and poor execution can be pointed in almost every direction. Yet, with an offensive line that excels in the run game and the backs the Vikings have on the roster, running the football shouldn’t be abandoned. After all, it’s vital to setting up the big explosive plays downfield the Vikings have been renowned for in recent seasons.
Instead, the Vikings seemed hellbent on using the running backs in the passing game on screen passes that just didn’t work. Cook had that same amount of targets as he did rushes, six of each. Mattison’s three targets were more than his two rushing attempts.
That’s not to say the quick fix for the Vikings is to run the ball more. Cook is managing 4.1 yards per carry through two games, which isn’t terrible but is way off the likes of D’Andre Swift (10 ypc) and Aaron Jones (9.1 ypc). You would expect those numbers to come down throughout the season, but Cook’s certainly needs to go up. The Vikings are paying Cook to be elite, but so far this season has only managed two “explosive” plays of 10+ yards. That is something that needs to change. Mattison averages 4.4 yards per carry and has arguably looked sharper than Cook.
Still, it is early days, and there’s time for the Vikings coaching staff and players to work things out. The chance to bounce back comes with another game in the division at home to the Detroit Lions. I hope for a more balanced attack and for Cook to find his explosiveness. That would be a start for righting what went wrong on Monday night.