2023 NFL season, Week 2: What We Learned from Eagles' win over Vikings on Thursday night
Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles offense bounced back in big fashion Thursday night -- thanks in large part to a slew of Minnesota Vikings turnovers -- en route to a prime-time victory.
Eagles changed vibe with run-heavy drive. New offensive coordinator Brian Johnson deserves some credit for a pregame initiative and a mid-game adjustment. Following the narrow Week 1 win in which Dallas Goedert was held without a catch, and D’Andre Swift was limited to two touches, Johnson said the Eagles had to be “mindful” of changing that. Mindful they were, as Goedert caught six passes on seven targets and Swift had a career night with 175 rushing yards and a touchdown. Johnson also gets a thumbs up for his back-to-basics approach when the Eagles’ offense stalled. They kicked an opening-drive field goal but followed that with a three-and-out, an interception and a missed field goal, mirroring Sunday’s second-quarter doldrums. Thirteen minutes into Thursday’s game, The Linc was a chorus of boos. But Johnson went to the ground game -- even with Kenneth Gainwell inactive -- to counteract Brian Flores’ kitchen-sink defense, which gave the offensive line some issues. It worked. The Eagles ran the ball on 13 of 16 plays on their first TD drive, kickstarting a run of four straight possessions with a score. There is still quite a bit they can do to tighten things up offensively, but this felt like a mini-breakthrough for a coordinator in his second game calling plays after he’d heard the boos.
Late first-half turnover once again is a killer. In Week 1, the Vikings drove to the Buccaneers’ 13-yard line with 23 seconds until the half in a 10-10 game. On Thursday, Minnesota trailed 10-7 with the ball at the Eagles’ 31-yard line with 45 seconds til the half. Both times the Vikings had a chance to take a lead into halftime. Both possessions ended with a turnover. In Week 1, Kirk Cousins forced a pass behind his receiver in traffic, and the ball was picked. Against the Eagles, Justin Jefferson coughed up a fumble at the Eagles’ 1-yard line and -- worse -- fumbled it through the end zone for a touchback. And not only did the Vikings not score, but the defense couldn’t hold the Eagles for the final 34 seconds as Jake Elliott bombed a 61-yard field goal. So instead of the Vikings possibly taking a four-point lead, they went into the half down six. Two weeks in a row, two of the team’s best players made critical errors at a key moment, and in both games, the Vikings surrendered touchdowns on the opening drive of the third quarter. This is a tried and true way to lose football games.
Jalen Hurts better, but there’s room for improvement. Hurts’ so-so performance in Week 1 wasn’t a major concern, but how would he look four days later? Up and down. It was a slow start for Hurts, who hit DeVonta Smith on a 54-yard pass on the fifth play, but it was underthrown and could have been a TD. Later, Hurts appeared confused by the Vikings’ faking pressure and dropping into a zone, as he telegraphed his pick to backup safety Theo Jackson. The Eagles eventually found some rhythm throwing the ball, and Hurts only had five incompletions on 23 attempts. But the lack of downfield production -- even with the Smith catch -- has been notable, especially when it comes to targeting A.J. Brown. Some of this is on the offensive line, as the Eagles allowed four sacks. But there also were just missed connections. Hurts hit Brown for a would-be touchdown early in the fourth, but it was called back by a penalty. It also looked like the referees missed a potential pass interference when Hurts went back to Brown the next play for what could have been a score. But so far, all of Brown’s receptions this season have been nine air yards or fewer, per Next Gen Stats, so he and Hurts will have to figure out how to get more downfield connections cooking.
Vikings open season fumbling at historically bad rate. On the Vikings’ second play of the third quarter, Eagles pass rusher Josh Sweat bore down for a strip sack of Cousins for Minnesota’s fourth lost fumble of the game. That’s four in the span of 31 minutes of football. Plus, throw in the two Cousins lost in Week 1, and the Vikings have the most fumbles lost (six) through a team’s first two games since the 2003 St. Louis Rams. Last season, the Vikings had 10 total for the entire regular season. Cousins has now coughed up three, plus a Week 1 pick, which has cost his team dearly, but the Vikings clearly are working with a shell offensive line right now with Garrett Bradberry out, Ed Ingram struggling, Christian Darrisaw being knocked out and then his replacement, Oli Udoh, carted off with an injury in the fourth quarter. Plus, four different Vikings fumbled Thursday, so it’s not just a one-guy problem. Whatever the case, it’s got to be fixed quickly. The Vikings are 0-2, and the schedule isn’t really softening anytime soon.
Eagles’ banged-up secondary barely hangs on. The Eagles’ secondary had some rough moments in this game with cornerback James Bradberry and safety Reed Blankenship inactive and cornerback Avonte Maddox getting hurt midgame. That left the secondary having to rely on Mario Goodrich, Josh Jobe and Terrell Edmunds in bigger roles than expected. Goodrich and Jobe both had plays where they were undressed, with Goodrich being picked on repeatedly as soon as he replaced Maddox and Jobe getting beat by (and failing to tackle) Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison for a 62-yard score that put Minnesota back in the game. Even Darius Slay, who dominated the head-to-head battle with Jefferson one year ago when these teams met, was in coverage on many of Jefferson’s 11 catches for 159 yards. Philly has to be glad that this game is followed by a mini-bye before a Week 3 Monday nighter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They need time to get healthy in the secondary. The backups looked overmatched and underprepared in primetime.
Next Gen stat of the game: Against the blitz on Thursday, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts completed 8 of 11 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown (145.1 passer rating). When the Vikings didn’t blitz, Hurts completed 10 of 12 passes for 40 yards and one INT (45.8 passer rating).
NFL Research: Justin Jefferson and Randy Moss are the only players in NFL history with 5,000 or more career receiving yards before turning 25 years old.