A week ago, Eagles fans were calling for the head of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon — and each of his limbs, too.
His leaky defense had allowed 35 points to a Detroit team that was 3-13-1 last season. His passive, bend-but-don’t-break defense was snapped in half by the Lions. The Eagles were lucky to get out of Detroit alive.
After the Eagles spent the offseason fortifying the defense, it was shocking to see what the Lions accomplished.
There was alarm throughout the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex. The team believed the defense had been upgraded and then the Detroit disaster.
- Was happened?
- Would it happen again?
- Is there something fundamentally wrong with the Eagles defense?
But by the end of Monday night’s 24-7 victory over Minnesota, all was forgiven. Long live the defensive coordinator!
The Eagles defense took apart the Vikings’ offense — made them look amateurish. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had a poor game — 27-of-46 for 221 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
DEFENSE WAS OUTSTANDING
Given the brilliance of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, it might have been excusable to overlook the defense. But not this Eagles defense, not this night.
- “Obviously, it wasn’t up to our standard last week, all of the defensive players will be the first to tell you that,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.
- “Our job as coaches to put them in the best position we possibly can. That was an important bounce-back game for us defensively.
- “Again, it was a full team defense game. We talk about [Darius] Slay and the job he did on [Justin] Jefferson, but the coaches putting the guys in the right position and the assault on the pocket that our front seven really got with some of the pressures and then the four-man rush.
MUST STOP JEFFERSON
Coming into the game, it was believed that the Eagles’ ability to control, or at least hinder, Jefferson would be a determining factor in the outcome.
Around the league, Jefferson is being talked about as one of the top three receivers — a worthy, dangerous opponent who could steer the Vikings to victory. He has gone to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. In Minnesota’s season-opening victory over Green Bay, Jefferson had Jefferson had nine catches for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Slay, a Pro Bowler last season, was more than up for the daunting challenge.
According to Pro Football Focus, when Slay covered Jefferson, there was one reception on six targets, plus the two interceptions. Cousins’ passer rating was 0.0.
- “I’m always eager to go, I’m always ready to go at all times,” Slay said about the pairing with Jefferson. “I don’t take no match-up lightly.
- “But he is one of the best in the world and I’m one of the best in the world, too, so I was looking forward to the match-up.”
SLAY ON THE CASE
Jefferson wasn’t a factor in the game. He was out there, sure, but Slay often was right in his hip pocket. Slay had two interceptions — one near the end zone, the other in the end zone — while covering Jefferson. Both picks prevented Minnesota scores.
- “You can’t just go in with one plan,” Sirianni said. “The defensive staff did an unbelievable job with the plan. And the guys did an unbelievable job of executing it.
- “You don’t just go in, put all of your eggs in one basket. So there was different [defensive] disguises, there were different coverages but make no mistake about it: a lot of it was to stop No. 18.
- “He’s a heck of a football player. So, when Slay had to cover him one-on-one, he obviously did an unbelievable job. …
- “That’s why he’s one of our captains — the way he plays, the way he studies, the way he leads.”
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith took to Twitter to razz Slay.
- “He was supposed to have 3 picks man. I told him he’s gotta get on the JUGS (machine) with me. He’s got to catch them especially when they’re giving them to you”
SHUT DOWN THE RUN
The story wasn’t just the throttling of Jefferson. A week after giving up 181 yards to the Lions, the Eagles took away the Vikings’ running attack. Minnesota ran a paltry 11 times for 62 yards.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who is coming off three consecutive 1,100-yard seasons, had six carries for 17 yards. Without a running game, the Vikings had no choice but to pass to try to overcome the Eagles’ early lead.
That didn’t work out. Slay and his secondary mates were ready.
“Our first game [against Detroit] that was us, as a unit,” Slay said. “We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t execute well. That got a lot to do with preseason but it’s still no excuse.
“Tonight, we had in our minds to go out and dominate and play this game with a lot of effort and a lot of talent and guys were out there just executing their job.”