Why We Won: 5 Takeaways From The Eagles Win

Posted Dec 15, 2013

After a game in the blustery, cold winter wonderland that was Baltimore last week, the Vikings returned home to Mall of America Field on Sunday to face the red hot and NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Huge underdogs at home, the Vikings produced a sensational effort in all three phases of the game and upset the visiting Eagles, registering a 48-30 victory and sending the home crowd home in the penultimate game at Mall of America Field.

So what went right for the Vikings in the victory? Here are a few ideas…

Reserves played like starters
The Vikings came into Sunday’s game missing players up and down the starting lineup. They were down to reserves at right guard and running back on offense, and at several spots in the secondary. But those reserves stepped up and played like starters.

With Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart inactive, Matt Asiata shouldered the load and scored three times. With Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson sideline, Chase Ford saw extended snaps and came down with two catches for 55 yards. Joe Berger stepped into the starting lineup for Brandon Fusco at right guard and helped an offensive line that paved the way for the offense to gain 455 net yards, score 48 points and collect 29 1st downs.

On defense, cornerback Shaun Prater grabbed an interception and Robert Blanton led the team in tackles while seeing extended playing time with Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes both injured. Audie Cole continued to play well in the middle and Marcus Sherels collected six tackles.

Jared Allen even got in on the mix as a reserve playing well when he snapped for starting long snapper Cullen Loeffler.

Cassel was on fire early, then closed the game
The Vikings offense started fast out of the gate behind sharp play from quarterback Matt Cassel. The nine-year veteran started nine for nine on the day and finished 26 of 35 for 382 yards with two touchdowns on one interception for passer rating of 116.6. He also rushed the ball three times for 19 yards and a score. His lone interception was on a tipped pass and he took three sacks, but for the most part Cassel avoided mistakes, took care of the ball and kept the offense in favorable situations, including 3rd downs. The Vikings were eight of 13 (62%) on 3rd downs, they were five of six (83%) in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations, and they held a 36:26 to 23:34 time of possession advantage.

A few key throws for Cassel included: a beautifully thrown pass to Greg Jennings early in the game that resulted in his 57-yard score; another accurately-placed pass to Jarius Wright down the right sideline that netted 42 yards; a laser on a 3rd-down completion to Ford early in the 4th quarter that led to the second of Asiata’s three touchdowns; and another frozen rope on a 3rd and 10 to Cordarrelle Patterson for a gain of 11 yards on the Vikings final drive of the game, which resulted in Asiata’s third and final score.

Defense rose to the challenge
Philadelphia came into Sunday’s game with the NFL’s leading rusher and all-purpose yardage player (LeSean McCoy) and with the League’s highest-rated passer (Nick Foles). On top of that, they were a banged up group, as mentioned above. Through the first half, though, the Vikings short-handed defense found a way to stymie the Eagles high-octane attack. The Vikings led 17-9 at halftime, and at that point the Eagles had just nine 1st downs and were already zero for three in red zone touchdowns. As the game wore on, the Eagles eventually started to amass production and points, but it was too little, too late.

Jared Allen and Brian Robison (2.0 sacks each) led a pass rush that made Foles look uncomfortable for much of the day, and the defense as a whole did a nice job containing McCoy, who had just 106 total yards on 13 touches. The Eagles rushed for just 79 yards on 13 attempts and they had drives of four or fewer plays seven times.

Masters of field position
The Vikings special teams group has been solid all season and played well again on Sunday. That, paired with a Vikings defense that played perhaps its best game of the season over the first three quarters of on Sunday, gives you an opportunity for great field position. And the Vikings capitalized.

Blair Walsh did his part with seven touchbacks. Jeff Locke was two for two in pinning the Eagles inside the 20 on punts. And while Patterson wasn’t a factor in the kickoff return game because of Philadelphia’s series of short kicks, other Vikings stepped up by handling smoothly the mortar and squib kicks and then moving forward to gain positive yardage.

The Vikings average drive start was their own 39 (Philadelphia’s was their own 26), and the Vikings average drive start after a kickoff was their own 34 (Philadelphia’s was their own 24).

Cassel-to-Jennings was magic again
In just a short time together, Cassel and Jennings have developed a tremendous rapport. Their cohesion first became apparent in London when they connected twice for touchdowns en route to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The most recent display of their chemistry came on Sunday against the Eagles. Cassel targeted Jennings 13 times and the pair connected on 11 of those targets for 163 yards and a touchdown.