EAGAN, Minn. – As the Vikings work on improving their run game and create a more balanced offense, they also will be facing a talented run defense at Philadelphia this week.
The Eagles rank No. 1 in the league through four games, having allowed their opponents an average of 68.3 rushing yards.
The Vikings are currently averaging 63 yards on the ground per game.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about Philadelphia’s run defense during his session with Twin Cities media members Wednesday.
“The linebackers are aggressive, they’re tight to the line of scrimmage, they get a lot of eight-man, seven-man-in-the-box kind of personnel,” Zimmer said. “Their defensive line, I think, is strong and physical. [Fletcher] Cox is a great player, [Brandon] Graham’s a great player. I think [Derek] Barnett’s really helped them a lot. He looks even better to me now.
“They’ve given up some runs, but they get a lot of negative runs. That helps them, and it gets the offense off schedule,” Zimmer later added. “But it’s aggressive, sometimes they’ll be in a 9-technique with their defensive end, sometimes they’ll move him down and jump inside. They’re going to give you some different looks off of that, but they’re aggressive, especially in the core.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed Wednesday:
1. Creating a more balanced offense
Zimmer acknowledged that Minnesota’s run game has struggled to open the season but said it will continue to improve.
“It’s been difficult. We have to be patient with it, number one,” Zimmer said. “And honestly, a little bit of it has been dictated with some of the scores throughout the last couple ball games.
“It’s important for us to have balance,” Zimmer continued. “It keeps the defensive line from pinning their ears back all the time. I think it helps the football team overall. We just have to do a better job.”
Zimmer was asked if Minnesota’s offensive line has the skill set to establish a good running game. He answered “yeah” and specified that it’s about creating space to getting to the second level.
He later stressed that issues in the run game cannot solely be linked to the offensive line and running backs.
“It’s the tight ends, the fullbacks, and it’s a lot of things,” Zimmer said. “When guys miss blocks, that’s what happens.”
2. Preparing for Philadelphia
After a mini-bye that followed the Thursday Night Football game, the Vikings have had a couple of extra days to get ready to head east.
The Vikings will face the Eagles for the first time since falling in the NFC Championship Game.
“[We’re preparing] for a very good football team,” Zimmer said. “We need to play good on the road, get back to being a little bit more like how we are, and I think we’ll end up playing well this week.”
Added Zimmer: “I obviously addressed some things with the team the last couple days, so we’ve got some points of emphasis that we have to continue to get better at.”
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL against the Rams in Week 13 last season, has two starts under his belt after returning to the field. Zimmer said the third-year passer looks “really good” since coming back from the injury.
“He moves around well. Accurate, throws the ball. A great arm,” Zimmer said. “He looks good.”
3. Pass rush affected by play-action
The Vikings haven’t gotten to the quarterback as effectively so far as they are accustomed to doing, and Zimmer said after the Rams game that Minnesota needs to play better defensively.
The head coach was asked about the difficulty of establishing a good pass rush against an offense that uses a lot of play-action passes.
“A lot of times with play-action, they’re having seven guys blocking or eight guys blocking, so that always stays limited. That’s why it’s important to run the football and be able to play-action pass. It helps the offensive line, it helps everybody really.
“Play-action is always the hardest to rush against because of the number of players they have protecting,” Zimmer added.
The Vikings are without Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen, who is working through a personal matter away from the team. Zimmer said Wednesday that there is “no clarity” on his timeline for return.
4. Predicting records prematurely
There’s no doubt the Vikings have struggled to start the season, but Zimmer reminded that it’s too early to panic.
Currently, Minnesota stands at 1-2-1.
“This isn’t time for ‘woe is me,’ ” Zimmer said. “If people remember, we were 2-2 this time last year, and we finished 13-3; we were 5-0 the year before, and we finished 8-8; we were 2-2 the year before that, and we finished 11-5. All the predictors are not really — this isn’t a good time to predict.”