EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — As the last team in the NFL to lose this season, the Minnesota Vikings had played well enough to keep their weaknesses mostly hidden.
Their post-bye trip to Philadelphia was not only a performance failure, but an exposure of their flaws.
Pass blocking was the biggest problem in a 21-10 defeat by the Eagles on Sunday afternoon , as Sam Bradford lost two of his four fumbles and threw an interception behind a leaky patchwork line that didn’t get much help from the rest of the offense but was thoroughly outplayed by their opponents.
Bradford took six sacks and was hit 12 times by his former team that used insider knowledge toward a crafty strategy by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz that called for a well-disguised series of blitzes out of zone coverages.
“Now Sam is throwing into a defense where people are looking at him and have people have eyes on the football,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “It’s a little tougher to see where those are coming from.”
Jenkins cited experience facing Bradford in practice last year and training camp this summer in concluding he prefers to throw to the outside of the field when the rush comes. Taking advantage of injury replacements for the Vikings at both tackle spots, the Eagles applied plenty of pressure off the ends of the formation. Schwartz drew raves from his players afterward about the game plan.
“He was really kind of a step ahead of what they were doing every series,” defensive end Connor Barwin said.
The Vikings (5-1) had no trouble admitting defeat in by far their worst game of the season. They weren’t quite willing to acknowledge being outsmarted.
“The Eagles have a good football team and a good defense,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said, “but you can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times.”
Coach Mike Zimmer lit into his team, particularly the offensive line, in blunt, stern postgame remarks that garnered plenty of national attention. Having newcomer Jake Long rotate in a bit at both tackle spots for T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles didn’t help.
The expectedly rusty Long, who over the last two calendar years had played only 11 regular-season snaps because of knee trouble, was twice beaten for sacks that forced lost fumbles, including a whiff against blitzing safety Rodney McLeod late in the second quarter after the Vikings had reached field goal range. Including the fourth-and-1 run that was stuffed at the 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Vikings turned the ball over three more times inside the 20.
The book on beating the Vikings this year was always going to be building a healthy lead in the first half, minimizing turnovers against their dominant defense and overwhelming the offensive line with a pass rush that knocks Bradford out of rhythm. Thanks to the Eagles, that book became a best-seller on Sunday.
The defense forced four turnovers and allowed only 239 yards, and the Vikings still lost by 11 points.
“We’re trying to figure out everything right now,” Zimmer said, promising changes this week without specifying whether he meant the lineup, the game plan, the practice routine or all of the above. “This is a gut-check day.”
Zimmer, recalling the lopsided loss in last year’s opener at San Francisco, wasn’t worried his team’s ability to bounce back.
“I’m kind of glad it happened to us, just to get hit in the mouth early in the year for once,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “Sometimes you need that. Things will get better.”
The Vikings play at Chicago on Monday night, giving them an extra day to address the deficiencies and mistakes.
“Confidence? I don’t know. But I do have faith in this football team and obviously, you know, faith is belief without proof,” Zimmer said. “Right now, I don’t have any proof so I have to have faith that we’ll get it done. I think we will. But until we prove it, it’s just throwing stuff against the wall.”
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