Sat, 29 Jan 2022

Vikings-Eagles clash about more than Bradford, Wentz

Sports Xchange
20 Oct 2016, 11:55 GMT+10

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford is having the outstanding season that he and Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson both say they envisioned seven weeks ago.

"I'm not surprised," said Pederson. "This is the player Sam is."

Meanwhile, Bradford said a rare healthy offseason heightened his strength, his confidence and his excitement level for the 2016 season.

"I really was looking forward to the season," he said. "I felt like things were coming together on offense."

So everything is going according to plan. Well, almost everything.

The best season of Bradford's seven-year career is unfolding in Minnesota, not Philadelphia. And now, Bradford takes the surprising 5-0 Vikings back to Philadelphia to face an Eagles team that's 3-2 since trading Bradford eight days before the season opener for a first-round draft pick next year and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018.

"Initially, I was a little shocked," said Pederson, referring to the trade that was made four days after the Vikings lost Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending knee injury in practice. "Because all along Sam was my (starter) with Chase (Daniel) No. 2 and Carson (Wentz) No. 3."

Now, Pederson is fielding questions about whether Bradford's knowledge of the Eagles will be a disadvantage for a team that has lost two straight since Wentz' turnover-free start led the Eagles to a 3-0 record.

Pederson downplayed any disadvantage, saying his team routinely changes defensive calls and signs to keep from being predictable. He also agreed with the notion that familiarity is a two-way street and that the Eagles also have a full understanding of Bradford's strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, there aren't many weaknesses at the moment. Bradford leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.4), ranks second in passer rating (109.8) and leads an offense that has not turned the ball over through five games this season.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he has talked to Bradford about Philadelphia's personnel and schemes, but, "Very little. I just asked about the receivers some and what they're like. It's very minimal stuff."

Zimmer said the game won't be won or lost based on any tips Bradford can supply, but on whether the Vikings can continue to play a complementary form of football that has made them the league's most dominant team and its only unbeaten one.

The Vikings lead the league in turnover differential (plus-11) and scoring defense (12.6). They haven't allowed an opponent to score more than 16 points and their special teams have been mostly dominant with strong coverage and two punt return touchdowns.

In Wentz, the Vikings will be facing a rookie who is hard to rattle. He is eighth in passer rating (99.9) with seven touchdowns and one interception, but has made some more typical rookie mistakes while facing pressure during Philadelphia's two-game losing streak against Detroit and Washington.

If there's one thing the Vikings can do well, it's pressure the quarterback. Just ask Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning.

"I told the team this game is not about Bradford and Wentz," Zimmer said. "It's about the Eagles and the Vikings. It's a team game and that's how we try to play every week."

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 13-9. The Vikings have won two straight under strange circumstances. In 2013, as the Leslie Frazier regime was going down in flames, the Vikings upset a playoff-bound Eagles team 48-30 at the Metrodome.

A week later, the Vikings were dominated at Cincinnati by a defensive coordinator named Mike Zimmer. In 2010, the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia for a Sunday game that wasn't played until Tuesday night because of the threat of a snow storm that never grew to the strength that was expected. That game helped Leslie Frazier eliminate the interim tag he held after stepping in for the fired Brad Childress earlier in the season. The Vikings were blitz-heavy that night, catching the playoff-bound Eagles off-guard in a 24-14 upset. The teams have met three times in the playoffs. The Eagles have won all three, including two divisional meetings and a wild-card matchup in which then-Eagles coach Andy Reid brought his No. 6-seeded team to the Metrodome and defeated his former Eagles and now current Chiefs assistant Childress and his No. 3-seeded Vikings 26-14 during the 2008 season.

GAME PLAN: The Vikings' transformation from running team to a spread passing team led by Sam Bradford continues. The No. 1 scoring defense (12.6) is healthy and expected to do what it does: Terrorize quarterbacks and shut down No. 1 receivers. As long as the fifth-ranked run defense does its job first, that should happen with coach Mike Zimmer facing off against a rookie quarterback. Offensively, Bradford needs to stay accurate -- a league-leading 70.4 completion percentage -- and keep making great decisions on an offense that has not turned the ball over since last year's playoffs. Throw in the usual big play or two on special teams, and the Vikings have a good chance to return home 6-0.

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