PHILADELPHIA - Admittedly it was hard to decipher what rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell and his veteran defensive coordinator Ed Donatell were trying to accomplish on Monday night in Philadelphia.
The obvious part is that the Minnesota game plan didn’t work under the weight of Jalen Hurts’ dual-threat abilities as the Eagles dominated the Vikings from start to finish in a 24-7 victory that lifted Philadelphia to 2-0 for the first time since 2016.
O’Connell, the former offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, seemed about as non-plussed as his team after the setback, although the coach did explain the template of his first poor game plan as an NFL head coach.
“The plan was to try to account obviously for Jalen in the run game and they put a lot of pressure on you with those RPOs and different variations,” the Vikings coach said. “Sometimes they’re reading the throw sometimes they’re reading the pull and run, and then they’ve got layers to what they do on those early downs.”
Hurts sliced and diced through the softest zone coverage imaginable while throwing the football and still was about to use his legs as well, scoring two touchdowns on the ground.
When it was all said and done, the Eagles’ QB had thrown for 333 yards on 26-of-31 passing while also carrying for 57 more yards, 390 yards of total offense.
O’Connell blamed the issues on losing on first down which made third downs more manageable.
“So those kind of four or five-yard hits kind of put them in manageable third downs and they were able to convert here and there,” he said. “I think they were over 50% (actually 53.8%) for the night.”
The issue with that – besides no self-awareness or sense of urgency – is that when Minnesota's defense did generate second- or third-and-long situations, it was usually due to the Eagles shooting themselves in the foot with an offensive line penalty, Hurts simply converted.
“Ultimately when I look back on it there was some opportunities for us on second and long and third and long where he puts a lot of pressure on the defense with how he can break contain and make some off-schedule plays,” O’Connell said.
The seventh offensive play foreshadowed the long night ahead for the Vikings' defense.
Facing a 3rd-and-13 after an illegal man downfield penalty on Landon Dickerson, Hurts calmly located A.J. Brown for a 19-yard gain in Donatell’s unique social-distance coverage philosophies.
Five plays after that, Hurts ran it in from 3-yards out.
“I thought especially early on in the game we were right there,” O’Connell quizzingly said. “A couple plays I can remember where we were right there and they just made the play and that’s where I think you got to give them credit.”
The rookie coach was spot on if that meant defenders were five yards away from DeVonta Smith or 10 yards back of Quez Watkins in coverage.
“I think we made some adjustments, just not the proper ones that we felt we could put ourselves in better positions,” veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “But those guys did a great job of attacking some of the weaknesses of our defense, especially that weakside defender.”
Peterson, a likely future Hall of Fame player, seemed to have a better feel for what was going on than his coaching staff.
The dressing up of Minnesota’s defensive issues obscured the one-trick pony nature of the Vikings’ hope, that Hurts was incapable of throwing into the teeth of a zone consistently.
For that to have happened, however, the heavy dose of matchup quarters coverage Donatell “threw” at Hurts would have had to have some teeth.
Instead, the Eagles’ second-year starter completed his first 11 passes and finished with a career-high 83.9% completion percentage, the best number for the franchise since Nick Foles connected on 84.8% of his passes in a playoff-clinching win at Washington on Dec. 30, 2018, ironically one that knocked Minnesota out of the postseason.
“I think we just came out and played very efficient,” said Hurts. “... To be able to come out here and perform at a high level as a team, that’s big for us.”
. -John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Sports. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talker Jody McDonald, every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube.com and JAKIBSports.com. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen