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Eagles-Vikings player matchups to watch in Week 2

Eagles-Vikings player matchups to watch in Week 2 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (1-0) are hosing the Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football in their home opener.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Justin Jefferson vs. Eagles cornerbacks

Jefferson will always be remembered in Philly as the guy the Eagles could have had but instead drafted Jalen Reagor. That hurts so much because Jefferson is already on a Hall of Fame track in his third NFL season. That’s not hyperbole. In his first two NFL seasons, Jefferson had 196 catches, 3,016 yards and 17 touchdowns. No other receiver in NFL history has put up those numbers in their first two seasons.

And Jefferson is off to a fast start in Year 3, catching 9 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdown in the Vikings’ Week 1 win over the Packers. Jefferson is as dynamic as they come and it’ll take a full team effort to slow him down on Monday.

“There are a lot of guys out there, but he’s a special player,” Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon said. “I don’t rank guys, but he’s up in that top group.

“He can beat you all different types of ways, so when you’re looking at his game, he’s not a one-dimensional guy. He can take the roof off, he can beat you underneath, he can beat you with yards after catch. They do a really good job of deploying him different ways, so it’s hard to have a plan for him to always have two guys on him. It’s going to be a good challenge for us, and we’ll be up for it.”

The Vikings use Jefferson all over the field, both sides out wide and in the slot and in the opener they showed they’ll scheme him open … not that he needs the help. So it’s not enough to just say that Darius Slay should travel with him. In recent years, even when Slay has traveled, he hasn’t gone into the slot. So it’ll take all three of the Eagles’ corners, safety help and scheme help in this game.

Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison vs. Eagles’ shaky run defense

The Eagles’ run defense is coming off a game where the Lions had 181 yards on the ground. The Eagles also missed 15 tackles in that game. And it doesn’t get any easier this week facing the duo of Cook and Mattison. In Week 1, Cook had 20 carries for 90 yards and Mattison had 8 for 36.

“We have to clean it up because you can’t get gashed like we did,” Gannon said. “Just from a fit standpoint and a tackling standpoint, I think our execution needs to be a little bit better. Obviously, that starts with me. We have to coach that a little bit better to make sure our guys know exactly where they’re fitting on certain runs.”

Some of the Eagles’ problems against the Lions were simple execution. They looked like a team that hadn’t tackled all summer. But some of it was on Gannon and his scheme. We’ll see if both things get corrected on Monday.

Brian O’Neill vs. Haason Reddick

The Eagles got just one sack in Week 1 and it came after a bad snap. Reddick, aside from a TFL on a run play, was mostly quiet. He rushed from the left side most of camp and in most of the first game, although Gannon did move him around a little bit. For the most part, former first-round pick and right tackle Penei Sewell shut Reddick down and Jared Goff got the ball out quickly.

Another tough test in Week 2. The Vikings’ best tackle happens to be their right tackle O’Neill, who was PFF’s No.2 ranked offensive tackle in the league after one week. Of course, there’s a long way to go, but O’Neill is very solid. He gave up just one sack all last season.

But Reddick will need to win his matchups, even the tough ones, in 2022. The Eagles are paying him $15 million per season to get pressure on quarterbacks. Against Kirk Cousins in this game, the Eagles need to get more pressure than they had on Goff in the opener.

Eagles tackles vs. Vikings edge rushers

The Vikings boast one of the best duos of edge rushers in the league with Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, who combined for 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and 5 tackles in the opener. Playing against his former team (Packers), Smith was tremendous.

“I say that every week, but looking at those guys,” Eagles OC Shane Steichen said, “Za’Darius Smith, he was something else.”

Smith and Hunter switch sides occasionally, but for the most part in Week 1, it was Smith rushing off the right side and Hunter off the left.

If that holds true in Week 2, that means mostly Smith vs. Jordan Mailata and Hunter vs. Lane Johnson. This is a matchup between two strengths of these respective teams.

A.J. Brown vs. Vikings cornerbacks

The Eagles’ $100 million receiver earned every penny in Week 1, catching 10 passes for 155 yards. While it’s likely the production will be more evenly distributed among Brown and the other targets going forward, there’s no question that he’s the No. 1. And the Eagles should try to get him the ball until someone stops them.

The Vikings’ starting cornerbacks are Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler, while former Eagle Chandon Sullivan handles the nickel corner responsibilities. Based on how Brown was used in Week 1, it’ll be up to all three to cover him on Monday Night Football. Peterson is an 8-time Pro Bowler but he’s also 32 now and past his prime. Dantzler is a solid corner and Sullivan has carved out a nice career for himself. But still give the Eagles an advantage here as long as Jalen Hurts has time.

Eagles’ special teams vs. Jalen Reagor

A little bonus matchup here because Reagor is returning for his first game against the team that drafted him in the first round. Reagor is the Vikings’ punt returner, which is a role he held in Philly. While Reagor has some explosiveness, his focus sometimes wavers. The Eagles need to try to force him into a mistake.

But on kickoffs, maybe don’t give Vikings return man Kene Nwangwu any chances. Nwangwu averaged 32.2 yards per return last year and took two to the house as a rookie.

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