Eagles at Vikings gives us a great real-life game between two teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, with each team sitting at 3-2 through the first five weeks of the season. The winner of this game moves to 4-2 and feels like they are in great shape heading into the next stretch of the season, and the loser moves to 3-3 and wonders what they need to do to become a “better than .500” team.
We’ll start this game on the Philly side of the ball, as this side is a bit less clear-and-straightforward than what the home team brings us, with Philly known for spreading the ball around as much as any team in the league, and with the Vikings presenting one of the most difficult matchups that an opposing offense can face. Through the first five games of the year, Minnesota ranks fourth in defensive DVOA (ninth against the pass, fourth against the run) and has allowed the fourth fewest yards per game and the fifth fewest points per game.
The Philly rushing attack can be taken off our boards fairly quickly outside of “hoping to guess right on a busted play or multiple touchdowns,” as the Eagles continue to split time between Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders (while continuing to mix in Darren Sproles for a small amount of work), while the Vikings have remained one of the league’s toughest matchups on the ground — allowing 3.7 yards per carry to running backs, and allowing the third fewest running back rushing touchdowns in the league. The Vikings have also allowed the third fewest receiving yards to running backs, leaving this backfield as totally “hope and pray.”
Things loosen up a little bit when we swing over to the Philly passing attack, as the absence of DeSean Jackson (currently expected to miss at least one more week) and the Eagles’ apparent decision to not involve Nelson Agholor (four targets across the last two weeks), Mack Hollins (three targets across the last two weeks), JJ Arcega-Whiteside (zero targets across the last two weeks), and Dallas Goedert (six targets across the last two weeks) has given us a fairly bankable set of targets going to Zach Ertz (15 across the last two) and Alshon Jeffery (17 across the last two).
Over the last two weeks, the Vikings have allowed only four completions that have traveled 15+ yards through the air (last week, Daniel Jones completed only two of 11 passes traveling 15+ yards), and Minnesota has an ability to force pass catchers into horizontal route trees, making this a matchup that sets up far better for Ertz than for Alshon. Although it is obviously not apples to apples, Tyrell Williams is a fair comp for Alshon in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and general usage, while Darren Waller is a fair comp for Ertz in the same. In this matchup in Week 3, Tyrell went 3-29-1 on a season-low three targets, while Waller went 13-134-0 on a season-high 14 looks.
On the other side of this game, we know that Philly is going to be one of the toughest teams to run the ball against (yet again, Philly ranks top four in fewest rushing attempts faced, and their 2.8 yards allowed per carry to running backs is just nasty), while Minnesota would prefer to run the ball, but is willing to shift to a more pass-heavy approach when the matchup and/or situation requires them to do so. With Minnesota boasting such a narrow distribution of touches and targets, then, it largely becomes a numbers game. So let’s look at some numbers.
On the season, the Vikings offense through Kirk Cousins has produced 86 total catches for 1041 yards and five touchdowns, with the notable distribution of this pass game production looking like this:
These numbers come out to the following:
Thielen // Diggs :: 41.9% of catches // 54.0% of yards // 100% of TDs
Thielen // Diggs // Cook :: 66.3% of catches // 73.2% of yards // 100% of TDs
If Minnesota were to hit for the averages of the teams above, a Thielen // Diggs pairing would yield 11.4 catches, 178.6 yards, and 2.3 touchdowns (given to-date distribution of work on this team), while a pairing of “the whole Vikings offense” would yield 18.1 catches, 242.1 yards, 2.3 touchdowns.
When comparing these numbers to salary, they come in a bit low — and the Vikings are also more like the Lions (who ran 21 times in this spot, matchup be damned) than they are like the Falcons, Redskins, or Packers, leaving a Vikings onslaught stack with fewer paths to a slate-breaking score.
This leaves the Vikings as more of a guessing game or a “bet on outlier blowup” than as a lock-and-load staple piece, though the distribution on this offense is obviously narrow enough that it’s almost certain one of Diggs // Thielen // Cook has a strong game, and each has enough “mega boom” potential to be considered a viable guessing-game piece in tourneys.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There are a few tight ends to like this week (it’s one of the only positions of clear strength on this slate), but Ertz is very much in the mix for me this week for his locked-in role and for the way the Vikings filter targets to tight ends (the third most tight end targets in the league). Of course, unlike the Bucs (second most tight end targets) and Cardinals (fourth most) — who have been smoked in the Yardage and Touchdown departments vs the tight end position — Minnesota has allowed only the 10th most yards to tight ends while giving up zero scores, as the “attack the Vikings with tight ends” approach for offenses is more out of necessity than due to any glaring weakness. Nevertheless, Ertz is good enough — and should be involved enough — that he’s very much in the mix.
On the other side (especially given how cheap Kirk Cousins is this week), I was hoping the math would work out a bit better for a full-on Vikings stack — assuming Minnesota turns to the air, and assuming that Thielen // Diggs // Cook see almost all of the pass game work. Pricing is a bit high to make this a lock-and-load option, however, and while recency bias may make it appear that Thielen is the clear-cut receiver to target, there is no reason to believe things couldn’t swing Diggs’ way this week.
It is likely that Cousins // Thielen // Diggs // Cook combine for around 65 on FanDuel and 75 on DraftKings/FantasyDraft, with obvious upside for more — creating a clear case for taking the entire block and betting on them hitting an upside game (80 FanDuel // 95 DK/FDraft), or for isolating one or two pieces and hoping you guess right. But this is not quite the lock-and-load option I had hoped it would be heading into the week.