Slowing the Minnesota Vikings’ attack down to a manageable speed on Sunday will require the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line to exploit the matchups in their favor.
Fletcher Cox doesn’t see any reason why they can’t or won’t when these similarly desperate teams meet at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field (4:25 p.m., FOX).
“I say that every week because if you really look at it, and I think about this all the time, I think that the defensive line probably is the most experienced group on this team,” Cox said. “I think we’re the group that needs to lead this team each week. We’ve had to. There’s no question about it — each and every guy lives up to it and we come out and practice hard every day — just try to take it every Sunday.”
Cox wasn’t interested in talking about specific matchups. He’s just confident he and his teammates on the defensive line will get the job done.
“I think sometimes that we get so caught up in what the other teams have that we try to make it about them,” he said. “I think the biggest part is we make this about us and collectively as a group just go out and play together. Respect the guys across from you but at the same time, it’s about us going out and dominating.”
Of course, Cox thought the same the previous week, when the Tennessee Titans protected quarterback Marcus Mariota well enough to throw for 344 yards and beat the Eagles in overtime with his second TD pass of the day. Mariota was named AFC offensive player of the week after throwing for the most yardage since his rookie season of 2015.
Keeping everyone happy in the eight-man defensive line rotation could play a part. To that end, veteran defensive end Michael Bennett broke his long media silence on Thursday without denying a report by NBC’s Cris Collinsworth during the team’s season opener that led to his going silent in the first place.
Collinsworth said then that Bennett was not happy about being a backup behind starters Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett.
Bennett, who also can rush the passer from the inside, has played a little more than 50 percent of the snaps this season. But that’s not nearly as much as he was used to with his previous employer, the Seattle Seahawks.
“I just want to win,” Bennett said, “and things will just fall into place as they will. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you have 10 sacks or 20 sacks. If you’re losing, it doesn’t matter. It’s about winning, and I think that's the most important thing for this team, to win.
“I think we have a lot of talent on this team and people’s expectations are high. We’ve got to rise to the occasion and I think we will.”
Bennett has a point.
Furthermore, if the Eagles’ ends continue to get home as infrequently as they’ve been — Barnett has 2.5 sacks, Bennett 1.0, Chris Long 1.0 and Graham none — maybe Bennett does need to play more snaps, even at age 32. After all, he is coming off 8.5 sacks in 2017.
One caveat: it took him 85 percent of his team’s defensive snaps to accomplish it. No end will approach that kind of number in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system.
Even Cox, who’s played 86 percent through the first four games, will eventually get more time to catch his breath — providing Tim Jernigan is able to return from his back injury.
Point is, 2018 has been about adjustments. Cox is playing more than ever, Bennett is playing less than ever and Graham, who led the team with 9.5 sacks last season, is trying to snap a season-long drought in that area.
Incredibly, his last sack was his famous strip of New England’s Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
Graham missed a good portion of training camp with an ankle injury that lingered from last season but returned in time for the opener.
Getting home will be crucial for Graham and his teammates.
The Vikings have an advanced passing attack in which receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can get down the field on anyone. They cannot be afforded that time.
On top of that, running back Dalvin Cook’s lingering hamstring issue has affected their running game, which has the potential to actually be very strong, according to Schwartz.
“I think it’s a little easy to get deceived with the run game with them being 32 in the NFL right now,” Schwartz said. “They have a defensive coach [Mike Zimmer]. He’s not going to stand for that very long. They want to establish the run. It’s our job to keep them from doing that and keep big plays off the board.”