Up until Labor Day weekend, it seemed as though the plan in Philadelphia was to let rookie quarterback Carson Wentz learn from the sidelines with Sam Bradford.
Wentz has been impressive in his first five starts and, although he’s still learning on the job, he’s showing the Vikings defense a lot of poise and natural talent.
“He’s a smart guy,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “He’s been able to control the offense he has as a rookie. He understands the system pretty well and he fits their system well. We’ll have to be ready for him.”
One of the bigger concerns are the short timing passes that he throws to keep the pass rush off of him. The Eagles have been rotating running backs Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendall Smallwood and Kenyan Barner and they are used both as runners and receivers in the Eagles share-the-wealth offense.
“They have a stable of backs that can catch the ball – that’s always a threat,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “They’ve got a young quarterback who likes to throw the ball. He slings it well. It’s a good offense.”
The biggest concern may be Sproles. Even at age 33, he is dangerous in space, as proved by a 73-yard catch and run earlier this season.
At 5-foot-6, 190 pounds, he will be one of the smallest players on the field, but is capable of big things.
“He’s a beast,” said defensive end Justin Trattou, who played against Sproles when he was with New Orleans. “He’s not tall, but he is nothing but muscle. He’s a tough guy who is hard to bring down when he’s out in space. We just need to be sure we have him and their other speed guys covered up because they can turn short passes into long plays.”
The matchup between the Eagles offense and Vikings defense will be a matter of strength vs. strength. Wentz is going to be getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid the Vikings pass rush and the result will be screens and short slant passes.
Perhaps more in this game than any other so far this season, the Vikings defense is going to have to be on its toes and flying around the field to keep the Eagles speed offense grounded.
“On defense, everybody has to be running,” Kendricks said. “Everybody has to be in his place and everyone is going to need to make tackles in space. That’s what we like to do, so we like the challenge.”
The Vikings have faced some of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league this season and have made them look like wide-eyed rookies.
Now that they’re actually facing one, they’re not about to let down their guard. Other teams have come into games against Wentz thinking he’s going to be like a deer in the headlights and got burned by it.
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The Vikings aren’t going to make that mistake. They may dial up some looks he hasn’t seen, but they’re not looking at Sunday’s game as a walk in the park for the defense. They’re planning for Wentz like they did for Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning earlier this season.
“It’s no different,” Kendricks said. “This is the NFL. Everyone is here for a reason. If you start underestimating someone, that’s when they take advantage. I’m going to play it like every other game. We all are.”null