Containment Lost, So Was Game

Defensive coordinator Emmitt Thomas didn't have much to smile about, as his defense lost contain on quarterback Donovan McNabb and couldn't tackle running back Duce Staley.

One of the keys to the game that VU identified when previewing the Eagles was being able to keep Donovan McNabb in the pocket. While he's a proficient passer, he's much more dangerous when he's out in space and able to make big things happen with his scrambling ability.

The Vikings had a chance early to keep the game from becoming a momentum back-breaker, but the failure to contain McNabb set the tone. While almost 30 credited missed tackles played a huge role in the game being such a blowout, it was this simple containment assignment that created the turning point of the game.

The Vikings defense had stopped McNabb on the first drive of the game and, although the Vikings offense struggled early, the team had a chance to keep the game to a maximum of 3-0 when it had McNabb facing third-and-6 from the Vikings 20. He was able to escape pressure and move on the run, completing a 6-yard pass to James Thrash to move the chains. One play later, McNabb and Thrash hooked up again and the Vikings were down 7-0.

The next time McNabb got his hands on the ball, the Eagles were pinned on their own 9-yard line. Faced with a third-and-8 from his own 11, the Vikings secondary did its job by taking away his receivers. But the defense lost its contain on McNabb and he was able to scramble away for 10 yards and a first down — turning what should have been a scenario where the Vikings had the ball at midfield into a continuation of the Eagles' drive.

In that same drive, the Vikings came with a blitz on their own 42-yard line, and McNabb got away from the pass rush. Again, the assignment to keep him in the pocket was blown, and he scrambled for 15 yards and a first down in scoring territory. Two plays later, McNabb again was flushed out of the pocket by a good pass rush, but the failure to account for his scrambling ability led to a 12-yard touchdown run and, as the game went to the second quarter, the Eagles were ahead 14-0.

These plays seemed to be minimized in the big picture of things, as the Eagles rolled up 272 rushing yards on their way to amassing almost 500 yards in total offense, but all of that was possible because of a failure to do what the Vikings' defensive players and coaches knew they had to do — keep McNabb from being able to run in open space.

From the point the Eagles took their 14-0 lead, the Vikings' game plan was once again forced to change. The run was all but abandoned, and the lead just continued to grow as the game went on. With the Vikings offense one-dimensional and the defense tiring and on its heels, the problems grew like an avalanche. In the end, it was a Philadelphia domination, but it was that consistently critical defensive breakdown that created the turning point of the game. VU

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