In a weak NFC, the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles soundly defeated their Week 1 opponents. They linked up in Philadelphia for a primetime matchup last night.
They were the featured attraction for the first ABC/ESPN Monday night doubleheader of the 2022 season. The Eagles entered the season as one of the favorites to advance out of the NFC to the Super Bowl after the improvements that their front office made to the roster. In the midwest, a healthy Vikings squad is strong enough to challenge the weakened Green Bay Packers offense for the top spot in the NFC North. The only problem for the Eagles and Vikings — their starting quarterbacks are Jalen Hurts and Kirk Cousins, respectively.
The Eagles traded for A.J. Brown, adding him to a wide receiver corps that was already strong with Devonta Smith and Quez Watkins. Smith is only in his second season, but he most certainly has the talent to become one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Brown is already in that group. The Eagles also added Hasson Reddick and James Bradberry to help make the defense rock.
Health on defense was one of the reasons that the Vikings were not able to get into the playoffs last season. They lost pass rusher Danielle Hunter in early November for the rest of the season to a physical injury and another pass rusher — Everson Griffen — to a frightening incident, and he has since admitted that he is bipolar. Hunter is healthy this year, and the Vikings brought in Za’Darius Smith from the Green Bay Packers to keep a strong one-two pass-rushing punch. Their offense also still has Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, and Adam Thielen.
So two strong rosters, with two question marks at quarterback.
After two lucrative franchise-tag seasons in Washington, Cousins signed a fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Vikings in 2018. Cousins was supposed to improve upon the Minneapolis Miracle season in which the Vikings came back to beat the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round, and then lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.
Since that conference title game, neither team has sniffed the Super Bowl. Cousins made the playoffs once in 2019 and lost in the Divisional Round. The Eagles’ best regular-season record since their championship 2017 season has been 9-7. Last season was Hurts’ first as a full-time starter. He helped the Eagles sneak into the playoffs at 9-8, and they were rewarded with a trouncing, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In that game, the Eagles’ offense was completely ineffective.
On Monday night, the Eagles got a big home win against the Vikings and the best and worst of both quarterbacks were on display. Hurts scored on a spectacular touchdown run — the second of his two scores on the ground — and he also connected on some major downfield passing plays. Cousins threw three picks — something he hadn’t done since 2020 — and his final pick could have happened on several different plays during that drive. By the end of the game, it appeared that Cousins had lost any sense of where an NFL quarterback should put a football. And the Twittersphere had a laugh.
He began the second half with an interception in the end zone as the Vikings had a chance to score. The defense was able to hold steady the following possession, and the Vikings blocked an Eagles’ field-goal attempt. Then with great starting field position at the Eagles’ 30-yard line, Cousins threw another pick. His passer rating for the night? 51.1.
All of Cousins’ interceptions were in the second half, with the Vikings already down 17 points. After Sunday’s comebacks by the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, the Vikings knew that deficit was far from insurmountable. However, their quarterback couldn’t deliver.
Again though, that was Cousins’ worst game in two seasons, and the Vikings still had several chances to get back in the game. If Irv Smith, Jr. catches a perfectly placed rainbow from Cousins late in the second quarter, he scores a touchdown and the Vikings would have only been down by seven.
While Hurts had only five incomplete passes all night — one of those being an interception — and threw for 333 yards and a touchdown, it wasn’t like he was threading needles with all his passes. On his best plays, his pass catchers were wide open — a far cry from the looks that he got in that playoff loss to the Buccaneers.
Also, the score never changed in the second half. The Eagles were lucky that the talented Vikings’ offense fell apart. That 24-7 lead would end up being the final score of the game, as the Eagles gained more than 35 yards on only one drive in the second half.
There will be many opinions given after this major nationally televised contest — Monday Night Football back on ABC — but no one should change their mind on Cousins or Hurts.
They play the game differently, but both affect their teams in similar ways. Cousins and Hurts are the weak spots on championship-level offenses, and it will show like a jelly stain on a white shirt once the most important games take place come winter.