The solution to a complex problem was deceptively simple. The Eagles had two 5-foot-10 cornerbacks starting for the first time this season to match up against Minnesota's Randy Moss, who is a half-foot taller and perhaps the best receiver in the game. No problem.
At the start of last week, the Eagles' defensive coaches emphasized forcing quarterback Daunte Culpepper out of the pocket; that would give him little time to throw, and the deep passes Moss thrives on would not have a chance to develop. Give the Vikings all the yards they wanted, just not a big play.
The formula worked to perfection in the Eagles' 27-16 victory Monday night, and it laid out a blueprint for how the diminutive can take out the demonstrative. Moss, wearing a microphone for "Monday Night Football," was heard telling his coaches to throw him jump balls when the team was within 20 yards of the goal line because the Eagles defenders could not jump with him.
He was right, but the Vikings had that opportunity only once, late in the fourth quarter, and his 4-yard touchdown reception on the play was Moss' most significant of the game. Culpepper was sent racing all night -- he was sacked four times, but forced to hurry his throws many more -- and the Vikings never threw deep to Moss.
Culpepper completed 37 of 47 pass attempts for 343 yards. But his longest pass of the night -- and Moss' longest reception -- was for 22 yards.
"That's a big quarterback," Eagles defensive tackle Corey Simon said of the 6-4, 260-pound Culpepper. "It's hard to get a guy down that's 270 pounds. We forced him to make some quick decisions. We didn't give him a whole lot of time to look at the field and go for that big play they like so much. That's the scheme every week."
The Vikings had five possessions that went for 10 plays or more; those resulted in two field goals and a touchdown. Minnesota, which had the league's top offense last season, gave the Eagles plenty of help. Culpepper fumbled at the goal line; he has 70 fumbles in 60 NFL games. Moss was called for pass interference on another drive.
Culpepper, who had five touchdown passes against the Cowboys in the first week of the season, had one against the Eagles.
"It starts with the pressure up front," coach Andy Reid said at his news conference on Tuesday. "You give any quarterback time to sit back and throw, and they'll pick you apart."
The scheme used by the defensive coordinator Jim Johnson frequently put three speedy defensive ends on the field at the same time with Jevon Kearse, one of the Eagles' off-season acquisitions, who lined up occasionally as a linebacker. That forced the Vikings to find him on the field before they could try to block him. By the second series of the game, the Vikings double-teamed him. Kearse had two tackles and no sacks, but he excelled at silent harassment.
"My job is to get to the quarterback," Kearse said. "Each time I come out here, it's a different setting and a different surrounding. I showed them I can get to the quarterback, but I have to turn it up another notch and get them down."
The Eagles did not blitz immediately, preferring to see if the Vikings would leave in extra players to protect Culpepper. The Vikings, anticipating the blitz, did just that. But the Eagles rotated eight defensive linemen throughout the night to keep them fresh. Their four sacks gave the Eagles nine in two games, tying them with Oakland for the league lead.