EAGAN — Last year home-field advantage was essentially a non-factor in the NFL.
Per the Washington Post, home teams went 137-131-1, producing only a shade over a .500 record, the lowest since 2002, not counting the mostly fan-less 2020 season.
There are lots of theories why uncomfortable environments are no longer causing visitors problems, from teams studying the art of travel to mastering silent counts better than ever to teams playing up tempo to avoid the crowd having time to rise up to maximum volume. Some in the Post piece suggested fans aren’t quite as crazy as they used to be. Or it could be a random down year that we’ll see bounce back soon.
Even with the recent evidence against home-field advantage having a major impact, Philadelphia makes a decent counter argument. Not only based on anecdotal evidence but some empirical as well. While Philly was nothing special at home last year, over the last five years the Eagles have a 23-16-1 record, rank top-10 against the spread and have a plus-152 point differential at Lincoln Financial Field. On the road they are 18-20-3 vs. the spread with a plus-35 differential during that span.
Whether the league as a whole has adapted to the road or it’s just a small sample, the Minnesota Vikings, who are a .500 team since the start of 2017 on the road, are preparing for the deafening sound of crazed Eagles fans to make things tricky on them as they continue to adapt to a new offense. As most teams do, the team is pumping in recorded crowd noise during practice, which receiver Adam Thielen says is helpful for getting ready.
“From a noise perspective, the harder we can make it on ourselves out there at practice…when you get to that game, it’s just kind of like, ‘Oh, I’ve been here before, I’ve felt this before,” Thielen said.
Prior to Week 1 both Thielen and Justin Jefferson acknowledged that the transition from the Kubiak-style system, which they had run since 2019, to new head coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense had a pretty steep learning curve. Last week against Green Bay it didn’t show as they gained the sixth most yards per play of any team in the league. But transferring an offense that requires a great deal of communication onto the grass in Philly will be a different animal from the friendly US Bank Stadium confines.
“[The offense is] definitely not ingrained yet because…we haven’t played in a loud atmosphere yet,” Thielen said. “I think the more we can just practice it, make it tough on ourselves, have the sound even louder than maybe what it will be… then doing some stuff post-practice, doing some stuff pre-practice, in the meeting rooms to really talk about how we’re going to communicate certain things and some of the tempo stuff we’re going to run.”
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The players aren’t the only ones making an adjustment. O’Connell is calling his first road game as head coach. It took him only one game to realize that being the guy with the HC hat and calling plays is different from when he was an offensive coordinator/play caller in 2019 with Washington.
“One of the things that I think I can do better of moving forward is when the defense is out there, I’ve got to be in certain locations on the field to have an impact with the refs and timeouts and things like that, I can’t just spend 10 minutes over there talking to Kirk [Cousins] or talking to Wes [Phillips] and looking at the [Microsoft] Surface,” O’Connell said. “I’ve got to really rely on all of our staff and rely on the ‘pick my spots’ to make sure I’m still being constantly available to do my job as the head coach first and foremost.”
Through the wall of sound on Monday night, O’Connell will take step No. 2 in building his rapport with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Sending in the plays isn’t as simple as pushing the button on Madden where all the A.I. players automatically know what to do. O’Connell has to get certain messages across to his quarterback, which may not be the easiest as the decibel level rises.
“I think we’ve formed a real relationship where, it’s not only what I’m saying, sometimes – it’s how I’m saying it,” O’Connell said. “Not every play call sounds the same. I could call the same play and all words can be the same, but the emphasis I put on that at that point in the game, that situation, down-and-distance, he can pick up on that and understand.”
One factor that Cousins and O’Connell have in their favor is previous experience in Philadelphia. Cousins has thrown 192 passes at Lincoln Financial Field and produced a 70.3% completion percentage, 8.5 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions and an impressive 112.1 QB rating. In 2018 he put together arguably his best win as a Viking, going 30-for-37 with 301 yards, and four big-time throws (per PFF).
He also has a former quarterback in his ear this time.
“I think it just eliminates some of the gray, which I think can be good sometimes,” O’Connell said.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Rookie CB Andrew Booth Jr. is out. Everyone else on both the Vikings and Eagles’ rosters will play Monday night.