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Eagle Eye: Eagles-Vikings Predictions
Vikings running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are both listed as questionable for Sunday's game. (USA Today Images)
The Eagles have spent the week of practice preparing for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
And for Toby Gerhart.
And for Matt Asiata.
Of course, Asiata is the hardest Vikings running back to prepare for, given the scarcity of game film. He hasn’t carried the ball once this season.
This is the state of the Vikings' offense, as they prepare to face an Eagles defense that hasn’t yielded more than 21 points in nine straight games, the NFL’s longest streak. The Vikes are likely to be without at least three starters on offense, including Peterson, the league’s reigning MVP.
Peterson, officially listed as questionable, sprained his foot last Sunday against the Ravens, but coach Leslie Frazier might have to lock his franchise superstar in a cage to keep him off the Metrodome turf. Peterson trails LeSean McCoy by 81 yards for the NFL rushing yards lead, a category he won last year by nearly 500 yards over Alfred Morris.
Gerhart is more than adequate, but he missed practice for most of the week with a strained hamstring and is also questionable. That leaves the door open for Asiata, the second-year halfback from Utah, to get his first carries of the season in this game. There’s a better chance Gerhart plays than Peterson. Gerhart, once a Heisman finalist at Stanford, is a powerful, between-tackles runner who isn’t easily brought down. He averages 7.9 yards per carry but only has 36 carries this year because the Vikings’ offense is centered on Peterson. Fullback Jerome Felton is also good for a few carries if needed. He was a primary ball carrier in college.
The Eagles have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season, Oakland’s Rashad Jennings, and most of those yards came during a blowout.
After riding Peterson to a wild-card berth last year, the Vikings were hoping to see quarterback Christian Ponder, the No. 12 pick in the 2011 draft, take another step in his development. They armed him with former Packers wideout Greg Jennings, a free-agent pickup, to complement tight end Kyle Rudolph, a 2012 first-rounder, and drafted athletic receiver Cordarelle Patterson with one of three first-round picks.
Ponder hasn’t improved. He’s struggled with injuries and will miss his second straight game from a concussion. Matt Cassel, an improvement by not that much, will make his fourth start.
The Vikes have the league’s 22nd-ranked pass offense, fifth-worst total passer rating (76.0) and only four teams have fewer TD passes than Minnesota’s 14. At one point, the team signed Josh Freeman and started him a few days later just to see if he could do any better.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave prefers multiple tight ends and two-back formations, but he’s really limited in personnel. Rudolph, who had three touchdowns in his first eight games, all over 31 yards, hasn’t played since Nov. 3 with a broken foot and just went on injured reserve. His backup, John Carlson, sustained a concussion last Sunday and probably won’t play. Third-string tight end Chase Ford, who spent some time on the Eagles’ practice squad last year, is next man up. Right guard Brandon Fusco has missed practice with a knee injury and might not play.
So the Vikes are potentially down to their backup quarterback, third-string running back, third-string tight end and second-string right guard. Their best hopes of moving the ball against the Eagles is through the air.
Cassel lacks Ponder’s athleticism and mobility, but he’s more willing to take shots downfield. He’s completing just under 60 percent of his passes and has been sacked just five times in his three starts.
Patterson can be a matchup problem for Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams. His size alone (6-3, 205) makes him tough to guard, but he also ran a 4.42 at the Combine (sixth-fastest among receivers) and jumped 37 inches. He and Jerome Simpson line up on the left and right sides. Simpson, an underrated talent, leads the Vikes with 670 yards and a 15.6 yards-per-catch average. Jennings plays the slot in three-receiver formations. Even at 30 he’s still smart and elusive over the middle. Brandon Boykin will have that responsibility.
The Vikes have a veteran offensive line, but it’s been pushed around lately. The Eagles are strong up front, so look for their domination of the trenches to continue and for Cassel to face steady pressure throughout the game.
For a look at how the Eagles' offense matches up with the Vikings' defense, click here.