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Five things to watch: Vikings at Eagles

12/28/2010

Are you ready for some Tuesday night football? For the first time in 64 years, the NFL will hold a game on a Tuesday. The Minnesota Vikings have been hanging out in Philadelphia since Saturday, and they'll likely be starting rookie quarterback Joe Webb unless Brett Favre has a little more drama up his sleeve. Here are five thoughts on tonight's battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and Vikings:

1. Which team does the 48-hour delay help more? I've enjoyed all the rhetoric coming out of the Pennsylvania governor's office. Gov. Ed Rendell, an unabashed Eagles fan who appears on Eagles postgame shows, thinks the postponement was un-American and that China wouldn't have considered delaying a game because of a little blizzard. But Rendell should actually be pleased that the Eagles will play on a relatively dry field tonight. The Eagles may have the fastest offense in the league, so the snow could have neutralized that advantage over the Vikings. I know Philadelphia will have to play the Dallas Cowboys on short rest on Sunday, but I don't think it'll be intimidated by the prospect of facing young Stephen McGee at the Linc. In the big picture, perhaps it will hurt the Eagles that they could end up playing three games in a 12-day span, but it won't be an issue against a Vikings team led by a rookie quarterback. Even the great Adrian Peterson can't bail this team out at this point.

2. The Eagles must shut down the Vikings' running game early. The delay may have allowed Peterson (knee, ankle) to be able to play. His backup is Toby Gerhart, a powerful inside runner who's not really a home-run threat. The Eagles have been excellent against the run since defensive tackle Antonio Dixon took over as the starter in Week 5. The Eagles allow only 89.1 rushing yards per game. If Philadelphia can keep Peterson and Gerhart down early, it will put a lot of pressure on Webb. Peterson has had only one 100-yard rushing day in his past seven outings, so it's hard to imagine him going off Tuesday night.

3. Andy Reid may want to consider a few handoffs early in the game. The Eagles will invariably try to go up top with a deep ball to DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin early in this game. Every team in the league should know what's coming on that first possession, but most of them can't do anything about it. Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier has a ton of respect for Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. He'll try to emulate what the Bears did against the Vikings, but I don't think he has the personnel to get it done. The Vikings have an All-Pro defensive end in Jared Allen, but I think the Eagles could actually run the ball at him. If LeSean McCoy can rip off a couple of nice runs early in this game, it will make Michael Vick even more effective in the play-action game. The Vikings will do everything they can to make him roll right, but that's easier said than done.

4. The Eagles will be vulnerable to big plays by the Vikings' tight ends. The Vikings have an excellent tight end in Visanthe Shiancoe. I believe Minnesota will try to get Shiancoe matched up on Eagles rookie middle linebacker Jamar Chaney. The rookie played really well against the Giants last week (16 tackles), but Shiancoe is a tough cover down the seam. The Vikings are at their best when they can get their big targets (Shiancoe and Sidney Rice) the ball in the middle of the field. The Eagles must make sure they tackle in the secondary in this game. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson had an awful game against the Giants, so look for the Vikings to take some shots to his side.

5. The Eagles must win this game in the first 10 minutes. Philadelphia has been prolific in the first quarter this season. Reid and Mornhinweg do a tremendous job scripting those first 15 plays, and we've seen teams (Redskins, Cowboys) get overwhelmed against them from the opening snap. If the Eagles can grab a comfortable lead in the first quarter, it will put the Vikings in a really bad spot. The best-case scenario for Reid is if Vick and several other starters are hanging out on the sideline midway through the third quarter. The Eagles have the firepower to cause that scenario. If that happens, this whole 48-hour delay can sort of be mitigated.

And for those of us who watched that Yanks-Giants game 64 years ago, we know how exciting Tuesday night football can be. Enjoy the show. And the Beast will be available for postgame comments.