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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota is hoping for a Willis Reed-like appearance Sunday from run-stopping nose tackle Pat Williams, who fractured his shoulder blade Dec. 16 and is at least four weeks away from a complete recovery.
But it's only fair to ask how much of an impact Williams would make against an opponent that threw the fourth-most passes in the NFL during the regular season. Philadelphia quarterbacks threw 606 times in 2008 -- more than every team but New Orleans, Arizona and Denver. Eagles tailbacks Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter are talented, but they produce their best runs outside of the tackles.
The Eagles, in fact, rank No. 27 in the NFL with a 3.63-yard average on runs directly up the middle. The Vikings' run defense slipped a bit during the two games Williams missed, but it still finished the season with a league-best 2.77-yard average against inside running plays.
"It'll be big if we get him back regardless," Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said. "Not only to get him back from a serious injury so soon, but to see what this team means to him. To have that from an emotional standpoint alone is huge."
Williams' potential return would probably play a larger role were the Vikings facing Carolina, Atlanta or the New York Giants. (Should they defeat the Eagles, they'll visit the Panthers next weekend.) But for this Sunday's game, the more impactful news is the likely loss of defensive end Ray Edwards, who ranked third on the team this season with 42 quarterback hurries. If he can't play, second-year defensive end Brian Robison would replace him in a key matchup against Philadelphia right tackle Jon Runyan.
Edwards missed practice Wednesday because of a sprained knee and coach Brad Childress said he has only a "small chance" of playing Sunday. Williams participated in a portion of practice, and although he has pledged to return Sunday, his final status will be based on "functional strength" tests, Childress said.