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Saturday, December 14, 2013
W2W4: Eagles at Vikings

By Ben Goessling

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've got a few items to pass along at the end of the week, as we get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Here we go:

Cole will be tested: Audie Cole has played well in his first three games at middle linebacker, but Sunday will likely bring the biggest challenge he's faced so far. He'll have to coordinate the Vikings' defense against the Eagles' fast-paced offense. He'll have to cover tight end Brent Celek, and like the rest of the Minnesota defense, he'll have his hands full with running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in both rushing and all-purpose yards. Cole gave up two catches on the Baltimore Ravens' game-winning touchdown drive last week, including Marlon Brown's touchdown with four seconds left. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams said this week that Cole only needed to make a small adjustment to be in position to make a play. "[On] two plays Audie was close, but not close enough," Williams said. "I think that comes from experience knowing that, hey, if they catch it in front of you, no big deal, don’t give up one over the top.”

Gerhart has Kelly's respect: If Adrian Peterson is out on Sunday with a sprained right foot and Toby Gerhart can return from a strained right hamstring to be the Vikings' main running back against the Eagles, he'll face an old foe in Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, who saw plenty of the former Stanford running back when he was the coach at Oregon. "He played against us when I was at Oregon and he had a 39carry game for, I think, 2,085 yards it seemed like to me," Kelly said this week. "I think Toby is one of the really, really good backs in this league. He just isn't on the field that much because of who Adrian Peterson is.  I don't think it changes that much [about the Vikings' scheme], to be honest with you."

Secondary injuries come at a bad time: The Vikings almost certainly will have a handful of players in unfamiliar positions in the secondary on Sunday, and against a spread offense like Philadelphia's, they'll have to hope they can survive without at least two -- and possibly three -- of their top three corners. They had been playing more man coverage, with some success, in recent weeks, but they might have to get away from that plan on Sunday with Xavier Rhodes doubtful because of a sprained ankle. Chris Cook is questionable because of a knee injury, and if the oft-injured cornerback can play, he'll likely draw the unenviable matchup of shadowing the explosive DeSean Jackson, who has 65 catches for 1,080 yards.

Much expected of Cassel: With Peterson's status in doubt at the beginning of the week, it seemed like a strong possibility the Vikings would go back to Matt Cassel at quarterback, partially because they haven't been as willing to lean on the passing game as much with Christian Ponder as they have with Cassel. He has connected on 10 of his 19 throws that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information, whereas Ponder has hit just 12 of 31 throws that went at least 20 yards in the air. Cassel also is the only Vikings quarterback to throw for at least 240 yards in a game this season, and he's attempted at least 30 passes in three of the four games where he's started or played extensively. Those are fairly modest benchmarks for most teams, but in a game where the Vikings might need to keep up with the Eagles, and might not have Peterson, starting Cassel made sense.

Vikings honoring All-MOA Field team: At halftime on Sunday, the Vikings will recognize the 28-man All-Mall of America Field team, as voted on by fans throughout the season. The team is heavy on players from coach Dennis Green's teams in the 1990s -- Green is the coach of the team, and 16 of the 27 players on the team played at least one season for him. The Vikings said 20 of the 28 members of the team are expected to be at the game on Sunday. We're particularly interested to see if Randy Moss shows up (which we doubt), or if the Vikings invited back Antoine Winfield after they cut the cornerback in the spring, leading to a bit of a rift between the three-time Pro Bowler and the team. And if Green is there? That's always got the potential to be interesting.