The news emerged from Minnesota late in the evening on Saturday and when the Eagles woke up on Sunday they had more confirmation on what they kinda, sorta already knew: The Vikings will play today without superstar running back Adrian Peterson, who suffered a sprained right foot last Sunday in Baltimore, along with supersub backup running back Toby Gerhart, who has a hamstring injury.
What it means is that Minnesota goes into this game with Matt Asiata, who has all of three carries in his NFL career (in 2012, mind you) and Joe Banyard, who was on the team's practice squad for 2012 and 2013 until he was promoted to the active roster on Saturday.
It's certainly a blow to the Vikings, who are also down to their backup right guard and third-string tight end and, if you really want to get technical, their backup quarterback in Matt Cassel who starts today in place of opening-day starter Christian Ponder. How Minnesota attacks the Eagles defense remains to be seen, although I shall speculate below.
It's also a challenge for the Eagles defense, a psychological blow, if you will. Look, we all knew Peterson was a question mark after suffering the nasty-looking injury in Baltimore. He was iffy all week. But, still, the prospect remained that Peterson would manage through the pain and shrug it off and go out and be Adrian Peterson today. The players said all week that they were "preparing as if Adrian Peterson will play."
Well, he's not (although the official word doesn't come until 90 minutes before kickoff). And so without Peterson and without Gerhart, the Eagles are preparing for two players in Asiata and Banyard who they really have very little game film from which to study. There is a significant dip in talent without Peterson, of course, and even without Gerhart, who had 89 yards against Baltimore after Peterson was injured and who ran for 91 yards earlier in the season against Chicago.
Now what? Well, one thing is for sure: The Eagles cannot afford a letdown defensively. They can't exhale and think this is going to be easy, because the Vikings still have a talented group at wide receiver and Cassel is going to do all he can to get the football to Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson and sensational rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
So what the Eagles are going to see is a lot of short passing, bubble screens, an end-around or two to Patterson and some deep shots. It's going to be very hard to play keep-away from the Eagles offense with the Minnesota rushing game, but maybe Asiata and Banyard catch that first-game lightening and give the defense fits.
What's important for the Eagles is that the defense continues to play with great urgency and that everyone runs to the football and tackles securely and plays sound, confident football. What's important is that the leaders on the team remind everyone that there is very little margin for error here, and that the Eagles have to win this game to stay a game ahead of Dallas in the NFC East and continue to stay alive in the wild-card chase.
What's important is that the Eagles get to 9-5 and win their sixth straight game. To do so, they have to beat the noise at Mall Of America Field, they have to play well in all phases of the game and they have to eliminate mental mistakes.
I watched Denver lose to San Diego on Thursday night and it was a classic case of one team (San Diego) playing outstanding football and executing a keep-away offense and another team (Denver) committing foolish penalties and making errors at key times. San Diego wanted that game more than did Denver. Denver lost its mental edge and, thus, lost the game.
The Eagles can't afford that kind of letdown today. Hey, we're learning about the Eagles here. This is a young roster suddenly in the driver's seat in the NFC East and everyone has spoken glowingly of the team all week after the Snow Bowl. How do the Eagles handle prosperity? Do they keep their level of urgency after five straight wins against a Vikings team depleted from an injury standpoint not only on the offensive side of the ball but on defense (three cornerbacks likely out) as well?
The table is set for an Eagles win, no doubt about it. Something, though, when it looks too good to be true ...
I don't expect that to be the case, though. This team has played week-to-week all year, and there's no reason to think that will change. It's something to watch, though. The defense can't let down. Minnesota still has weapons, even if THE weapon is out today. No Peterson, no letdown.
It's a day to take care of business for the Eagles and to win a key road game down the stretch. Nothing more. Nothing less.