One read, and then run. That was how rookie quarterback Joe Webb approached his job on Monday night for the Vikings, and it is likely approach on Sunday night should he start against the Eagles. It was an ugly night of football for the Vikings against their NFC North rivals Chicago on the frozen tundra in Minnesota.
Six days isn't likely to thaw out the Vikings.
This is a team with a tremendous amount of talent and skill-position players and ability. When the Vikings put it all together, they are a scary group. But the season has fallen apart for the Vikings, much as Monday night's game did shortly after Brett Favre threw a touchdown pass to Percy Harvin, the lone highlight of a long night for Minnesota.
Which team shows up at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday? Favre would seem a longshot to play, but who knows with the future Hall of Fame quarterback? He had been ruled out until hours before the game against Chicago, but when the kickoff came, Favre was ready to go. A medical miracle. The toughest guy on the planet. A leader beyond comparison.
Seeing Favre out there in the sub-freezing temperatures early on was, I admit, inspiring. The old quarterback was flinging it. But his heroic comeback lasted only as long as it took Chicago defensive end Corey Wooten to throw Favre to the frozen surface and watch his head bounce off the ground. Game, and possibly career, over.
Whether or not Favre plays on Sunday, the Vikings have to turn things around to beat a rampaging Eagles team. Star running back Adrian Peterson missed the game against Chicago because of a thigh injury. If you take Peterson out of the equation for the Vikings, the Minnesota offense loses its most potent dimension. I like Toby Gerhart and all, but he isn't a take-it-to-the-house threat.
The Eagles have to concentrate on Webb, most likely. He is an athletic, incredibly raw quarterback who appeared to make one read against Chicago and then tuck the ball and try to run if that receiver was covered. He completed some easy throws, some checkdowns, some safe passes, but Webb wasn't able to overcome any semblance of pressure from Chicago's defense.
That's the key, as the Eagles look to wrap up another NFC East title. They have to pressure Webb. He is going to make mistakes under pressure. He is also going to make some plays with his legs, so defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has the challenge of making things difficult for Webb to read, and at the same time keep it simple enough for his young defense -- rookie Kurt Coleman, rookie Jamar Chaney, second-year man Moise Fokou and first-season starter Dimitri Patterson start in the back seven -- to play sound, fundamental defense.
The Eagles still need some help to reach the second seed in the conference playoffs -- they must defeat Minnesota and Dallas, and have Chicago lose against either the Jets or at Green Bay -- so there is a lot of work to be done. What happened Sunday is so in the rear-view mirror -- it sure should be -- that the coaching staff was focused on the Vikings almost the instant they walked into the NovaCare Complex on Monday morning.
McDermott knows the Vikings bring with them a collection of star talent on offense. Harvin is a multi-dimensional threat who kills defenses whenever he gets his hands on the football. Sidney Rice is a premier deep-ball threat. The Vikings, when they get it going, are lethal.
This defense cannot allow the Vikings to get it going, and it all starts up front with the pressure package that McDermott puts in place. Get into the backfield, make Webb move, and then force him into mistakes. Be patient against his running attack, because Webb is athletic enough to make a handful of plays with his legs.
What about the Minnesota defense? It sure struggled on Monday, but that is a different story for a different day. The feeling here is that no defense out there can stop Michael Vick and the Eagles when this offense is executing its game. Jay Cutler carved the Vikings to pieces, and Devin Hester added the knockout blows with special-teams return.
The focus here is Minnesota's offense, one that was so potent last year and one that is struggling to find itself in the final couple of weeks of 2010.