Key matchup: McKinnie vs. Cole

The Vikings have to allow Joe Webb time to make decisions and Eagles DE Trent Cole could be the disruptor of those plans. Bryant McKinnie will need to have a solid game to keep Webb clean, making this one of the most important matchups of the Sunday night showdown in the snowstorm.

Bryant McKinnie vs. Trent Cole

When it comes to our weekly matchup segment, there are some that seem obvious, which is why we try to avoid those. Anyone with a football pulse is aware that the matchup of the most importance tonight is how the Vikings decide to pick their poison in dealing with Michael Vick. But that is the entire Vikings defense vs. one player. Our choice for this week will be when Vick is on the sidelines watching like everyone else, making the one-on-one battle between Bryant McKinnie and Eagles defensive end Trent Cole this week's key matchup.

This is a matchup that makes the most sense in the eventual ebb and flow of the game. It's no secret that all of the attention coming into Monday's game is going to be focused on Vick and his prowess to make huge plays. The Vikings have been on the other side of that same consensus. When the Vikings were lighting teams up offensively, the credit was given to an offense that could put points on the board in an instant. The result was that opponents tried to control the clock to limit the time the Vikings offense was on the field. Unfortunately for tonight's matchup, the shoe is on the other foot.

The oddsmakers have spoken on tonight's game, installing the Eagles as a 14½-point favorite – a massive point spread that has to be insulting to Vikings. The clear implication is that the Eagles are going to pile up points and lay waste to the Vikings – projected at somewhere in the 38-17 neighborhood. For the Vikings to avoid that humiliation, it will fall upon their offense (and rookie quarterback Joe Webb) to control the clock and be the equal of the latest version of the Greatest Show on Turf.

The Eagles defense is expected to stack the box on Adrian Peterson to force the Vikings to pass the ball. It is also anticipated that the Eagles will be bring blitz pressure to rattle Webb into rookie mistakes. But, when playing their base defense, Cole will be lined up opposite McKinnie and having a rookie quarterback getting hit from his blind side isn't what the Vikings need.

Cole doesn't get the attention players like Jared Allen receive, but he is Allen's equal in terms of pressuring the quarterback. He fires off the snap and often tries to loop around a left tackle to take the circuitous route to the quarterback. He has registered nine sacks and has made some of the better offensive tackles in the league look very bad. McKinnie has been a left tackle in that category, but the jury is out on that now.

After embarrassing himself and the organization last year with his Twitter antics at the Pro Bowl, the last surviving member of the Love Boat scandal made a fiasco of his overdue selection to the Pro Bowl. For a couple of seasons, McKinnie had played at a Pro Bowl level. When he finally got selected, he blew the opportunity and the conventional thinking was that he would never get another chance even if he deserved it. This year, he has done anything but deserve it.

While it may not have been common knowledge to most fans, from the moment Brett Favre arrived at Winter Park in August, he was damaged goods. He said from the day he arrived that he wasn't 100 percent and it was imperative that if he was to play at a high level he would have to "stay clean" – a lineman's term for his quarterback not getting dirty by being tackled and tossed around. Favre didn't stay clean in any of his starts and, more times than not, if there was a culprit, it was McKinnie.

A left tackle in the NFL is like a closer in baseball. You can do your job right nine times out of 10, but, in that role – in the case of McKinnie, protecting the blind side of his quarterback – 90 percent success doesn't cut it. The last thing the Vikings need tonight is to give the Eagles offense an opportunity to get a short field to work with when it takes the field. The most likely way for that to happen is for the Vikings to commit a turnover in their own territory. Seeing as Peterson hasn't lost a fumble all season, the most likely way the Vikings will commit a critical turnover will be from Webb in the passing game. One free shot for Cole because McKinnie blows an assignment – as he has done too many times this season – is the type of play that turns a 10-3 deficit into a 17-3 deficit and changes the complexion of the game from that point forward.

If you don't hear McKinnie's name mentioned Sunday night, he's done his job. If you do hear his named called, it means something has gone horribly wrong. In the world of offensive linemen, anonymity is a selling point. The best are mentioned the least, because when they do their job right, the player lined up on the opposite side doesn't make plays and is neutralized. If the Vikings are to have a chance to win tonight's road game at The Linc, they will have to do so by protecting the ball and not giving the Eagles any potential advantages. If that doesn't happen, Cole is going to be the most likely suspect.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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