By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings head to FedEx Field for the third consecutive season to face the Washington Redskins.
The success the Vikings have had this season make this trip a lot more important. The Vikings beat the Redskins each of those previous trips. During last season’s victory, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL to end his season early.
The Redskins’ record may be 2-3, but the team has not lost a game by more than seven points. After defeating the New Orleans Saints in the season opener on the road, the Redskins dropped games at the St. Louis Rams (which could’ve been won, if not for a personal foul penalty after the whistle during the final drive) and at home to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Redskins then defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road before losing to the Atlanta Falcons at home – another game it could have won. The Redskins had a chance to tie the game, but backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, who replaced Robert Griffin III because of injury, threw an interception with one minute and 21 seconds remaining.
Redskins on Offense
The Redskins have two different offenses. If Griffin starts, they run a style similar to the spread option schemes ran by college teams. That scheme allows the Redskins to utilize Griffin’s running ability. In the passing game, they use a lot of bubble screen and short passing plays. They do not have the downfield threat.
If Griffin is unable to play it will be a more traditional Mike Shanahan-style west coast offense. Still a lot of short passing plays, but the running game will not include as many, if at all, option plays.
There is nothing complicated about what the Redskins do, but most of the Vikings defenders have not seen the spread option in a few years, especially the defensive linemen and linebackers. The discipline of the Vikings defenders will be tested.
Redskins on Defense
Like its offensive teammates, the Redskins’ defense is not complicated. It is a 3-4 style with little creativity. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is the best player on the Redskins defense with Brian Orakpo out for the season. The Redskins have been good tacklers; according to Pro Football Focus they have missed just one tackle this season, but have allowed the seventh most yards per game in the NFL. The run defense has been good at 10th in the league at 87.8 yards per game, but the pass defense has been atrocious at 328.6 yards per game (31st in the league).
The Vikings can take advantage of that, especially with a pair of former teammates in safety Madieu Williams and cornerback Cedric Griffin. Neither was all that good at defending the pass while with the Vikings.
Redskins Players to Watch
Running back Alfred Morris: Griffin is the focal point of opposing defenses and Morris is the beneficiary. The rookie late round draft pick is fourth in the NFL in rushing. He has an impressive combination of power, quickness and vision. When he sees a hole, he explodes through it. The defensive line will need to maintain gap discipline to keep him from cutting back and getting to the second and third level. Slowing Morris is just as important as slowing Griffin.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall: The ninth-year veteran still has elite speed, but struggles to properly read routes and stay with receivers. The presumption is that he will spend most of the game matched up with Percy Harvin. The Vikings star receiver has made a habit of giving defensive backs the slip. Harvin has caught 79.2 percent of the passes thrown his way. Hall has allowed 73.5 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed. Hall has 37 tackles and is aggressive at jumping quick passes. Running Harvin on double moves and deeper pass patterns are the way the Vikings can exploit this matchup.
All signs point to a grind it out defensive battle. It will be strength against strength; both teams are stronger running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense. In the end, the Vikings should have an easier time taking advantage of the Redskins’ weakness. Harvin should have a huge game and continue his MVP-worthy season. Also, the Redskins have lost eight straight at FedEx Field.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.