Saturday, November 1, 2014

Five Things to Watch For Against Washington

The Vikings will square off with the Washington Redskins at TCF Bank Stadium and Daniel House provides five areas to watch for during the game.

Updated: November 1st, 2014 8:05pm

By: Daniel House

After snapping a three game losing skid last week, the Vikings are looking to carry the momentum into a home matchup with the Washington Redskins. This contest will feature two teams that are currently 3-5 in their respective divisions. The Redskins are fresh off of a big Monday night win over the Dallas Cowboys. Quarterback Robert Griffin III reportedly will be making his return to action after dislocating his ankle in Week 2. He is officially probable on the injury report, but sources close to the team are indicating Griffin will get the start. Griffin will certainly be shaking off some rust and will be expected to make more throws inside the pocket.

In the event he doesn't play, the Vikings defense will need to prepare for Colt McCoy. McCoy played a huge role in the Redskins win over the Cowboys and his passing, along with his mobility were his greatest attributes. The most quiet strength of the Redskins as of late, has been their defense. They are a heavy blitzing group and their young secondary has persevered through various injuries. Rookie cornerback Bashaud Breeland locked down Dez Bryant and is starting to catch form after replacing injured veteran DeAngelo Hall. The Vikings offensive line needs to prepare for handling the blitz and can't allow heavy pressure to be placed upon Teddy Bridgewater.

Minnesota needs to get into an offensive flow early and can't get behind early. This will involve actively utilizing running back Jerick McKinnon in a similar way to the game plan in last week's game against the Buccaneers. The defense has been performing well and can continue to improve if the offense learns how to sustain drives, while moving the ball up the field. 

Handle the blitz

The Redskins defense is blitzing on 40% of their dropbacks and they consistently love to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings offensive line has allowed the second-most sacks in the league and will be tested on Sunday. They improved against a lackluster Tampa Bay pass rush last week, but the Redskins like to apply more pressure. Running backs and tight ends will need to be ready to chip hard and assist the lineman against the rush. The key to this game will be whether Teddy Bridgewater can have time to make decisions to sustain drives. Offensively, the Vikings can't be placed in third-and-long situations that force them to make big plays to move the chains. By establishing the running game, protecting the quarterback, and completing the short and intermediate passes, the Vikings offense can perform well enough to win the game. 

Feed McKinnon

Running back Jerick McKinnon is starting to turn the corner as he progresses during his rookie season in the NFL. He has rushed for 80 yards or more in each of his last two games. What's more, McKinnon has averaged 5.3 yards per carry over those two contests. His angle elevation to the ground and his pure athleticism are all tangibles you simply cannot teach. McKinnon's ability to accumulate yards after contact is a huge asset to the Vikings offense. When you can register five yards per play on the ground, the passing downs will become much more manageable. It keeps the flow of the game at a steady pace and helps keep the defense off the field for astronomical rates. Establishing the run game fuels the passing attack and more importantly helps improve the Vikings time of possession.

Make RG-III uncomfortable

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will be very rusty and the Vikings pass rush needs to take advantage of this. He isn't going to be asked to run outside of the pocket and in order to make throws, he will need to have time to make reads. The Vikings defensive line needs to continue the stunts that have caused havoc for opposing offensive lines. If Everson Griffen can continue to pressure from the outside and Sharrif Floyd can frequently get great interior leverage, the Vikings can force RG3 into making poor decisions. He won't be totally set to play this game and the goal is to limit the amount of times he can connect with deep threats Pierre Garcon and tight ends Jordan Reed and Niles Paul. By shutting down the passing game, they will limit the amount of touches running back Alfred Morris receives to make big plays. Anthony Barr will be tested frequently as the Washington offense likes to run check-downs and designed passing plays to Roy Helu and Alfred Morris.

Get off the field on defense

Teams are converting on third down against the Vikings defense just 36.5% of the time. This is the seventh lowest rate in the league. Over the last four games, Minnesota has improved in this part of the game and Mike Zimmer has been pleased with the growth in this area. The Redskins offense is in the bottom of this category and are converting on third down just 33.3% of the time. This should prove as a positive trend for the Vikings defense, as a strength meets a weakness of the Redskins. If the defense can continue to withstand the amount of time they are on the field and make the necessary plays when they are awarded, the Vikings will have a chance to win the game.

Special teams need to contribute 

The Vikings special teams group has been extremely disappointing and it's an area that needs to be fixed immediately. First off, the punting game has been atrocious and Jeff Locke hasn't been able to get the job done. He hasn't plopped the ball inside the 20-yard line when necessary and the Vikings haven't been able to win the field position battle. In addition, the young return team has been picking up too many penalties and it has resulted in limited returns. The Vikings need to switch this trend to win the field position battles and Mike Zimmer indicated this week that this issue would be addressed and fixed immediately. If the special teams battle cannot be won, the Vikings can't win all three phases of the game. This will eventually lead to losses and they can't afford to perform poorly in this aspect of the game anymore.

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