The Vikings are facing a must-win situation in Washington as they travel to the nation’s capital for a matchup with the Redskins. Daniel House previews the game and provides his keys to a Minnesota victory.
The Vikings are facing a must-win situation in Washington as they travel to the nation’s capital for a matchup with the Redskins. Washington is entering the game at 4-3-1 off of their bye week. The Vikings will need to put pressure on Kirk Cousins and force their offense to get off the field on third down. Washington has one of the lowest red zone scoring percentages and Minnesota needs to take advantage of this weakness. They also need to run the ball better and protect the quarterback against an underrated Redskins defensive front.
For more in-depth information and stats, take a look inside my preview:
Run the football
It seems like a broken record, but the Vikings haven’t run the football well all season. They are averaging the second-fewest rushing yards per game (72.6). Their offensive line has trouble getting a good push within the interior and the running backs have been asked to create their yardage. Last week, we saw Pat Shurmur implement some more outside runs and it gave the ground game some life. Running back Ronnie Hillman had a couple great runs with a pulling guard and fullback paving the way to the outside. The inside runs the Vikings try to force on numerous occasions are not working. They need tight end and fullback help to block on almost all of their runs. I would like to see a better blend of Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, and Ronnie Hillman to keep the Washington defense off balance. Minnesota should be able to run the ball effectively against this Redskins defensive front. Washington has surrendered the seventh-most rushing yards per game average (123.8) to opposing offensive units. Not to mention, the Vikings are 29th in red zone offense and need to start finishing drives if they want to score enough points to prevent a strain on their defense.
Protecting Sam Bradford
Again, it feels like something I constantly have to discuss every week. The Vikings offensive line performed better last week, but their play was masked by the quick passing scheme Pat Shurmur has implemented. The Redskins have notched the seventh-most sacks, including 11 sacks over the last three games. T.J. Clemmings and Jake Long need to continue improving at tackle and will be tested against an underrated Redskins defensive front. Quarterback Sam Bradford needs time to step into the pocket and make throws, otherwise, it will be a long day in the nation’s capital.
Stopping the efficient Redskins passing game
Mike Zimmer was discussing the efficiency of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. He noted Cousins has an 83% completion percentage on passes 0-to-10 yards and 49% on passes 11-20 yards. Washington distributes the football around and their passing game is pretty efficient. The linebackers need to be ready to cover tight end Jordan Reed, who is one of the most dynamic tight ends in football. Reed has three touchdowns over his last three games and has exceeded 50+ receiving yards in every game this season. He is very athletic and runs routes like a wide receiver on the field. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is out for Washington, so look for Jordan Reed to be incorporated even more into the gameplan this week.
Get the pass rush going again
After the first five games, the Vikings have struggled to rush the passer. They have been causing pressure but haven’t picked up sacks. They have a combined two sacks over the last three games and it has directly impacted their ability to create takeaways and get off the field on third down. It won’t be easy to get the pass rush going against a Redskins offensive line which has allowed the fewest sacks in the league. They are surrendering just over one sack per game to start the season. In order to force Kirk Cousins into mistakes, the defense needs to bring some pressure via stunts and twists. Simply bringing a four-man rush isn’t going to cut it. Sending pressure via the A-gaps from the linebackers and bringing pressure off edge with Harrison Smith will be effective against this relatively solid Redskins offensive line.
Limit the amount of big plays
The Lions were 7-for-14 on third down against the Vikings last week and Minnesota had trouble getting off the field. They have allowed some big plays on the ground too, including a 43-yard run by Theo Riddick early in the game last week. Limiting the amount of big plays they allow starts with getting off the field on third down. The Redskins have the sixth-best third down conversion rate (44.66%) in the league and Minnesota will need to get them off the field. Washington is best when their offense gets into a rhythm. The Vikings need to get them out of their groove and it starts by pressuring Kirk Cousins and forcing three-and-outs early in the game.