Redskins vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent INovember 6, 2013

With each game, the Minnesota Vikings continue to drop to new lows. At some point they have to hit rock bottom and things will finally start looking up.

Let's hope that happens on Thursday.  

The Vikings have matched the worst start in franchise history, dropping to 1-7. It's another dubious mark for head coach Leslie Frazier, who already owns the most losses in a single season with 13 from 2011, matching the mark set in 1984. 

Perhaps this is the week that things turn around.

After three straight blowout losses by an average of 18 points, the Vikings fell back into their early-season form by losing to the Cowboys in the last minute of the game. After scoring only 17 total points in Weeks 6 and 7, the Vikings have averaged 27 points in the last two games. 

Frazier, with a 17-29 record as the Minnesota coach, actually has a winning record against the Washington Redskins. They are one of three teams Frazier has two wins against. In 2010 he earned his very first victory as a head coach with a 17-13 win in Washington. This will be the fourth consecutive season that he has faced Washington, with this being the first time in the Metrodome. 

While Frazier does not have a winning record playing at home, his record is slightly better than on the road.

Leslie Frazier's Record in Minnesota
WinsLossesWin Percent
Pro Football Reference

Another potential sign that things could turn around for the Vikings is a quick glance at the common opponents. It suggests that this should be a competitive game.

Washington vs. Minnesota: Common Opponents in 2013
TeamGreen BayDetroitChicagoDallasRecord
Pro Football Reference

While the Redskins have fared slightly better than the Vikings, their only win came in Week 7 when they hosted the Bears without Jay Cutler at quarterback at home.

On the negative side, this games looks very similar to the Carolina game for the Vikings—at least offensively. They are facing a team with a losing record and a quarterback who can do a lot of damage by either passing or running the ball.

Quarterback Comparison: RGIII vs. Cam Newton
QuarterbackRecordTDIntRatingRush YdsRush TD
Robert Griffin III3-59980.02570
Cam Newton5-313793.12514

A big difference is that the Panthers have the league's third-ranked defense, while Washington is ranked 30th in total yards allowed.

The Vikings will need to take advantage of the fact that Robert Griffin III is not having the same kind of season he had last year. In 2012 he finished with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His 1.3 interception percentage was the lowest in the NFL last season. 

This season he has struggled—although not compared to how the Vikings' quarterbacks have played. His passer rating is 22 points lower than what he finished with last season at 102.4. 

Here's hoping the Vikings defense doesn't help him turn it around like it did for Cam Newton in Week 6. Newton exploded for four touchdowns, with three passing and one rushing.


When the Redskins Have the Ball

The Washington offense presents a tough challenge for the Vikings.

Combined, running back Alfred Morris and Griffin III average 117.8 yards per game with a 5.2-yard average. Morris is backed up by Roy Helu, who has 163 rushing yards with four touchdowns. He's also a threat out of the backfield with 14 catches for 151 yards.

The key for the Vikings will be to contain Griffin in the pocket and not give him any running lanes on pass plays. They did a good job of limiting Dallas to only 36 rushing yards, but then again, the Cowboys are not a good running team.

The Vikings defense will need to put pressure on Griffin, taking away time for him to find a receiver and preventing him from gaining positive yardage with his feet.

The defense will need to come up with a couple of plays like the following against the Cowboys. 

Facing a 2nd-and-10 on their 12-yard line, the Vikings came up with back-to-back sacks of Tony Romo to force them to kick a field goal. 

With Romo in the shotgun, the Vikings' front four was able to put pressure on him without having to blitz. 

Brian Robison gets good pressure from the left side that forces Romo to slide to his left. Jared Allen takes an inside push as Letroy Guion circles behind him.

Guion is able to put pressure from the right side as Allen blocks any escape up the middle. Romo has no choice but to hit the deck as all three defenders get there at about the same time.    

Robison was credited with the sack, but this one was a group effort.

Griffin has only been sacked 14 times this season in eight games, so wrapping him up will be a little tougher than getting to the immobile Romo.

There will be no stopping the Redskins offense that averages 407.6 yards per game; the defense just needs to come up with an occasional stop that gives the ball back to the offense.

With A.J. Jefferson getting the first interception by a cornerback this season against the Cowboys, perhaps a few more are waiting to be nabbed. It bodes well if the defense can intercept Griffin; seven of his nine interceptions this season have come in Washington's five losses. 


When the Vikings Have the Ball

This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but give the ball to Adrian Peterson, and good things will happen. 

After he averaged only 12 carries per game in Weeks 6 through 8, the Vikings handed the ball to Peterson 25 times. He responded by rushing for a season-best 140 yards and a touchdown. His 52-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest play from scrimmage in the game.

If the defense struggles to stop the Redskins, the offense will need to put up a lot of points.

Fortunately they will be going up against the 31st-ranked scoring defense. Washington has allowed an average of 31.6 points per game.

With a short week of preparation, look for Christian Ponder to make his third straight start. 

The key for the Vikings offense will be to focus on the short passing game. While Ponder has played statistically better the past two weeks, he still showed his weakness on the interception by Orlando Scandrick.

On a 3rd-and-4, the Vikings go with the shotgun formation. I don't mind the formation; it's just having Toby Gerhart standing next to Ponder instead of Peterson is a problem for me. 

As he receives the ball, Ponder's first mistake is that he never takes his eyes off his intended receiver, Greg Jennings.

Waiting for Jennings to clear the first level of defense, the pressure gets to Ponder and he makes his second mistake—throwing the ball off his back foot.

He doesn't see that he has Jerome Simpson and Gerhart open right at the first-down line, and he forces the ball to Jennings.

The pass is underthrown, forcing Jennings to come back to the ball and allowing Scandrick to make the interception.

The Vikings offense looked good against the Cowboys when they opened with a no-huddle offense. Ponder completed 7-of-11 passes for 59 yards on the Vikings' first two drives.

While not great, it helped to give Ponder some confidence. Many of the completions came on short, quick routes. Ponder had no time to panic, with the longest pass play only going for 13 yards. 

A healthy dose of Peterson with some quick rhythm passes from Ponder against a porous defense may just get Frazier his third win in four games against the Redskins.

Perhaps Minnesota should petition to move to the NFC East—even at 1-7, the Vikings might still have a shot to win that division.


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