Vikings vs. Redskins: 10 Keys to the Game for Minnesota
At 4-1, the Minnesota Vikings have people believing that they are a good football team. USA Today has them ranked 11th, former Vikings' offensive coordinator, Brian Billick has them ninth, moving them up five spots on FoxSports.com, and ESPN moved them up six spots to eighth.
Not bad for the team that finished last in the NFC North the past two seasons and finds itself tied for first in the division with Chicago.
This is a crucial week for the Vikings. In order to prove their record is not a fluke, they need to continue their winning ways. With the Bears on a bye week, a win gives them sole possession of the division. A loss, and people will start jumping off the bandwagon faster than Percy Harvin can return a kickoff for touchdown and their ranking in the NFL will plummet.
The Vikings head into FedEx Field on Sunday where head coach Leslie Frazier has been victorious the last two seasons. Here are some keys for Frazier and the Vikings to continue their mastery over head coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins.
Keep a Couple of Streaks Intact
Before this season, Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier had a total of six victories. Two of them have come against the Washington Redskins winning the last two meetings at FedEx Field.
So far this season the Redskins are 2-3, but 0-2 at home.
The Vikings need to make sure both of these streaks continue.
Frazier's overall record as the Vikings' coach is 10-17. Of his 10 wins, half of them have come on the road. That's a huge improvement over Brad Childress who was 14-23 on the road from 2006 until being fired in 2010.
Put Pressure on the Rookie Quarterback
Early in the week it was unknown which rookie quarterback the Vikings would face Sunday. After suffering a mild concussion against the Falcons, Robert Griffin III was replaced by Kirk Cousins.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Griffin III has been cleared to play and resumed practicing with the team.
Whether Griffin III or Cousins starts against the Vikings on Sunday, the defense needs to put on the pressure.
Through five games, Redskins quarterbacks have been sacked a total of 12 times, and the Vikings have sacked opposing quarterbacks 14 times. It follows logically that Griffin will be looking up from the ground at least twice.
In the last two games against the Redskins at FedEx Field in 2010 and 2011, the Vikings have seven sacks. Of course it was against Donovan McNabb in Week 12 of 2010 and Rex Grossman, who is the third quarterback this year, in Week 16 last year.
The defense will need to be disciplined in its attack to attempt and contain Griffin and not let him break free and run. He is second on the team with 42 rushes for 241 yards.
He is a big part of the Redskins running game. Other than Alfred Morris, who leads Washington with 100 carries, no other player has more than seven attempts.
Win the Turnover Battle
While the Vikings defense has only picked off two passes this season, it has five fumble recoveries—the fifth most in the NFL. Backup safety Jamarca Sanford leads the defense with two forced fumbles.
The Vikings currently have a plus-one in the turnover department.
The Redskins enter Sunday's game plus-six in turnovers. Their defense has six interceptions, by six different players, along with four fumble recoveries.
If the Vikings are to win this game, they will need to make sure they take care of the football.
A report from the The 700 Level Club cites that teams that were at least plus-one in turnover ratio during the regular season in 2011 won 78.5 percent of the time.
In their only loss of the season, the Vikings were a minus-one in the turnover department to the Colts.
Interestingly, the Redskins have won the turnover battle every week, with the exception of matching turnovers with the Falcons last week, yet they have only won two of five games.
Don't Let It Come Down to a Field Goal
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh has made 12-of-13 field goals this season.
All of them have come on artificial turf under the cover of a dome. This will be his first regular-season game outdoors on grass. He was 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts in the first preseason game at Candlestick Park.
Still, field-goal kickers can be a fickle lot, and all it might take is some challenging conditions on FedEx Field to wreak havoc on the rookie.
The Vikings need to put this one away early like they did against the Titans.
Christian Ponder Needs to Continue His Efficient Quarterback Play
Before last week Christian Ponder had thrown 123 passes without an interception. His quarterback passer rating heading into the game against the Titans was 97.7. While he had some sure interceptions dropped, he had been making very good decisions with the football.
Then he threw not one, but two interceptions on consecutive passes against the Titans. He showed tremendous signs of maturity not letting that rattle him. He finished the game completing 11-of-12 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
He finished the game 25-of-35 for 258 yards, with the two interceptions and two touchdowns. His passer rating only dropped to 95.5—good for 10th in the league among starting quarterbacks.
His 69 percent completion rate is second only to Robert Griffin III, who has completed 69.1 percent of his passes.
The one knock on Ponder's performance has been the inability to complete the long ball. His 6.83 yards per attempt is 22nd in the league. However, that is not his fault. Without a legitimate downfield threat, he has been forced to keep the passing game short—something he has been very good at.
Get Adrian Peterson in the End Zone
Adrian Peterson has carried the ball into the end zone more often than any other running back since he joined the league in 2007 with 66 rushing touchdowns.
The problem is he has not scored since Week 1 against the Jaguars when he had two touchdown runs of two and three yards.
Peterson's carries have been very consistent this season, with 16 to 25 rushes per game. His production has been almost as consistent averaging 84.0 yards per game, with a low of 60 yards against the Colts and a high of 102 yards against the Lions.
In their four wins, he has averaged 90 yards per game. The Vikings should keep giving him the ball until he gets his 90 yards. The Redskins, currently ranked 10th against the run, have yielded an average of 87.8 yards per game.
He has not been so successful against Washington the past two seasons. In the last two games against the Redskins, he has only rushed for 36 and 38 yards, but he did score a touchdown in each game.
A successful game for Peterson would be poetic justice. FedEx Field was the site of his devastating knee injury last December.
Let Percy Be Percy
Percy Harvin leads the NFL with 814 all-purpose yards with 62 rushing yards, 407 receiving yards and 345 yards on kickoff returns.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave needs to make sure Harvin gets at least 10 to 12 touches. An explosive weapon, Harvin is a threat from anywhere on the field.
In a strange coincidence, in the Vikings' only loss of the season, Harvin had 16 touches for a total of 195 yards.
Still, I would err on the side of giving him the ball early and often.
Stop the Redskins from Scoring on the Ground
On the season the Washington Redskins have scored 13 offensive touchdowns—eight of them on the ground.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris each have four on the season.
The Vikings defense has rebounded against the run this season. Yielding an average of 78.6 yards per game, they are ranked sixth in the NFL after finishing 11th against the run last year.
The Vikings have also been stingy this season, allowing only one rushing touchdown so far this season. Only the Texans have yet to allow a player to carry the ball across the goal line.
Continue the Ponder to Rudolph Connection
Quarterback Christian Ponder and tight end Kyle Rudolph have connected for four of Ponder's six touchdown passes.
Both joined the Vikings last season with Ponder taken in the first round and Rudolph in the second. Both started their rookie seasons as backups and finished as starters.
Rudolph has demonstrated an incredible ability of making spectacular catches, including a one-handed touchdown grab against the 49ers with Donte Whitner all over him.
With Percy Harvin scoring two touchdowns last week, and with Adrian Peterson's propensity to score, the Vikings have three legitimate scoring threats when they get close to the goal line.
Don't Overlook the Redskins in Anticipation of the Cardinals
Heading into 2012, who would have thought the Vikings would be in a position to overlook anyone?
The last two seasons the Vikings have finished last in the NFC North with a combined record of 9-23. Since taking over as the head coach in Week 12 of the 2010 season against the Redskins, Leslie Frazier is 10-17.
Next week the Vikings will have a crucial matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, who like the Vikings are one of the surprise teams in the NFL. Also currently with a 4-1 record, Arizona is tied with the 49ers for the lead of the NFC West.
This has the potential to be a matchup of two first place teams. The Cardinals have the pleasure of hosting the 2-3 Bills on Sunday while the Vikings travel to Washington to face the 2-3 Redskins.
If the Vikings stumble on Sunday against Washington, look for them to take a tumble in the power rankings.