Plotting a Washington Redskins Defensive Game Plan for the Minnesota Vikings
The status of Robert Griffin III will understandably garner most of the attention leading up to Sunday's game against the 4-1 Minnesota Vikings.
However, the decisive issue will be how well the Redskins' defense copes with a sneaky Vikings offense. They may only rank a modest 20th-overall, but the Vikings have the weapons to cause problems for Jim Haslett's below-par unit.
Here are three things the Redskins must get right in order to subdue Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson and company.
Get Christian Ponder out of the Pocket
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When given a comfortable pocket, second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has been deadly this season. Haslett must scheme his blitz pressures to attack the middle and shift Ponder off his spot.
Haslett should let inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley blitz the soft rush lanes in the middle and and force Ponder to flee the pocket. He should also consider letting Ryan Kerrigan attack with some twists inside and run some stunts with defensive end Jarvis Jenkins.
The Vikings have done a good job of keeping Ponder in the pocket so far this season. Disturbing his rhythm is the best way for the Redskins to force the young passer into some uncharacteristic mistakes.
Last week against the Titans, Ponder threw his first two interceptions of the season. Both picks were the direct result of pressure.
If the Redskins' blitz can speed up Ponder's decision-making process and the coverage stays disciplined, they can force some vital turnovers.
Double Cover Kyle Rudolph
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The Redskins must take away Ponder's favorite receiver, and that means double coverage for tight end Kyle Rudolph. One of the keys to the Vikings' success this season has been their commitment to keeping the game within Ponder's limits.
Forcing him out of his comfort zone by taking away his preferred option will challenge the youngster to find alternative ways to beat the defense. It will also help the rest of the Redskins' coverage schemes anticipate where Ponder is likely to go with the ball.
Of course eliminating Rudolph won't be easy, and showing the nimble-footed 6'6" 258-pounder different looks will be the key. The first priority has to be to get an initial bump on Rudolph at the line to slow down his release.
Kerrigan and Rob Jackson should be instructed to hit Rudolph the second he begins his break off the line. They can then pass him off to an inside 'backer or safety, depending on the coverage.
The Redskins don't really have a player capable of staying with Rudolph in man coverage, so using different combinations of players to bracket him in various zone looks is probably their safest bet.
Tony Gonzalez proved a matchup nightmare for the Redskins' defense in Week 5. Haslett can't let another tight end exploit his unit this week, even if it means single coverage on the outside against speedy flanker Percy Harvin.
Tighten the Alignment of the Defensive Line to Combat the Vikings' Running Game
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Minnesota's offense is only successful if their potent power-running game is working. To combat the efforts of their bruising duo, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, the Redskins should alter the alignment of their defensive line.
Haslett can counter the Vikings' power game by condensing the alignment of his defensive line and shifting them further inside. Rather than occupy their usual two-gap spots over the offensive tackles, Washington's defensive ends should slide inside and align either in the guard-tackle gap or head-up, directly over the guard.
The trio should then shift towards the run strength of the Vikes' formation. This should mean that both guards and the center are regularly covered up.
By clogging the middle, the Redskins will be able to force Peterson and Gerhart to the outside and right into the strength of the 3-4 front. With a safety joining the linebackers, the Redskins should have enough defenders to chase the Vikings' runners down on the outside.
Funneling runs to the edge may seem like a risk against Peterson, but his lateral speed is not what it once was. Covering up the interior of Minnesota's front five should also ensure that Fletcher and Riley are kept clean to attack downhill and pursue sideline-to-sideline.
Everything the Vikings do on offense is predicated by their power-running game. Shut that down and the Redskins will give themselves a great chance of securing their first home win of the 2012 campaign.
Defense Can Key Vital Win
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Defense will be the key to this game for the Redskins, and the group can take some confidence from a slightly improved display against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5.
The Redskins will need a strong defensive effort, because the Vikings' 4-1 start is no accident. They are calling a smart game on offense and their own defense is stout enough to cause Washington's offense trouble and keep the game close.
However, the Redskins have greater big-play potential on offense, so if Haslett's defense can frustrate Ponder and company, the offense should manufacture enough plays to win it.