Now 3-5, the Redskins take to the road to battle the 1-7 Minnesota Vikings. They need to keep pace with the top two in the NFC East.
|NFC East Standings After Week 9|
|New York Giants||2-6|
The Dallas Cowboys actually maintained their hold on first place in the division by besting the Vikings in a game that could provide some pointers for Washington.
Head coach Mike Shanahan's team can take advantage of their head start by leaving Minnesota with a win on Thursday night. That would put immediate pressure on the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, as they both face tough tasks in Week 10.
|NFC East Fixtures for Week 10|
|Philadelphia Eagles||at Green Bay Packers|
|New York Giants||vs. Oakland Raiders|
|Dallas Cowboys||at New Orleans Saints|
Most of the injury news actually concerns the Vikings. While there are currently no major omissions reported by the Redskins, the list of possible absentees for the Vikings is lengthy.
According to Mike Wobschall of Vikings.com, the team will be monitoring the status of as many as 12 players before Thursday's game. Wobschall identifies right tackle Phil Loadholt and tight end Kyle Rudolph as the most likely to miss out.
That would be a blow as both are key components of Minnesota's run-blocking schemes, while Rudolph is also an invaluable outlet for quarterback Christian Ponder.
What Must Improve
Vikings star runner Adrian Peterson is not what he was last season, but neither is Washington's rush defense. The unit is surrendering 116.6 yards per game, ranking 22nd in the league after finishing fifth in 2012.
Peterson currently boasts the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL and still presents a major challenge. After two abysmal showings in Weeks 7 and 8, where he totaled 26 carries for 88 yards, Peterson rebounded in style in Week 9.
He enters Thursday's game buoyed by his 25 carries for 140 yards against the Cowboys.
Of course, the best way to keep Peterson quiet might be for Washington to lean on its own potent ground attack. It produced over 200 yards against the Chargers.
Many pundits have been eager to point out how increased production in the running game can prove the key to victory. The Washington Post's Mike Jones highlights the link between more rushing and the team's best two offensive performances of the season:
The only other time the Redskins’ run game eclipsed the 40-carry, 200-yard mark came on Oct. 20 against Chicago, when they had 43 carries for 209 yards in a 45-41 win over the Bears. The Bears game saw the return of Robert Griffin III as a weapon in the zone-read attack. His 11 carries for 84 yards in Week 7 complemented Alfred Morris’s 19-carry, 95-yard effort, and Roy Helu Jr. served as a third weapon with 11 carries for 41 yards and three touchdowns.
On Sunday, Morris had his best game of the season, carrying the ball 25 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. Another five players combined for 88 more rushing yards.
Meanwhile, The Washington Times' Brian McNally points out how the running game produced the kind of balance the offense has missed too often this season:
Indeed, the balance Washington’s offense needs was there. It ran the ball 40 times for 209 yards. Griffin threw the ball 32 times for 291 yards. Six different players took handoffs, including end-around plays to tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Santana Moss.
For the season, the Vikings rank 11th against the run after giving up 104.0 yards per game. But those solid figures shouldn't deter offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from aiming for another day of 30-40 rushes.
The zone-based scheme the Shanahans brought to Washington is ideal for attacking 4-3 fronts like the one the Vikings regularly deploy. Expect Morris and company to enjoy another productive game.
The two areas where Washington must improve the most are familiar ones. The secondary cannot ignore the threat posed by Minnesota's underrated talent at wide receiver.
Veteran Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson are more than capable of causing problems for Washington's defensive backs. In particular, rookie David Amerson must recover quickly after being routinely beaten by San Diego's Keenan Allen.
The next tricky challenge will likely come on special teams. Washington's unit has been a disaster so far this season, and that doesn't bode well when facing rookie return ace Cordarrelle Patterson.
He has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Patterson has also posted 18 returns of 20 yards or more, a figure that is second only to Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears.
The last thing coordinator Keith Burns needs is to see his unit give up a third scoring return of the season.
Despite their poor record, the Vikings are no pushovers. They have played a number of games close this season and still boast marquee talent in all three phases.
But Washington simply cannot let the opportunity to apply pressure to the Eagles and Cowboys slip past them.
Trusting their run-first formula and committing to clamping down on Ponder's receivers, as well as stacking the front for Peterson, can push Washington closer to .500.
All statistics and rankings via NFL.com.