Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden knows Minnesota Vikings counterpart Mike Zimmer all too well after they spent three years together in Cincinnati.
Still, Gruden doesn’t expect familiarity to be much help as the Redskins, likely with Robert Griffin III back under center, try to top their win total from last season as they visit Minnesota on Sunday.
"All systems look like they’re go," Gruden said Thursday when asked about the chances of starting Griffin, who has been out since dislocating his ankle in Week 2.
Griffin’s probable return takes the focus away from these first-year head coaches squaring off. Gruden served as the offensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2011-2013, the same time that Zimmer was their defensive coordinator.
"What makes his defense so good is not many people know what he’s going to do," Gruden said. "That’s why he’s so successful. … We competed every day in practice. It was not friendly, usually."
Zimmer has transformed Minnesota’s defense from the second-worst unit in the league last year into a top unit in 2014. The Vikings (3-5) allowed 397.6 yards per game last year compared to 323.8 this season, good for eighth in the NFL. They’re also tied for second in the league with 25 sacks.
It appears that unit will be chasing around Griffin, even though third-stringer Colt McCoy shined Monday night as the Redskins (3-5) won 20-17 at Dallas in overtime. McCoy went 25 of 30 for 299 yards, threw an interception and ran for a touchdown.
It appears McCoy would only start, however, if Griffin suffers a setback. Gruden said he had "every intent" of starting Griffin, who practiced in full Wednesday and took most of the first-team snaps Thursday.
"We feel he’s at 100 percent physically right now," Gruden said. "… All the doctors are on board, the trainers are on board, as far as physically, he looks great."
Griffin went 29 of 37 for 267 yards in his only full game this season, an opening 17-6 loss at Houston.
The Vikings will give rookie Teddy Bridgewater his fifth career start after he completed 24 of 42 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 19-13 overtime win over Tampa Bay.
Minnesota’s defense stood tall in the victory. The Buccaneers were held to 225 yards, and rookie linebacker Anthony Barr’s 27-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown won it in OT.
"Hopefully this week it doesn’t have to be that exciting," Bridgewater said. "Hopefully, we can get it done in the four quarters of regulation."
Zimmer expects a tougher test from Gruden and an offense that ranks seventh in the NFL with 391.9 yards per game.
"He did a great job when he was in Cincinnati with me, he did a great job with the young quarterbacks, he did a great job with the offense and the skill guys, especially," Zimmer said. "He’s very innovative, changes a lot from week to week from what they do, tries to use the players to the best of their abilities."
Washington’s top weapon has been DeSean Jackson, who has excelled in Griffin’s absence. Since Week 2, Jackson has gone over 100 yards receiving in four of six games, and he caught six passes for 136 yards against the Cowboys.
Jackson set a career high with 10 receptions and had the second-most yards in his career with 195 against the Vikings last year while playing for Philadelphia.
These teams will be meeting for the fifth consecutive season, with the Vikings winning three of the previous four matchups. Griffin threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 loss at the Metrodome last year.