In order to post another win in Washington, the Vikings must slow a unique dual-threat passer.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier says going to Washington to face the Redskins this week doesn't offer any significant meaning to him or his team.
Frazier says there is no advantage gleaned from the fact Minnesota has won in Washington each of the past two years, and FedEx Field was the site where Frazier earned his first head coaching victory when he took over from the fired Brad Childress midway through the 2010 season and won his first game as the interim Vikings' coach with a 17-13 win on the road against the Redskins.
Another win this season, with Minnesota traveling to Washington for a Sunday afternoon game this week, would be important for one big reason. A win would keep the Vikings' streak and positive momentum going. Minnesota (4-1) was won three straight games and is tied atop the NFC North. The Redskins (2-3) are at the bottom of the NFC East.
Here are five things to watch as the Vikings try to keep their FedEx Field winning streak going on Sunday:
1. Mr. Peterson goes to Washington.
Last December, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson was carried off the field at Washington after suffering tears to two knee ligaments after being hit in the side of his left knee by Redskins' safety DeJon Gomes while his foot was planted in the turf. Peterson pushed himself through eight months of rehab to return for the regular-season opener and has just been getting stronger as he makes his return to the place which brought him to the low point in his career.
Peterson, the league's eighth-leading rusher this season, said he's thought about going back to Washington. He smiled slyly when asked if he's looking forward to the chance to put run over Gomes, a backup safety, on Sunday. The ultra-motivated Peterson is likely looking forward to Sunday, even if he somewhat downplayed the return this week while talking to reporters. He said he holds only a small desire for revenge, and doesn't maintain any big personal grudges. Regardless, expect a motivated Peterson on Sunday.
2. The No. 2 who is RGIII.
Minnesota's one loss this season was to Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, the quarterback picked No. 1 overall in this year's draft by the Colts. Now, the Vikings face the No. 2 pick, and Heisman Trophy winner, in Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. Like Luck, Griffin has taken the NFL by storm in the early going. Griffin, the dual run-pass threat out of Baylor, is fifth in the league in passing with a 101.0 quarterback rating. He owns the league's best completion percentage at 69.1, just ahead of Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder's 69.0 percent. Griffin's 8.35 yards-per-attempt is second in the league. He's also the league's top rushing quarterback this season with 42 carries for 241 yards.
Washington will run the option at times with Griffin, providing a unique challenge to the Vikings' resurgent defense. Minnesota has talked about treating Griffin just like a running back and trying to hit the quarterback as much as they can when he pulls the ball down and runs. Griffin is coming off a concussion sustained in last week's game, but he practiced during the week and is expected to start. The Vikings know they must be sound defensively, conscious of playing within the scheme and be careful on the edges.
3. Some familiar faces in the Redskins' secondary.
There could be opportunities for Ponder and Minnesota's passing offense against Washington's 31st-ranked pass defense, which contains a pair of former Vikings. Safety Madieu Williams, who played three seasons in Minnesota, is expected to start, and cornerback Cedric Griffin, who spent six years with the Vikings after being a second-round pick in 2006, could return after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Griffin is listed as questionable. The two are part of a patchwork, beleaguered secondary that has allowed 328.6 passing yards-per-game.
Ponder might have reason to relish a return to Washington as well. Ponder left last year's game with a concussion early in the second half, part of a rough finish to his rookie season. Ponder's interception-less streak ended last week when he throw interceptions on back-to-back passes, but he responded by completing 12 of his final 13 passes for two touchdowns. Williams, Griffin and the rest of the Redskins' defensive backs could have trouble keeping up with Minnesota receiver Percy Harvin too. Washington also has the sixth-fewest sacks in the league with linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive Adam Carriker on injured reserve.
4. Can Kyle Rudolph build on tight end success?
If Ponder is going to take advantage of Washington's secondary, tight end Kyle Rudolph will probably play a big role, as well. Rudolph is second on the team with 19 catches and 169 receiving yards and has scored four touchdowns, a team-high, tied for the third-highest total of receiving touchdowns in the league and tied for the lead among tight ends entering the week. Rudolph has scored in three of Minnesota's five games.
Meanwhile, the Redskins have been gashed by opposing tight ends. Washington has surrendered touchdowns to an opposing tight end in four of its five games this season. Tight ends have caught 35 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns, an average of seven catches and 73.6 yards-per-game. Last week in a loss to Atlanta, the Redskins gave up 13 catches, 123 yards and a touchdown to Falcons' tight end Tony Gonzalez. Maybe this is the week free-agent signee John Carlson has an impact for the Vikings too.
5. A surprising test for Minnesota's fourth-ranked run defense.
The Vikings have taken a lot of pride in getting back to being one of the top run defenses in the NFL, and have shut down the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore and Chris Johnson already this season. This week is an unexpected pivotal matchup with Washington's surprise rookie running back Alfred Morris.
Pacing the Redskins' fourth-ranked rushing offense, Morris is fourth in the NFL with 491 yards rushing, averaging 4.9 yards-per-carry. He's scored four touchdowns and become the latest unknown back to thrive in coach Mike Shanahan's offense. Morris is a tough runner inside the tackles, but has also shown a bit of elusiveness and has run for a 39-yard touchdown this season. In contrast, Peterson's longest run of the season has been 34 yards. While keeping an eye on Griffin, the Vikings can't let Morris get going and give Washington a chance to grind down the clock and wear out the defense. The Redskins are averaging 162.6 yards-per-game on the ground this year, while Minnesota is allowing just 78.6 rushing yards-per-game Opposing teams have run for just 3.2 yards-per-carry against the Vikings this season.