The Minnesota Vikings travel to the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Redskins in week 10, but what are the 5 biggest keys to victory on Sunday?
At one time, many experts around the NFL considered the Minnesota Vikings to be the best team in the NFL. They had a 5-0 record and were the only squad not to suffer a loss through that point of the season.
Now, things look quite different for the Vikings. The team is in a slump, losing their last three games with two of them being to division opponents. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner also abruptly resigned from the team, seemingly out of frustration.
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While last week’s home game against the Detroit Lions was a loss, there were some encouraging things to take from the contest. A quicker, more efficient offense was used to help make up for a struggling offensive line decimated by injuries and quarterback Sam Bradford got the ball out fast.
This week, the Minnesota Vikings will need to do similar good things while eliminating some of the mistakes they made. Their opponent, the Washington Redskins, are no slouches and will give them all they can handle.
But what can the Vikings do to come away from this game victorious? Here are the 5 keys to success for Minnesota in week 10 against the Redskins:
Nov 30, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) rushes against the Carolina Panthers for 3 yards in the fourth quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings won 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
#1. Pound the rock
In the past, when you thought of the Vikings offense, images of Adrian Peterson slashing through defenses and making defenders miss would pop into the heads of fans. Even Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata had a history of being able to be a capable team in Peterson’s absence.
But Minnesota hasn’t been able to get things going at all this year. They are averaging a painful 2.7 yards per carry, which is the worst in the league and mustering only 72.6 yards per game on the ground, which is the second worst.
On paper, this could be a great opportunity for the Vikings to get back on track. The Redskins are allowing 4.9 yards per carry (31st in the NFL) and are tied for 2nd most rushing touchdowns allowed (12). This gives hope that Minnesota can find some success on the ground.
It will be up to the three-headed monster in the Vikings backfield and the struggling offensive line to get that done. But at least there is hope that they can get it done this week and hopefully keep it going this season.
Oct 30, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (86) pushes off against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (27) during the fourth quarter at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
#2. Limit yards after catch
The Washington Redskins have an offense much like the Vikings. Their passing game consists mostly of quick passes with some deep shots to keep the defense honest and open some holes in the running game.
Minnesota needs to be aware that through 9 weeks of the NFL season, Washington has accumulated 1,063 yards after the catch in their high volume passing attack, meaning many of their plays will likely be made within ten yards of the line of scrimmage.
Gaining an average of 4.92 yards after the catch may not seem like much and isn’t ranked highly in the league, but the volume of throws Cousins makes is what makes this team dangerous, as the Redskins are averaging 298.8 passing yards per game (#3 in the NFL).
The Vikings will need to be sure tacklers and keep their awareness high when it comes to short passes, screens, and play action, or else they could add to these statistics in week 10.
Oct 30, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) gets a pass away under pressure during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports
3. Pressure Kirk Cousins
Oh boy. This one is a worry. The Vikings have been struggling to get sacks recently despite being mostly healthy on the defensive line. With Sharrif Floyd still sidelined and Linval Joseph sitting out practices, it gets even scarier.
Not only that, but Washington does a great job of protecting Kirk Cousins. Through 9 weeks, they are tied for the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL (11) and have an offense designed to get the ball out quick and pick up yards after the catch.
This is why the Vikings shouldn’t expect to get their hands of Cousins often during this game, but they can at least pressure him into making some poor decisions. Getting their hands up on the defensive line and getting deep penetration on rushes can make that happen, but that can also play into the Redskins game plan and take them away from a quick dump off or screen.
Thankfully, most of the Vikings pass rushers are aware, quick, and athletic enough not to get stuck in traffic and get removed from a play, but they will need to be extra sure of that this week.
Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) is sacked by Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith (94) and teammates during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
#4. Protect Sam Bradford
As mentioned before, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line is all banged up. There are new starters at several positions and the team’s inability to protect their quarterback has led to some major changes in the offense over the last couple of weeks.
Week 10 will be a big test for the big fellows in the trench, as Washington is #7 in the NFL when it comes to sacks, bringing down opposing quarterbacks 22 times so far this season. They have a great blend of athleticism and power that will be difficult for the Vikings to defend against.
However, last week fans saw the Vikings keeping extra protection or chipping when possible to give their quarterback more time. That is something that should happen often on passing plays during this game if Minnesota wants to be successful.
Bradford has already taken a lot of hits this year and considering the number of quarterbacks gone this year due to injury, the Vikings need to keep their quarterback upright during this game.
Oct 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws a pass under pressure by Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) defense during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Vikings, 21-10. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
#5. Hold on to the football
It seems obvious to say that the Minnesota Vikings shouldn’t fumble. Holding on to the football as a ball carrier or protecting it as a quarterback is one of the essential rules in playing each of the “skill” positions in the league.
But that point isn’t as obvious when facing a team like the Washington Redskins. They are the #2 team in the NFL when it comes to forcing fumbles (12) and seem to attack the ball during the tackle better than most other teams in the league.
Minnesota still has a +12 takeaway differential this season, but they have lost some possessions due to fumbles. Particularly, the protection of Sam Bradford has resulted in some balls being batted out of his hand on a couple of occasions.
The Vikings will need to play conservative football on offense and not turn the ball over while picking up first downs to be successful against Washington, and that can’t happen if Minnesota puts the ball on the turf too many times.
The Minnesota Vikings will take on the Washington Redskins at noon central time on Sunday, November 13, 2016. If they can accomplish these 5 keys to victory, they should be well on their way of walking away from the contest with a win during week 10 of the NFL season.