Most of the buzz heading into Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins has centered on rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he is only part of what has made the Redskins offense so successful. No team in the NFC has a stronger running game than the Redskins and they have become a power running team. If the Vikings are to beat Washington in their home stadium, they will have to stuff the Redskins run game, making the battle between Kevin Williams and Washington center Will Montgomery this week's key matchup.
While RG3 has been an impressive runner – taking off 42 times in five games for 241 yards – the centerpiece of the run offense has been sixth-round draft pick Albert Morris.
Morris had carried 100 times for 491 yards in his first five NFL games and has quickly become one of the most feared runners in the league. He's a between-the-tackles banger that is the latest in a long line of running backs that have enjoyed success under head coach Mike Shanahan, who has an uncanny knack of developing running backs.
In his time in Denver, the only high draft pick to ever be his starting running back was Clinton Portis, who a second-rounder. Shanahan found players that could fit his system late in the draft, as he snagged undrafted free agents off the NFL scrap heap and made them stars. From Mike Anderson to Olandis Gary to Terrell Davis, he discovered players that consistently became 1,000-yard rushers without using a high draft pick to get them. Morris is a continuation of that longstanding trend.
He has been to help the Redskins play ball-control offense and impose their will on opponents. Morris isn't a breakaway threat, but, when you average 5 yards a pop, you don't need to be a home-run hitter to be effective. Much of his success is due to the interior of the Redskins offensive line, namely Montgomery in the middle. On most of Morris' inside runs, it is a running lane created by Montgomery that springs him. He is very adept at positioning defensive tackles and forcing them to go where he wants. Kevin Williams won't be that easy to push around.
Although he is in his 10th season, Williams' calling card remains his burst off the snap. He gets penetration almost immediately and can blow up plays by eliminating the running lane of choice and forcing backs to improvise. Whether it's Morris or RG3, Williams' ability to push the pocket back and force the Redskins to change the course of the play will be critical. Given the swarming Vikings defense that often has all 11 players running to the ball, all the Vikings need to shut down those plays will depend on Williams being able to back Montgomery up and take away the inside running lanes that Washington has exploited so often early in the season.
This will be a classic matchup of strength vs. strength. Washington has the best rushing offense in the NFC and the Vikings have one of the top run defenses. Both teams will try to impose their will. If Washington can run the ball effectively, it opens up the passing game. If the Vikings can stuff the run, it will force the Redskins to be more one-dimensional and predictable on offense. The team that is more effective at achieving that goal will be the team that can control the clock and have a much better chance of winning the game. No two players will be more critical in that battle than Williams and Montgomery.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Williams vs. Montgomery
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