If the Washington Redskins aren't on the top of a list of hard-to-predict teams, they have to be precariously close to the top. There hasn't been a bigger Jeckyl-Hyde team in the NFL. When they get in low-scoring, tightly-contested games, they're unbeatable. When the scoring gets to be more than 20 points per team, they're poisonous.
The Redskins have a 5-5 record, including a 2-3 mark at FedEx Field. What had made them so hard to predict is that they've won against some of the top teams in the league, putting Dallas in a tailspin with a Week 1 win and following that up with road wins over Philadelphia and Chicago and a home win over Green Bay in overtime – the last three teams have 7-3 records each. But, when they're bad, they're really bad. In their five losses, they have allowed 30, 30, 27, 37 and 59 points. The dismantling Michael Vick put on the Redskins two weeks ago on Monday night football was one of the most embarrassing defensive displays ever. So which Redskins will show up – Dr. Jeckyl or Mr. Hyde?
The roller coaster season for the Redskins has been mirrored by quarterback Donovan McNabb. He shocked the football world when he was traded by the Eagles to division rival Washington and he has been extremely erratic. Despite that, after being pulled in the final two minutes of a loss to the Lions, he was rewarded the next week with a contract extension. It's bizarre, but that's the way life is in Snyderville.
Through 10 games, McNabb has completed just 57.5 percent of his passes – his lowest completion percentage since his rookie season. He has thrown for 2,642 yards, but has just 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 76.1, which ranks him 28th in the league. The book on McNabb is simple – put pressure on him and he will get rattled. While he has some decent foot quickness at his age, he is much more of a pocket passer and, if the Vikings can create a consistent pass rush, he will make the ill-advised pass that can turn a game around.
The running game has been a running joke much of the season. Entering training camp, it was supposed to be a three-way battle for playing time with Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. Had it been 2007, the Redskins would have boasted the best backfield in league history. But this is 2010 and none of them are active with the team. Parker was cut in the preseason, Johnson was cut loose after just one game and Portis had just 54 carries before getting injured and being placed on injured reserve to end his 2010 season. Portis lost his starting spot to Ryan Torain, but he has been battling injuries as well – missing the last three weeks. In his place, undrafted rookie Kieran Williams has been the primary running back the last couple of weeks and is tied for the team lead with three touchdowns. Ideally, Torain, who is the one-cut runner that Shanahan prefers, is the starter, but he is out for Sunday's game, essentially leaving only Williams and fullback Mike Sellers in the running game for the injury-depleted running corps.
Wide receiver has been hit nearly as hard. Devin Thomas was released earlier in the year and Malcolm Kelly (hamstring) and Mike Furrey (concussion) have both been placed on injured reserve. Veteran Santana Moss is the lead dog, catching 57 passes for 738 yards and three touchdowns – all team-leading numbers. However, he missed one practice, was limited in two more and is questionable for Sunday's game. With reserve Brandon Banks also limited, the Redskins will lean heavily on first-year man Anthony Armstrong and veterans Joey Galloway and Roydell Williams. None of them factored much when the season began, but all three may be called on to make contributions to the passing game.
Tight end is one of the few strong positions with veteran Chris Cooley, who has 49 catches for 554 yards and two touchdowns, and athletic youngster Fred Davis. Both of them will be key if the Redskins are to move the ball through the air.
The offensive line has problems of its own due to injury. Guard Mike Williams is on injured reserve with heart problems and three key linemen – center Casey Rabach (knee) and guards Artis Hicks (thigh) and David Dockery (knee) have all been limited in practice and each is listed as questionable. While all three may play, none are close to 100 percent. The only healthy players on the line are at the tackles, where Trent Williams and Jamaal Brown provide solid bookends. The Vikings should be able to control the line of scrimmage. If they can, the Redskins will find themselves in deep trouble if they become one-dimensional offensively.
As erratic as the offense has been, the defense has been brutal at times. They have the worst-rated defense in the league and much of the problems have started up front.
The Redskins invested a $100 million contract in Albert Haynesworth, but he has never been on the same page as head coach Mike Shanahan, giving the Redskins two extremely good defensive tackles – Haynesworth and Ma'ake Kemoeatu. But, given the 3-4 defense the Redskins run, they are rarely on the field at the same time. The ‘Skins have good depth at the ends, too, with Adam Carricker and Kedric Golston in the starting spots and veterans Phillip Daniels and Vonnie Holliday in the rotation. Both Daniels and Holliday may see additional snaps because Golston has been limited by both elbow and groin injuries. As a group, they have the potential to be dominating. But, they have yet to mesh as a unit and injuries have limited the effectiveness of all of them.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker. Second-year pro Brian Orapko is an emerging star. He leads the team with 7½ sacks and is the primary pass-rush threat. He is joined on the outside by 10-year veteran Andre Carter, who has lost a step in his pass rush but is a strong run defender. In the middle, London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh were free-agent signings that have paid off nicely. Both are extremely good tacklers and have excellent instincts. Depth is a little thin, but this is a solid group of starters and they will be key to slowing down the Vikings offense.
The secondary is also suddenly a problem. Star safety LaRon Landy is out with an Achilles injury and his backup, Anderson Russell, was placed on injured reserve this week. As it currently stands, Kareem Moore and Reed Doughty are the only healthy safeties on the roster. The Vikings may look to take advantage of that disparity. The cornerback starters are among the best in the NFC with DeAngelo Hall and Carlos Rogers, but Rogers has been slowed with a hamstring injury, which could push nickel back Phillip Buchanon into the starting lineup.
The Redskins are in a much better position at 5-5 than the Vikings are at 3-7, but, for a team as ravaged by injury as the Redskins are, some are starting to wonder how much longer they can hold out given their depleted ranks. The Vikings haven't won on the road since midseason of 2009, but the Redskins look like a team capable of being manhandled by the Vikings.
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.
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