The Vikings are going to need a much better performance from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson than they received last Monday against Chicago. Jackson threw three interceptions and was charged with a fumble on a bad handoff exchange, but Minnesota still escaped with a 20-13 victory.
The Redskins are a much better team than Chicago and possess the ninth-ranked run defense in the NFL. That means the Vikings offense, which has the league's best running attack behind Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, is likely to have to throw the ball.
Washington is 19th against the pass; the problem is Jackson and the Vikings are 30th in throwing the ball. Nonetheless, Jackson has shown some late-season ability to make things happen and this is a case where Minnesota will need him to deliver.
The Redskins have a middle-of-the-pack offense that is better at running the ball (11th) than passing (15th), but it doesn't take much film study to know trying to beat Minnesota on the ground isn't a good idea. Even if your team has Clinton Portis.
This isn't saying Washington should abandon the run, but veteran Todd Collins also is going to need to go after the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense. It should be noted the Vikings have given up fewer passing yards each week during their five-game winning streak.
This game is all about running the ball and stopping the run. The Redskins are a solid 11th in rushing and ninth in rushing defense, but the Vikings are tops in the league in both areas. So don't count on the inconsistent Clinton Portis and Co. — four games over 150 yards and four under 65 yards — to make much headway against Kevin Williams, Pat Williams et al.
On the flip side, the Redskins will keep CBs Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot in man-to-man coverage as worked so well in last week's upset of the Giants, putting nine defenders in the box to try to keep rookie hotshot RB Adrian Peterson and dangerous backup Chester Taylor in check. That assignment will be difficult minus WLB Rocky McIntosh, who blew out his left knee against the Giants.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings weakside LB Chad Greenway vs. Redskins TE Chris Cooley. Greenway has done a good job against opposing tight ends in the second half of the season; he will get another big test Sunday night as the Redskins are likely to try to get their Pro Bowler, Cooley, matched up against Greenway. The 6-3, 249-pound Cooley leads Washington with 60 receptions and seven touchdowns. He will present a real threat in the red zone.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Redskins MLB London Fletcher. Peterson has been held under 100 yards in consecutive games for only the second time this season, rushing for three yards on 14 carries two weeks ago against San Francisco and 78 yards on 20 attempts against Chicago on Monday. The rookie phenom was elected to the Pro Bowl this week and will be looking to put on a big performance in a nationally televised game Sunday night. Stopping Peterson takes a team effort but there is no denying the importance of Fletcher and the role he will play in run support. Fletcher leads the Redskins with 120 tackles and is likely to spend much of this game cheating toward the line of scrimmage.
Vikings WR Bobby Wade vs. Redskins CBs Shawn Springs and Fred Smoot. Wade has caught only one touchdown pass this season, but the Vikings receiver leads the team with 46 catches and had six of those last Monday night against the Bears. With rookie Sidney Rice's availability in question because of a sprained ankle, Wade becomes an even more important piece of the offense. Springs and former Viking Smoot will be among those matching up against Wade throughout the game.
Redskins RE Andre Carter vs. Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie. The quick-footed Carter leads the Redskins with 10.5 sacks, but he has yet to face a blocker of the caliber of massive Pro Bowl starter McKinnie.
Redskins OL Pete Kendall, Casey Rabach and Jason Fabini vs. Vikings DTs Kevin Williams and Pat Williams — Thirty-somethings Kendall, Rabach and Fabini are a veteran group, but they haven't been very effective as run-blockers. And behemoths Williams and Williams will be their biggest obstacles yet.
Rookie Marcus McCauley could start for Antoine Winfield (strained pectoral muscle) for the fifth time in eight games. Although it would seem to be a significant step down going from Winfield to McCauley, the third-round pick has fared well when given the opportunity to play. McCauley was in for the entire second half against Chicago on Monday after Winfield was injured.
The Vikings definitely will miss Rice if he is unable to play because of a sprained ankle. Rice leads the team with four touchdown catches and he is dangerous in the red zone because of his size (6-4). If Rice sits, Troy Williamson likely would be in uniform. Williamson was a healthy scratch last Monday night.
If Redskins TE Todd Yoder can't play, FB Mike Sellers would take some snaps at tight end and third-stringer Brian Kozlowski will see some playing time.
Vikings-Redskins Game Plan
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