Last week, I predicted that the Vikings would beat the Titans by a score of 30-19 and Brett predicted a score of 27–21. As we all know, they exceeded even these lofty expectations and ended up thumping the Titans 30-7.
This moved Minnesota to a surprising 4-1 record and they are now drawing the national attention that we never thought we would get this season.
Meanwhile, the Redskins put up a good fight against the high flying Falcons but ultimately fell to 2-3 after Robert Griffin III got knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Now, these two upstart squads face each other in D.C. and we want to explore all the different items of note that could impact the outcome.
The Passing Offense
Prior to week five, the Vikings passing offense was largely impotent but incredibly safe. Two Christian Ponder interceptions last Sunday, however, changed the perception that he wasn’t capable of making a big mistake here and there. There is still a perception, however, that this passing game is not capable of making those huge, game changing plays down the field.
The Vikings are averaging 210.8 passing yards per game (24th in the NFL) this season and have only one play of over 40 yards through the air. They only have nine passing plays of over 20 yards, with only the Seahawks and Jaguars doing worse than that.
Jerome Simpson was supposed to be the cure for the downfield offense once he returned from his suspension, but now a curious back issue is putting his availability in question for this week.
If there is a team that Ponder could break out against, however, it is the Skins. They have allowed 328.6 passing yards per game (31st), 13 passing touchdowns (tied for most in the NFL), and have given up a league high of six passing plays for over 40 yards. They have also only managed eight sacks so far this season (25th).
The Skins have had a heck of a time stopping opposing passers, but the Vikings have also had a tough time getting their passing game rolling, so this could end up being a bit of a toss up. The tiebreaker, in my opinion, will be the presence of Percy Harvin who is second in the league with 38 receptions. Harvin allows Christian Ponder to focus on short, high-percentage passes because of his ability to gain yards after the catch. As a result, Ponder is second in the NFL with a 69.0% completion percentage.
One interesting thing to note, however, is how the aging Tony Gonzalez was able to put some game tape out there last week that showed how he was able to absolutely shred the Washington defense for 123 yards. If you have Kyle Rudolph on your fantasy team, I recommend starting him this week.
THE EDGE: Vikings (barely)
The Rushing Offense
Adrian Peterson will return to the site of his horrible injury suffered last year. He has made public comments about his desire to enact revenge and we could see a very motivated Peterson on Sunday. Peterson is currently eighth in the NFL with 420 yards (4.4 average) on the season. Percy Harvin, Toby Gerhart, and Christian Ponder are all likely to add to this totals this week in complimentary roles.
The Vikings as a whole are averaging 133.2 rushing yards per game (9th) and should match up well against a Washington defense that is allowing only 87.8 rushing yards per contest (10th). As pointed out in our comments section, the Vikings have historically has issues playing on grass, and this Sunday could be one in which they earn every single yard they manage.
Of course, Peterson is still in search of that next 100 yard game that will tie him with Robert Smith for the most 100 yard games in franchise history.
THE EDGE: Redskins (barely)
The Passing Defense
It is now very apparent that the Vikings will play Robert Griffin III this week, and that is disappointing for those that were hoping for the Vikes to catch a break. RGIII is tied with the fourth highest passer rating in the league right now, and he is tied with none other than Peyton Manning at 101.0. That, no matter where your football loyalties lie, can’t be considered anything but impressive for a rookie quarterback.
Griffin is averaging 8.4 yards per game (2nd in the NFL), has thrown only one pick (tied for best), and has the best completion percentage in the league with 69.1%.
Perhaps the most impressive part of all these stats is that RGIII has managed to accomplish all of this without a true go-to receiver at his disposal. Not a single wide receiver on the roster has over 184 yards on the season and only Santana Moss has two touchdowns, with the rest having one or less.
His top target so far has been tight end Fred Davis who has 266 yards on 20 catches, which is bad news for a Vikings defense that still struggles against competent tight ends.
The Vikings have been a much improved unit defending the pass, but they are still mediocre from a statistical standpoint. They are giving up 225.6 yards per game (15th). They are only giving up 6.1 yards per attempt (3rd), however, and have only surrendered six passing touchdowns (11th). Their 14 sacks on the season are tied for 9th in the league.
Griffin presents a new kind of challenge for this defense, as they haven’t seen an uber-athletic quarterback yet, and things could get really tricky as Griffin makes his return in front of a home crowd.
THE EDGE: Redskins
The Rushing Defense
Six weeks ago it wouldn’t have been too surprising if you didn’t know who Alfred Morris was. Since that time, he has been the leading rusher in every game the Redskins have played (yes, for either team on the field) this season. His high water mark came last week when he put up 115 yards against Atlanta.
With 491 yards, Morris is the league’s 4th most productive rusher in the NFL, and the Redskins are also the 4th most productive rushing team. No quarterback has accounted for more rushing yards than the rookie Griffin who has amassed 241 yards on the ground, and four touchdowns.
Minnesota is allowing only 78.6 yards per game, which is good for the 6th best rush defense in the league, but keeping an eye on both Morris and RGIII is going to be a tough task for this Vikings defense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see their rank drop a bit after this week. They also haven’t given up a run over 15 yards this season, but that could be a streak that ends at the hands of either Morris or Griffin. Unless they can jump to an early and sizeable lead, I get the feeling that the Redskins will run at them early and often from multiple positions.
The Vikings have clearly made a point of stopping the run this season, especially on first down. So far this season, they have allowed only 2.84 yards per carry on first downs. That stat puts them atop the NFL, and helps keep their defense in a good position to rush the passer on later downs.
THE EDGE: Redskins
The Special Teams
The Vikings have been dynamite on special teams this year. They have the NFL’s best kick returner in Percy Harvin (38.3 yards per return), one of the top punt returners in Marcus Sherels (14.9 yards per return), and one of the NFL’s best young kickers in Blair Walsh. Chris Kluwe has been serviceable and the coverage units one really big return this season, but no touchdowns.
The Redskins have yet to give up a special teams touchdown as well, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been a liability. Kicker Billy Cundiff had a disastrous season and he was replaced this week by Kai Forbath, a street free agent.
As we all know, special teams returns or last minute field goals can make all the difference in the world on any given Sunday, and the Vikings certainly have the upper hand here.
THE EDGE: Vikings
I have given the Redskins a lot of credit in this breakdown, and I truly think they deserve it. The Vikings don’t have an easy task ahead of them here and I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see them come out of this week with their second loss of 2012.
The Vikings, however, are playing very balanced football and seem to have a swagger that we haven’t seen since 2009. The Redskins also have a lot to be positive about, but RGIII is coming off of a concussion and their defense leaves a lot to be desired.
The team needs to stick to the type of football they have been playing, and controlling the clock is going to be key, as a guy like RGIII could tire out our defense in short order. The Vikings are tied for third in the NFL with nine drives over five minutes in length, however, so their offense could end up being the ultimate neutralizer of the rookie quarterback sensation.
I expect another big game out of Percy Harvin and the defensive line. Look for special teams to be the difference in this matchup. Interestingly enough, Leslie Frazier will face the Redskins for the third time as the Vikings head coach, and he has yet to lose to them.
ADAM: 27-22, Vikings
BRETT: 27-24, Vikings