The Vikings will head to the nation’s capital this weekend to face the Washington Redskins which marks the beginning of their second-half stretch to finish the season. The Vikings (6-2) hold a two-game lead in the NFC North and are currently the #3 seed in the NFC, while the Redskins (4-4) are doing what they can to stay alive in the NFC playoff race. Washington capitalized on a HUGE win in the “cappuccino capital” last weekend by beating the Seahawks in the final seconds by a score of 17-14. The Redskins have been plagued with a numerous amount of injuries over the course of the past few weeks and are finally beginning to get healthy which can make things difficult for a Minnesota team craving a road win to stay in contention for a top 3 seed in the NFC.

Here’s a look at the current NFC playoff picture heading into week 10…

Washington Redskins Offense & Defense Rankings

Total Offense: 14th                                                                       Total Defense: 18th

Passing: 11th                                                                                 Pass Defense: 16th

Rushing: 22nd                                                                                   Rush Defense: 16

Offensive Line: 18th                                                                            Pass Rush: 14th

Redskins QB Kirk Cousins completing a pass against the Vikings in a game last season.

3 Keys to Victory

The offense must show up: The Vikings defense is going to do their part and keep the team in almost every game that they play this season. Teddy Bridgewater has been activated to the 53-man roster but Coach Zimmer still insists that Case Keenum is the starter this weekend. Pat Shurmur will have to have a balanced attack heading into this game to keep the Redskins defense on their toes. Don’t mistake Washington’s 18th ranked defense as a below average squad. When this unit plays in front of their home crowd they will get after you. According to “ESPN Matchups”, the Redskins defense is the best in the league at defending the play action pass (Shurmur’s bread and butter). To be successful in this one, the running game must be established to open up the rest of the playbook.

Contain the 3 headed monster: Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley, and Samaje Perine. Remember those 3 names for Sunday. The Redskins haven’t been as successful in the run game this season as their talent perceives them to be, but they also haven’t been the healthiest either. The Vikings defense led behind Linval Joseph has been stout in the running game all season. Good enough for 2nd best in the NFL, giving up just 81 yards per game on the ground. Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine make their money on the ground, but throwing Chris Thompson into the conversation in the passing game adds another element to the Washington offense that needs to be addressed. At just 5’8″ 190 pounds, Thompson has been a decisive threat for opposing defenses all season. Through 8 games he has 51 carries for 251 yards, and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he has 35 catches for 453 yards and 3 touchdowns. Thompson, is, in my opinion, Washington’s most dangerous weapon on offense. Expect Anthony Barr to spy on him.

Getting out to a fast start: As always…when you’re playing football on the road, getting out to a fast start is essential to a victory. If Case Keenum and company can score early and often that should take the crowd out of the game. Playing from behind against a defense as good as Minnesota’s isn’t an ideal situation to be in. Kirk Cousins is the type of quarterback to make multiple mistakes if he has to play catch up, and against a Zimmer led defense that’s not something you can afford to do.

Question & Answer: Cy Fenwick

Cy Fenwick is a reporter/producer for ESPN980 in Washington. Cy was kind enough to answer a few questions I had for him regarding the game this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter at @WiseGuyCy980.

1. The Redskins have had a numerous amount of injuries over the course of the past few weeks. Which player are they getting back this week that will happen them the most against the Vikings? The Redskins have been decimated with injuries this season. Last week in Seattle, the Redskins were without 4 of their 5 starting offensive lineman (as well as their top backup offensive lineman Ty Nsekhe), and the one starter who played (Morgan Moses) vs Seattle played on 2 sprained ankles. The Redskins lost their first-round draft pick Jonathan Allen for the season, who had been having a great rookie season on the defensive line. The Redskins’ best pass-catcher, tight end Jordan Reed, has been banged up all season. He did not play last week and when he has played he hasn’t been 100% (and you can tell). Wide receiver Jamison Crowder missed last week as well with a hamstring injury and has been limited in practice all week. Running back Rob Kelley has been dealing with injuries all season. This is just the tip of the iceberg, I could write a lengthy paragraph detailing the major injuries the Redskins have endured this season. Linebacker Zach Brown, who is the leading tackler in the NFL, just popped up on the Redskins’ injury list on Thursday as well (soreness in his ankle), and head coach Jay Gruden didn’t provide a clear update about the severity of Zach Brown’s injury. The Redskins signed the former all-pro linebacker to a 1-year deal this past offseason, and Brown has been spectacular. If Zach Brown can’t go on Sunday, the Redskins’ defense will suffer. Brown’s speed as a linebacker is elite.”

“To complicate matters even more, head coach Jay Gruden has not provided much in the way of injury updates this week. He has described many of the key injuries as day to day, and at this point we really have no idea who will and who won’t play on Sunday vs the Vikings. There is a long list of “questionables” and “game-time decisions”, and it’s difficult to predict who will play. The Redskins’ desperately could use some starters back on the offensive line. Stud lineman Trent Williams doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon, but there is a chance that guard Brandon Scherff could play vs the Vikings. Scherff would be the most important player the Redskins can have return from injury vs. the Vikings, as the offensive line is depleted and needs help desperately. Scherff has evolved into one of the best guards in all of football, so his presence would be massive for the Redskins. Ty Nsekhe would be another important piece to get back. Nsekhe is the Redskins’ best backup offensive lineman and would be a starter on a lot of other NFL teams. He has missed the last 5 games, and with all the injuries along the offensive line, the Redskins would love to be able to start Nsekhe on Sunday.”

2. Washington has 3 great running backs. Which one do they need to step up the most this week for the Redskins to move the ball efficiently on offense? “The Redskins have actually struggled running the ball mightily this season (28th rushing offense in the NFL per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric). The running game has been mediocre to poor in 7 of the Redskins’ 8 games this year, with the only good performance coming in week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams.  Last week at the Seattle Seahawks, Redskins’ running backs combined for 20 carries for 47 yards against a weak Seahawks’ run defense (the Seahawks entered Week 9 just no. 22 in the NFL in run defense this season per the Football Outsiders DVOA metric). Part of the run game struggles can certainly be attributed to the litany of injuries along the offensive line (the Redskins were without 4 of their 5 starting offensive lineman last week in Seattle), but the run game has struggled even when the line has been healthy.”

“Chris Thompson is the Redskins’ best running back, but head coach Jay Gruden loves Thompson as a 3rd down back and a pass catcher, and doesn’t want Thompson to ever get more than 10-15 carries a game. Gruden always emphasizes how important Chris Thompson’s role in the offense is (even calling him the best 3rd down back in the NFL). Chris Thompson has been especially explosive as a pass catcher this season (35 catches for 453 yards and 2 TDs), and also is frequently praised as being great in pass protection as well. When it comes to Rob Kelley, nobody expected him to overtake Matt Jones last season as the Redskins’ starting running back, but “Fat Rob” earned the job and played well last season. This year, Rob Kelley has been banged up and has not been able to stay healthy. Kelley has not had more than 14 carries in a game this season (he had at least 15 carries 5 times last season despite not getting many touches until week 8). Last week in Seattle, Kelley ran the ball 14 times for 18 yards. Fat Rob is only averaging 3.2 yards a carry this season and has not been able to get it going.”

“Samaje Perine has been one of the bigger disappointments for the Redskins this season. There was a lot of fanfare when he got drafted, but he has had serious ball security issues that have reduced his role in this offense. Although he only has 1 lost fumble attributed to him so far this year, he has put the ball on the ground multiple times, including a botched handoff with Kirk Cousins last week that the Seahawks recovered (the fumble was attributed to Kirk Cousins, but if you watch the tape it was Samaje Perine’s fault). Perine only had 2 carries last week in Seattle and didn’t carry the ball at all in weeks 7 or 8. I would consider Perine a non-factor come Sunday vs the Vikings.”

“All in all, the Redskins’ running game has been poor all season, and there is little indication it can improve much. The Redskins’ running game struggles are a combination of bad blocking (especially by tight ends) and bad running from the running backs. There is actually an active debate among the Redskins’ media this week about whether or not the Redskins should stop trying to force running the ball and become extra pass heavy, but Gruden seems committed to trying to get the running game going. This Sunday against the Vikings, the Redskins will need Chris Thompson to make a big play or two, whether it’s running the ball or catching out of the backfield. The Redskins’ would also benefit from a couple of good 5+ yard runs from Rob Kelley, but against this tough Vikings’ defense (Vikings are 4th in the NFL in rush defense per Football Outsider’s DVOA metric) it looks to be tough sledding for the Redskins’ running game, especially with all of the injuries along the offensive line.”

3. Do you expect Josh Norman to shadow Stefon Diggs? Or will he line up on one side of the field and match up against both Diggs and Adam Thielen? “I expect to see a combination of Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland on Stefon Diggs and a lot of Kendall Fuller on Adam Thielen when Thielen is in the slot. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has done a fantastic job with this Redskins defense this season, which has been significantly better than it was last season. Manusky likes to mix up coverages, so I expect there will be some plays where you will see Norman shadow Diggs on either side of the field, but there will also be plays will Norman will stay on one side of the field and Bashaud Breeland will cover Diggs. Everybody is well aware of how good of a defensive back Josh Norman is (watching him play every week is a privilege), but Bashaud Breeland is having a great season as well. Breeland has been an interesting case in DC. He had an excellent 2015 season that convinced many people he could star as a team’s #1 shutdown cornerback. The Redskins’ then signed Josh Norman in the offseason before the 2016 season, and Breeland was initially unhappy with the signing because he wanted to be the Redskins’ shutdown cornerback. This caused Breeland to have a down year last season (2016), and he admitted after the 2016 season that the signing of Josh Norman frustrated him and negatively affected his play. This season, however, Breeland appears to have returned to form, and has played fantastic (especially in the games without Josh Norman). The Redskins are comfortable with either Josh Norman or Bashaud Breeland covering the opposing team’s top receiver, so expect a mix of the two covering the speedy and talented Diggs with a lot of safety help overtop come Sunday. Kendall Fuller has also stepped up for the Redskins as their nickel corner this season and expect to see him covering Adam Thielen in the slot.”

4. Give me one matchup you are looking forward to the most, Sunday. “One matchup that really intrigues me is going to be Adam Thielen vs Kendall Fuller in the slot. Kendall Fuller is in the midst of the best season of his career and has 3 interceptions, 5 passes defended and a forced fumble this year. Coming into the season, the Redskins’ nickel cornerback spot was a big question mark with stiff competition. Fuller has put a stranglehold on the position and earned the job, and is evolving into quite a good nickel corner. Adam Thielen is 4th in the NFL in receiving yards per game (78.4 ypg) and is 11th in the NFL in receptions (48). Thielen plays a lot in the slot and catches everything thrown his way, so Fuller vs Thielen seems like it will be a great matchup.”

5. Give me one Vikings prediction, one Redskins prediction, and a final score prediction.

Cy’s Vikings Prediction: “The Vikings will struggle to throw the ball vs the Redskins, but will find success in the running game with the Redskins likely missing at least 2 major components on their defensive line (as well as a new injury to the NFL’s leading tackler – linebacker Zach Brown). The Vikings’ defense will hold the Redskins offense to less than 75 total rushing yards.”

Cy’s Redskins Prediction:Kirk Cousins will throw for 300+ yards, and wide receiver Josh Doctson will have at least 5 receptions with at least 1 TD catch.”

Cy’s Final Score Prediction: “Redskins-27 Vikings-24″

Vikings WR Adam Thielen hauls in a pass. (Photo Courtesy: Andy Kenutis)

Final Thoughts & Game Notes

  • The first game following the bye week hasn’t been a game the Vikings have played well in recently. Minnesota hasn’t won a game on the road following the bye week since 2007 when they defeated the Bears 34-31 behind a big game from rookie running back Adrian Peterson. Does that mean this game is unwinnable? Of course not, but most teams do come out sluggish following a bye week because they haven’t played a competitive game in two weeks…which is understandable. I’m confident Mike Zimmer will have his team ready to go this week following the bye week and the team will be ready to take care of business against a Redskins squad, which of whom has been very inconsistent up to this point.
  • My Vikings prediction: Jerick McKinnon will have 125+ scrimmage yards.
  • My Redskins prediction: Nick Rose: 3 FGs/ Kirk Cousins: 1 TD & 1 INT
  • My final score prediction: Vikings-21 Redskins-16
  • The Vikings are 17-10 all-time following the bye week. 6-8 on the road.
  • This is Kirk Cousins‘ second career game against the Vikings. In his first career game last season he threw for 262 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and had a QB rating of 110.9 in a win.
  • Sunday marks the first game Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater will suit up for since his horrific knee injury in August of 2016.
  • Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon needs 55 rushing yards to pass Leroy Hoard for 19th most in franchise history.
  • Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph needs 32 receiving yards to pass Leo Lewis for 15th most in franchise history.
  • Rudolph also needs 1 touchdown to tie Jake Reed for 6th most receiving touchdowns in franchise history.
  • Lastly, Kyle Rudolph is 3 receptions shy of 300 for his career.
  • A win on Sunday puts Head Coach Mike Zimmer past Mike Tice for 5th most wins in Vikings history.

For all the latest Vikings news, stats, analysis, and breakdowns you can follow me on Twitter at —> @Purple_Post. #SKOL

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