- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. It's the same as last week: If the Washington Redskins want to consider a late-season playoff push, then they must beat Minnesota Thursday night. They absolutely need to prove that they can play well in consecutive games, something they have not done all season. It's a big difference from last season and it's why any talk of a turnaround can't begin until they do so. Minnesota is not a good team, but that doesn't matter. Playing well does. If they play well and get to 4-5, it makes the following week's game at Philadelphia a huge one.
2. A big factor in Thursday's game? Health. And the Redskins easily have the advantage in this area. Minnesota might be without two starters on the offensive line and already lost solid tight end Kyle Rudolph. Their secondary is ailing. Still, no team that's 3-5 should feel overly confident. That's why I loved the Santana Moss quote that NBC-4's Diana Russini tweeted Thursday morning: “How is this an easy game for us when we aren't even that good?!"
3. The Redskins have done an excellent job against Adrian Peterson in their previous four meetings, though one ended prematurely because of his torn ACL. Still, in four games, his longest carry has been for 32 yards. Last season on his 17 carries against them, the Redskins used an eight-man box on all but four carries. Three times the Vikings spread the field and forced six in the box, but Peterson only gained a combined seven yards.
4. The key? The ability of nose tackle Barry Cofield and end Stephen Bowen in particular of holding double teams. Time and again the inside linebackers, at least one of them, was unblocked and able to fill a gap. When a lineman would peel off the double team to block, one of the defensive linemen would help plug the middle (Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston helped here, too). This happened time and again; the double teams were slow to break. Also, Minnesota has struggled this season when it comes to its double teams. The Redskins say Peterson's showing last week was helped by how Dallas' front four play, more intent on getting upfield. The Redskins' front wants to play more lateral and it can disrupt the double teams better.
5. Another key last season was that the Redskins did an excellent job swarming Peterson and forcing him to cut back inside. One run that exemplified what must happen occurred in the first half. On a run up the middle, both London Fletcher and Perry Riley were unblocked, forcing Peterson to try and bounce wide. As Peterson tries to get outside, corner DeAngelo Hall comes up aggressively and takes him down with a low hit. They need that sort of run support from the corners against a guy like this.
6. Whether you like Jim Haslett as a defensive coordinator or not is up to you. But he understands this is a player's league. I was struck by his answer Wednesday regarding the goal-line stand when he referred to the defense as "them." Well, he's part of it, too. And trust me when I say: some coordinators here in the past would not have said it like that. But Haslett realizes they're the ones that had to make plays and did so. (What he didn't mention: Hall was covering Antonio Gates on the fade stemmed because of a change in their goal-line package from the previous week when they got caught with one defensive back as Denver passed the ball). Haslett has his flaws. But he has a good understanding of the players' mentality.
7. Left tackle Trent Williams knows the challenges of playing in a dome against a pass-rusher such as Jared Allen. He only has three sacks, but Williams isn't about to relax. Playing in a dome removes the chance to disrupt timing through snap counts. “He always gets a great jump off the ball, so that becomes magnified,” Williams said. “You always peek at the ball, but [now] you try to time it up better and you have to be on your technique. One false move and he's on the quarterback.” On the other side, watch for end Brian Robison's spin move; used it to sack Dallas quarterback Tony Romo last week. Right tackle Tyler Polumbus can't let him get his hands into his chest.
8. Quarterback Robert Griffin III needs to build on last week's game with another strong outing. It'll be tough to match his completion percentage (71.8), but he needs to be efficient and avoid bad decisions, or take too long, as he did the previous week against Denver. Like the entire team, you can't say Griffin suddenly found himself because of what he did last week -- just like you couldn't say he was never going to develop because he played poorly versus Denver. Again: He's a young quarterback still enduring growing pains as a passer. But the Vikings represent a good chance for him to gain more confidence. They haven't applied enough pressure (17 sacks in 332 pass attempts). They allow a lot of completions (67 percent) and they're missing two defensive backs Thursday. Griffin should play well, if he's patient.
9. One reason the Redskins can feel a little better about the second half of the season is the quarterbacks they won't be facing: elite guys who are difference makers. In the first eight games they faced Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. Only Stafford and Cutler aren't among the top-seven rated passers this season. In the second half, the Redskins play only one quarterback currently rated in the top 15 (Atlanta's Matt Ryan).
10. The Vikings' numbers against the run look solid: 3.8 yards per carry allowed. However, they've faced only two teams that currently rank in the top 18 in terms of rushing in Chicago and Green Bay. They allowed 4.7 and 4.3 yards per carry, respectively, in those losses (and a combined 309 yards). The Redskins are running the ball well.
2hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com
3hJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com