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For Redskins, Vikings Game Is On the Line

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It's often said that the strength of a football team is in its offensive and defensive lines.

As the Redskins get ready for Sunday night's pivotal game against the Minnesota Vikings, that statement certainly rings true.

The Vikings possess one of the NFL's top offensive lines, anchored by Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson and Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. They have helped the Vikings post the league's best rushing attack, behind Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson.

On the defensive side of the ball, there is another pair of Pro Bowlers in tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. They have helped the Vikings post the league's best run defense.

"They coach their [defensive] scheme extremely well and you don't see them out of place or fooled by anything," Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs said. "On offense, that is as good as you will see at rushing the football. Those guys are extremely physical up front.

"Most coaches would say that the two things they would love to be good at is stopping the run and running the ball. So they have a pretty dangerous combination."

Here's a look at how the Redskins will approach the trenches:

OFFENSE

Hutchinson is 6-5 and 313 pounds while Birk is 6-4 and 309 pounds. Then there's the bookend tackles, Ryan Cook at 6-6 and 328 pounds and Bryant McKinnie at 6-8 and 335 pounds.

Peterson has been the top beneficiary of the Vikings' run blocking, as he leads the NFC with 1,278 yards on 218 carries, a lofty 5.9-yard rushing average. He has 12 touchdowns and is certainly a favorite to win Rookie of the Year.

Minnesota also has another top-level back in Chester Taylor, who has 747 yards and seven touchdowns on 141 carries, a 5.3-yard rushing average.

Assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams compared Peterson's skill set to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.

"He is unique in that if he wants to run like a little guy with tremendous speed, he can run like a little guy," Williams said. "If he wants to put his pads down and run like a bruiser, he can run like a bruiser. He has that rare combination of being able to do whatever he needs to do.

"Very seldom do you ever see him get knocked back on any type of tackle or pile up. Don't discount Chester Taylor, either. He has played very well"

How to stop Peterson and the ground game?

"You have to focus on your tackling and make sure you get as many guys around the ball as you can," said London Fletcher, who leads the Redskins in tackles. "You maintain gap responsibility and understand that they're going to be good at what they're going to try to do, but we're going to be good at what we try to do."

Rookie H.B. Blades and veterans Randall Godfrey and Khary Campbell are expected to alternate at weak-side linebacker with Rocky McIntosh sidelined with a knee injury.

"We have to stop the run and make their offense one-dimensional," Blades said. "Our tackling has to be on point. We have to swarm to the ball to get the guy on the ground."

If they do that, they put the game in the hands of second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who has made great strides but still struggles with consistency. He has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Jackson has been sacked 15 times. As a team, the Vikings have yielded 34 sacks.

Andre Carter will use his speed-rushing skills against McKinnie, while Phillip Daniels goes against Cook.

The Redskins rested Cornelius Griffin most of last Sunday's game due to a hand injury, so he'll be somewhat fresh to go up against Hutchinson and Birk.

"We were able to cut down on the pounding," Williams said. "We were able to rest him, we didn't get any more damage on that hand, and we got a chance to get that him ready to go this week."

DEFENSE

Minnesota's success in run defense is no fluke. Last year, the Vikings led the NFL in that category as well, allowing an average of 61.6 yards per game. This year, they allow 67.9 yards per game.

It starts up front with Williams and Williams.

Kevin weights in at 6-5 and 311 pounds, while Pat is 6-3 and 317 pounds. They are quick off the snap and burst past blocks to get into the backfield.

"They get off the ball well and they get into their gaps," left guard Pete Kendall said. "There's a reason why they're both going to the Pro Bowl."

Kendall also credits the Vikings' secondary for making a difference in the run game.

"It's all 11 guys," he said. "Obviously for any run defense it starts up the middle and with the front seven, but their corners and safeties are also very willing tacklers. They'll get their nose in there in the run game. You don't always see that with cover corners, but they'll get right in there."

Casey Rabach knows all about the Williams' duo, having faced off against them in the 2006 season opener. He also keeps an eye on middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who leads the defense with 105 tackles.

"They have a really good scheme," he said. "They like to bring the linebackers up-field to break up double teams and confuse the offensive linemen."

Added Gibbs: "Offenses are averaging just three yards rushing against that defense--and they have gone up against some good teams. There is no one that has dented that [run] defense.

Clinton Portis will try. He leads the Redskins' ground game with 1,082 yards on 280 carries, a 3.9 yard average. He has eight touchdowns.

The Redskins' offense will have to stick with the ground game at times to help open up the passing game.

"It is going to be tough sledding running the ball," Todd Collins said. "We are going to have to pass the ball effectively to take the pressure off the run and mix it up to get positive yards when we do run."

Minnesota's pass defense is ranked last in the NFL, allowing 266.4 yards per game.

Their defensive line has posted 35 sacks, but they don't have an elite pass rusher. Ray Edwards is tied for the team lead with five sacks, but he is under suspension due to violation of the league's steroid policy.

Rookie Stephon Heyer performed well against the Giants' Michael Strahan last week. On Sunday, he competes against fourth-year lineman Kenechi Udeze, who has 11 career sacks.

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