Redskins will look to take advantage of the Vikings' recent difficulties running the ball by making the team one-dimensional and creating pressure on Sam Bradford.
If you looked at the Vikings offense now and compared it to the unit in the offseason, it would seem like the two are entirely different teams. But despite all of the turmoil that the team has gone through, caused by both injuries and coaching changes, Minnesota's offense still has shown an ability to effectively challenge opponents.
The team brought in veteran quarterback Sam Bradford to aid the offense after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly before the season began. Once the regular season started, star running Adrian Peterson was placed on Injured Reserve, eligible to return Week 11 after tearing his meniscus in Week 2, and the running game has since suffered, only averaging 72.6 yards per game, 31st in the league. On top of that, this week will be only Minnesota's second outing with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur after Norv Turner resigned from the post following the team losing its first games of the season.
Even with all of this upheaval and the struggle the team has had on the ground, Washington's defense has a challenge ahead of them in ensuring that Minnesota doesn't find success through the air. Preventing Bradford and his weapons from getting ahead early will be key to the limiting the group with the potential for big plays.
"[Bradford's] a very good quarterback in this league. There's no doubt about it, and he has weapons around him," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "As far as guys him throwing the ball to, [No.] 82 [Kyle Rudolph] is a Pro Bowl tight end, very good player. And then the wideouts, has a number of them. I think the guy he really likes is [No.] 14 [Stefon Diggs]. That kind of is his comfort. And then there's a big play guy anytime he gets his hands on the ball in [No.] 84 [Cordarelle Patterson]. But again, this is the National Football League. There's weapons on every single team. There's going to be issues and weapons every single week, and obviously the Minnesota Vikings are no different."
Part of what makes Minnesota's offense a unique threat is not solely the people that Bradford is throwing to, but also his ability to throw the ball to his receivers in a variety of situations and places on the field. Bradford has thrown for 1,715 yards and nine touchdowns this year with a 68.3 percent completion percentage and only one interception.
"We've got to obviously get pressure and try to force him to make some bad decisions hopefully," Will Blackmon said. "He can make all the throws. He has a really, really good arm. The main thing is just do what we do. There's not so much, how can we affect him so much. Just do our job on defense."
Doing that job on Sunday at FedExField will involve putting a large priority on making the team one-dimensional and forcing them to rely on Bradford's arm. With the Vikings primary backs, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata each totaling over 70 carries this season, while McKinnon has been battling an ankle injury, the team has not been able to find consistency running the ball without Peterson. Washington ensuring that the offense continues to struggle in this area will put that extra pressure on the Vikings to effectively pass the ball.
"We got to make them one-dimensional," Ricky Jean Francois said. "We're 23rd in the league in stopping the run game, and we need to get our rankings up. Don't get me wrong, they have two running backs that can get that ball to the edge, so we got to make sure we set that edge."
Doing so against the Vikings offensive line shouldn't be much of a problem. The line has struggled with injuries as well and also overall inconsistency, which has been a major reason why the running game has struggled so much. The line is without both starting tackles and throughout the season has faced their guards missing time as well. This has translated to the team being put in third and long situations which limits Minnesota's options and allows teams to bring pressure. Bradford has been sacked 21 times in the seven games he has played in. Defenses in recent weeks have found success through their ability to make the offense run entirely through the quarterback due to the line's struggles. That's exactly what the Redskins will also look to do this weekend.
"When you can make them one-dimensional, you can add a lot of pressure to them and create a lot of things," Ziggy Hood said. "You don't have to get every sack out there, but if we can get somebodies hands in the way or bat the ball down, then that helps."
The Redskins are currently tied for seventh with 22 sacks so far this season and should build on that this weekend with the pressure they will have the chance to create. With a team that has a strong defense like the Vikings, 17 turnovers this season and third in yards allowed per game, the Redskins defense keeping the visiting offense uncomfortable and from scoring points will be a major key to the game.
"We got to come out as a defense and prevent big plays, get off the field as much as possible, and create turnovers," Hood said. "We create turnovers, keep confusion up on their side of that ball, then we're going to have a great day.