It’s week 6 of the NFL season, and the Minnesota Vikings are one of the league’s most surprising teams, sitting at 4-1 in a tie with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North. They travel to the Nation’s capitol this Sunday to face Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
The story of this game will be whether the Redskins’ porous defense will be able to contain the Vikings efficient but low-key offense, and if Washington can find a way to overcome Minnesota’s stout defense.
Thanks to the emergence of RG3 and Alfred Morris, Washington has the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, gaining an average of 162.6 yards per game on the ground. The Skins’ aerial game is not lacking either, as they throw for 238 YPG, and Griffin has the sixth-best completion percent in the league at 68.2%. Washington is also sixth in the league with 20 passes of at least 20 yards, and 3 of at least 40 yards.
While the Redskins have a high-octane offense, the same cannot be said of their defense. Washington has allowed an average of 29.4 points per game, fifth-highest in the NFL. They have given up 328.6 yards per game through the air, and 87.8 YPG on the ground. The Skins have a tendency to give up the big play, as they have allowed 25 plays of 20 yards or more (23 through the air,) and 7 plays of 40+ yards (6 through the air.) One reason they give up so many big plays is that they do not do a good job at pressuring the quarterback—Washington has just 8 sacks so far this year, sixth-fewest in the league.
In some ways, the Vikings are mirror images of the Redskins—they have a conservative (read: clunky) offense that does not get a lot of big plays, but their defense does not give up many yards, especially on the ground.
Christian Ponder has emerged as the league’s most accurate passer this year at 69.0%, but as always there is a trade-off: his 6.8 yards per completion are 22nd-ranked in the NFL. Adrian Peterson has surprised everyone with his amazing recovery from a knee ligament tear, but as of yet he is not as prolific as he once was. The Vikings gain 133.2 yards per game on the ground but have just four rushing touchdowns. Peterson made a name for himself breaking off long runs and extending plays, but his longest rush this year is just 34 yards.
The offensive style played by the Vikings might be a hindrance except for the outstanding play of their defensive unit. Minnesota is allowing just 15.8 points per game, and while they have a middle-of-the-pack pass defense (225.6 passing YPG allowed,) where they really shine is stopping the run. The Vikings have yielded just 78.6 rushing yards per game (sixth-best in the league,) and they have not allowed a single rush of more than 15 yards.
Minnesota’s special teams have been vastly improved this season as well, which has taken a lot of pressure off Ponder and the offense. Most notably, the Vikings did not score a single offensive touchdown against the Detroit Lions, but won the game in large part thanks to two return touchdowns.
This will be a close matchup, and if the game was being played in Minnesota, I believe the Vikings would be favored but since they are playing at Washington, the Redskins hold the edge. Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion last week, and although it seems at this point like he will be cleared to play, if he suffers any lingering effects, the Minnesota defense could easily take over the game. I don’t see the Vikings having any trouble moving the ball down the field against a woeful Redskins defense, so as long as the Vikings can continue their solid defensive play and effectively contain Griffin, they could be looking at their first 5-1 start since 2004.