In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Redskins preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before kickoff of tonight’s game, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Redskins tonight.
-- At some point teams are going to stop kicking the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson, right? Seemingly every time he touches the ball on kickoff return something good happens for us, and the kid ranks first in the NFL in kickoff return yards, kickoff return average and kickoff return touchdowns. Good news tonight: Washington ranks just 26th in touchback %, with 17 of 39 (43.6%) kickoffs going for touchbacks. Kicker Kai Forbath has handled 25 of the team’s 39 kickoffs, and he has just nine touchbacks, which comes out to just a 36% touchback rate. Unless Washington pooches or directional kicks, it looks like Patterson is going to get more return opportunities tonight.
-- The Vikings are dealing with significant injuries and that means backups need to step up. One guy to keep an eye on is tight end Chase Ford. With Kyle Rudolph (foot) out for several weeks, Ford has a chance to step into the lineup and reward the Vikings (and himself) for keeping him around. Ford spent time on three teams’ practice squads in 2012 and finally stuck in Minnesota this season. He measures in at 6-6, 245 pounds and played collegiately at the University of Miami. He’s been a roster bubble guy since he arrived in Minnesota last year, but he’s always intrigued me because of his height/weight/speed/strength combination. I won’t be surprised if he’s a factor on offense tonight.
-- Eight Vikings have been ruled out or doubtful for this game. More troubling, all eight play substantial roles on the team. Fullback Matt Asiata is a multi-phase special teams player and won’t be available, starters Chris Cook, Letroy Guion, Phil Loadholt, Rudolph and Jamarca Sanford are out, and then key reserve defensive tackle Fred Evans is out. The two areas to watch closely tonight at Loadholt’s spot, where J’Marcus Webb will fill in and face a tough matchup against Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, and then defensive tackle, where a starter (Guion) and his backup (Evans) are out. Chase Baker and Sharrif Floyd should see increased reps with Evans and Guion out. I like the talent of both guys, but they are both inexperienced and will be going against a Redskins team that will continually run the ball at them with some powerful running backs and a dynamic quarterback.
-- Speaking of our defensive tackles, I’m looking for them to improve in one specific area beginning tonight. Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison have done a nice job this season of pressuring the quarterback from the edge. Where we haven’t had as much success is pressuring the quarterback from the middle with our defensive tackles. What this does is allow quarterbacks to avoid the edge pressure by stepping forward into the pocket and either buying time to make a throw or running forward to gain yardage. If we can start getting a consistent push on the pocket from the middle, then I think our sack numbers will start to rise to the level we’re accustomed to seeing.
-- Looking forward to halftime tonight when one of the greatest players in franchise history – Cris Carter – will be presented his Hall of Fame ring. I was fortunate enough to be invited to Canton this past summer to take in Carter’s enshrinement. The Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony is a highlight of my year every time I’m able to go, and I encourage any football fans out there who have an interest in the history of the game to make an effort to take one in, even if a former Vikings player isn’t going in when you’re able to be there. It’s a special place.