Coming off a thrilling overtime victory on the road at Tampa Bay, the Vikings return home for a contest against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, a team also coming off an overtime win on the road (at Dallas). Sunday's contest will mark the fifth consecutive season the Vikings and Redskins have battled and it will give the Vikings a chance to even up the all-time series between these two teams at 12 wins a piece.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Redskins prepare to battle.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and Redskins.
1. Will it be RG3 or Colt McCoy?The Vikings will prepare for the Redskins this week while not knowing who will start at quarterback. Robert Griffin III has not played since dislocating his ankle in Week 2 and since then the Redskins have started two different quarterbacks – Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. Cousins replaced Griffin III initially, but then Washington decided to replace Cousin with McCoy to open the second half in Week 7. McCoy helped lead the Redskins to an emotionally-charged and dramatic overtime win at division rival Dallas last week. On Monday, Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden said Griffin III is "very, very, very close" to returning but wouldn't commit to a starter for Sunday. Also on Monday, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the team would spend this week preparing for both quarterbacks.
2. Mike Zimmer vs. Jay Gruden – This Time They'll Keep ScoreMike Zimmer and Jay Gruden faced each other every day for three years – while serving as coordinators on Marvin Lewis' staff in Cincinnati. Zimmer's defense and Gruden's offense would go toe-to-toe every day in practice but would unite as a team on Sundays. With Zimmer and Gruden as Defensive Coordinator and Offensive Coordinator, respectively, the Bengals made three consecutive trips to the playoffs, losing in the Wild Card round each year. Also in those three years, the Bengals offense ranked 10th, 12th and 19th in points scored with Gruden leading the offense and fourth, sixth and ninth with Zimmer guiding the defense. This Sunday, Zimmer's side and Gruden's side will meet on the field and it will count.
3. Vikings Defense Looks to Keep RollingThe turnaround the Vikings defense has generated just one season removed from one of the worst defensive seasons in team history is remarkable, and it's something the team will look to keep going this week against a Redskins offense that uses both power and speed to move the ball down the field. The most significant aspect of the Vikings defensive improvement is in the passing game. The Vikings rank fourth in net passing yards allowed per game (212.1) and eighth in total offense allowed per game (323.8), and they also rank tied for second in sacks with 25. Last week in Tampa Bay, the Vikings allowed just 13 points, marking the third consecutive game they surrendered 17 points or less and the fourth time they've accomplished the feat this season. Also, the Vikings defense has forced opponent three-and-outs on 29% of its drives faced, the fourth-best number in the NFL.
4. Watch Out! Redskins Like to Bring the BlitzA key to the Vikings win last week in Tampa Bay was improvement in pass protection. In order to capture another victory this week against Washington, the Vikings must keep improving in that area. The Redskins are tied for ninth with 21 sacks on the season but, more notably, they are coming off a game last week in which they sacked Cowboys QB Tony Romo five times and at one point knocked him out of the game (he came back in at the end of the 4th quarter and for overtime). A primary way the Redskins generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks is by bringing extra blitzers. Of Washington's 21 sacks, 14 have come with more than four defenders rushing the quarterback. The Redskins blitz nearly a third of the time on 1st and 2nd down and nearly half the time on 3rd down.
5. Goal: Get a Win and Get OutThe Vikings will play their ninth game of the season this Sunday and will hope to tally their fourth win. Doing so would give them momentum as they head into their bye week next week and recharge for the second part of the schedule. The Vikings are on the bottom looking up in the NFC North, but a win this week after a win last week would be another step forward. No other NFC North team plays this week, meaning the Vikings have a chance to make up more ground with another win, and then next week two division opponents play one another (Chicago at Green Bay), meaning the Vikings will pick up at least a half-game without playing.