Since coming off their bye week nearly a month ago, the Vikings haven't been able to get back into the win column. Their next try at win No. 6 will come against a team coming off its bye – the Washington Redskins.
Here are five storylines to watch in the buildup to Vikings at Redskins on Sunday…
1. Vikings look to stop skid, start second half of season with a win
The Vikings were one of the NFL's hottest teams through the first five games, opening with a perfect record and receiving much acclaim for it. Since then, though, the Vikings have had a bye followed by three straight losses. What's more, those three losses were all to NFC teams and two of them were to division foes. Through it all, the Vikings remain atop the NFC North and they have a chance to get back on the winning track against the Redskins. A win on Sunday will expand their lead over Detroit, who has a bye this week, and it will get them back above .500 in the NFC with a 4-3 mark.
2. Battle over big plays brews between Vikings defense and Redskins offense
The Redskins know how to make plays in the passing game. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is sixth in the NFL with 2,454 passing yards and he spreads the ball around judiciously to his playmakers, with the team's 34 receptions of 20+ yards going to eight different pass catchers, including DeSean Jackson (eight), Vernon Davis (seven), Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garçon (six) and Jordan Reed (four). Conversely, the Vikings defense is expert at preventing opposing offenses from making big plays in the passing game. On passing attempts of over 20 yards, the Vikings defense has held opponents to eight of 32 (25.0%) for 228 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions for a NFL-low passer rating of 17.2. It should be noted, though, that many of the Redskins big passing plays come on attempts of under 20 yards where receivers are able to make tacklers miss and pick up yards after the catch. It will be important for the Vikings to not only cover well, but also tackle well.
3. On the run…
Speaking of the "something's gotta give" department, either the Vikings offense or the Redskins defense figures to see an improvement in the running game. The Vikings enter the game ranked 31st with 581 yards rushing on the season and last with a per-carry average of 2.9 yards. The Redskins come in ranked 24th with 990 yards allowed, 31st in yards per carry allowed at 4.9 yards and last in the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns allowed. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in the week that the offensive line played showed improvement last week, which is perhaps an indication that it'll be the Vikings offense who can find an advantage in the run game against the Redskins defense.
4. Cornerback depth and creativity to be tested versus Redskins passing offense
We already went over how explosive the Redskins passing attack can be. Both Zimmer and linebacker Anthony Barr have said this week that the Redskins may pose the toughest challenge for the Vikings defense so far in 2016. The Vikings ability to defend the dynamic and productive Redskins passing attack could be impacted by an injury. Starting nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was forced from last week's game. Rookie Mackensie Alexander filled in for Munnerlyn initially, but it was veteran Terence Newman who handled the bulk of the load; Trae Waynes then came on and played outside opposite Xavier Rhodes. It will be interesting to see how the Vikings handle the nickel cornerback spot this week if Munnerlyn isn't able to go.
5. Missing man in the middle
It's hard not to wonder if Theo Riddick's 42-yard run and Eric Ebron's seven-catch, 92-yard outing would've been limited if the Vikings had their starting middle linebacker – Eric Kendricks – in the game. Kendricks missed last Sunday's game with a concussion, and you can be sure his status will be monitored this week as the Vikings search for ways to slow down a productive Redskins offense that features two talented pass-catching tight ends and a few running backs who can hurt you if there is sloppy play at the second level.