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5 Vikings-Commanders Storylines: Cousins Returning to Washington for 1st Time

EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings (6-1) will try to extend their five-game win streak — the second-longest active run in the NFL — to a half dozen Sunday when visiting the Washington Commanders (4-4), who are riding a three-game streak of their own.

These squads are two of 11 NFL teams to win at least three consecutive games so far this season.

Philadelphia remains unbeaten at 7-0, followed by Minnesota for the longest active streaks. Buffalo has won its past four. Washington and Miami (three games each) are the other two teams with active streaks.

Here is a predicted key matchup, along with five storylines for this week.

Matchup to watch: Vikings offensive line vs. Commanders defensive line

The "Minnesota Moving Company" will face a strong test on the road against Washington's active front.

Chase Young returned to practice Wednesday as he begins his return from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft might still be a ways from being activated, but he's sure to have provided some juice for a defense that has managed to rank sixth in sacks per pass attempt (8.47 percent) this season while awaiting his return.

Washington's best defensive rankings are third in the NFL: first downs per game (17.9), third-down percentage (31.0) and goal-to-go (tied for third at 50.0).

Five players have at least 3.0 sacks for the Commanders, who have been led by defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne (4.5 each).

Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who grew up nearby in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and the rest of the offensive linemen will want to build on last week's performance in the run game and be able to provide solid pass protection.

1. Cousins returns to Washington

Kirk Cousins will play the team that drafted him in 2012 for the second time in his career and first in Washington.

Cousins completed 23 of 26 passes (88.5 percent) for 285 yards and a 112.3 passer rating against Washington in 2019.

Last week, he was 24-of-36 passing for 232 yards, two passing scores and a 17-yard rushing touchdown.

Cousins tied Derek Carr (132 career games) in becoming the third-fastest player to have 3,000 career completions.

"Whenever we go back to play the Lions in Detroit, for me, it's a little bit like going home, being from Michigan," Cousins said. "And I think going back to Washington has a similar feeling. I spent six years there, have a lot of great memories, and just think very highly of a lot of people that I've worked with there, coaches and players and teammates."

View photos of Vikings players during practice on Nov. 2 at TCO Performance Center.

2. How much for Hockenson?

The Vikings made waves Tuesday by trading to acquire tight end T.J. Hockenson from Detroit.

Can Hockenson provide help so quickly? He's well-versed with multiple offensive changes during his three-plus seasons with the Lions, and the Vikings will have an opportunity after placing Irv Smith, Jr., on Injured Reserve.

San Francisco's already reaped benefits from quickly working in running back Christian McCaffrey, who threw a touchdown pass, caught a touchdown and rushed for a touchdown last weekend for the 49ers.

While tight ends and running backs have different functions, the Vikings are pretty optimistic about Hockenson helping sooner than later.

"You'd love to sit here and put a number on it right now," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "But the beauty is Johnny Mundt's coming off playing a real strong football game, and we have Jacob Hollister and Nick Muse ready to be activated off our practice squad if we see a role for one of those guys. Then we'll just see how T.J. handles [this week].

"The good news is, it's not one of those situations where he hasn't played or anything like that, he is absolutely game ready, he looks like he's in great shape, feeling really healthy and ready to roll," O'Connell added.

3. Hello, Heinicke

Cousins isn't the only quarterback facing his former team.

Washington will go with Taylor Heinicke, who has won his first two starts this season since stepping in for Carson Wentz.

Heinicke first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2015, but an off-field injury in 2016 kept him from being an option after the injury to Teddy Bridgewater.

"I just think he's an incredibly smart player. Scrappy, tough," O'Connell said. "He's willing to stand in that pocket in the face of rush and keep his eyes downfield and find the open man. He can create off-schedule. He's going to make not only the right play, but he's going to try to situationally make the play he has to make – whether it's with his legs, whether it's off-schedule, whether it's checking them into a run versus a premier look. You can tell he's incredibly prepared. They've got him well-coached to run the offense they see it being successful with their personnel, and they have some really good players around him that I think cause you a lot of problems, for sure."

View photos of Vikings players during practice on Nov. 2 at TCO Performance Center.

4. And for the follow-up?

The Vikings defense recorded four sacks, picked off Kyler Murray twice and came up with an overdue stand in the red zone.

Za'Darius Smith briefly left the game with a knee injury but returned to finish off the Cardinals and end his day with 3.0 sacks to earn NFC Player of the Week honors.

Smith rushed from multiple different spots, and the Vikings were still able to contain some of the damage Murray can do when he escapes the pocket.

5. One away from 500

Adam Thielen recorded six receptions last week to move ahead of Steve Jordan for third on the Vikings all-time list.

The next one will make him the third player in Vikings history to record 500-plus catches along with Pro Football Hall of Famers Cris Carter (1,004) and Randy Moss (587).