EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings will travel to the nation's capital this weekend with the hopes of snapping their three-game losing streak.
The Vikings play at the Redskins in a noon (CT) matchup. Minnesota is 5-3 and is in first place in the NFC North but hasn't won in more than a month (Oct. 9 against Houston).
The Vikings will face a stern test in a Washington offense that ranks fourth in the league by averaging 410.3 yards per game. Minnesota's defense, meanwhile, ranks first in the NFL by allowing just 15.8 points per game and is third is yards allowed (298.9 per game).
Washington is coming off its bye week and is 4-3-1 after playing to a 27-27 tie against Cincinnati in London in Week 8.
On the airwaves: The game will be broadcast by FOX (KMSP FOX 9 in the Twin Cities). Dick Stockton, Chris Spielman and Kristina Pink will be on the call. There is also a national radio broadcast on Westwood One by Tom McCarthy and Ross Tucker. The game also will be broadcast on KFAN 100.3-FM and across the Minnesota Vikings Radio Network by the team of Paul Allen, Pete Bercich, Greg Coleman and Ben Leber.
Three things to watch:
Find a way— Eric Smith
The schedule has flipped to November and autumn leaves are falling, which means many teams are gearing up for a run at the playoffs. The Vikings are still clearly among the teams aiming for the postseason, and a win would keep Minnesota pointing in that direction.
There's a big difference between 6-3 and 5-4. A win Sunday would keep the Vikings atop their division while a loss would bring them into a tie with the Lions, who have their bye this week after topping the Vikings last week.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned this week that he senses the confidence of his team is coming back and looked similar to how Minnesota played in the opening five games of the season.
Perhaps a big defensive play swings momentum in Minnesota's favor on Sunday. Or maybe a late field goal catapults the Vikings to a win. Either way, a victory would go a long way in helping the Vikings get on track for the postseason for the second straight season.
Getting settled under Shurmur— Lindsey Young
It will be interesting to see what the Vikings offense looks like after having more than a full week under Pat Shurmur, who was named interim offensive coordinator when Norv Turner resigned on Nov. 2.
Last Sunday marked Shurmur's first game of leading Minnesota's play calls, but he had only assumed the duties a few days before. During that matchup against Detroit, the Vikings unveiled a couple of new looks offensively, including lining up nose tackle Linval Joseph as a fullback on multiple goal-line plays. Rhett Ellison also said that the play that gained him a rushing touchdown had only been installed in the playbook that week.
Shurmur said that the unit felt a bit rusty against the Lions, but there were several good takeaways despite the heartbreaking overtime loss. This week, he's hoping things run even more smoothly.
"We've got a little bit more time to put the plan in, kind of be able to look at the things we're doing and try to run the plays that we feel are going to work the best," Shurmur said.
Defending third downs and tight ends— Craig Peters
Washington has been prolific on offense this season, and Minnesota has generally been difficult to move the ball or score on in 2016.
The Vikings opened the season particularly strong on third-down defense, allowing conversions on 27 of 79 plays (34.2 percent) in their first six games. Minnesota, however, has allowed each of the past two opponents to convert 50 percent of third downs (7 of 14 apiece by the Bears and Lions), dropping their season rate to 38.3 (ranks 12th in NFL).
The Redskins have excelled at converting third downs, going 46-for-103 (44.7 percent) through their first eight games, which ranks sixth in the NFL.
Another trend that the Vikings must reverse is production by opposing tight ends. After limiting Zach Ertz and Brent Celek to a catch apiece for 21 yards combined at Philadelphia, the Vikings allowed Zach Miller seven catches for 88 yards to lead the Bears in both categories. They also allowed Eric Ebron to total seven catches for 92 yards last week against Detroit.
This week, Minnesota has another tall task in defending Jordan Reed, who leads Washington with 42 receptions. Reed has 415 yards and three touchdown catches. The Redskins also have Vernon Davis at the position. The former 49er has 23 catches for 316 yards and a score.
—The Vikings offense ranks 31st in the NFL with 72.6 rushing yards per game. Conversely, Washington's defense ranks 31st in yards allowed per rush (4.85).
—Minnesota's defense has allowed 4.3 yards per play on first down, the best mark in the league.
— Vikings cornerback Terence Newman has nine of his 41 career interceptions against Washington, the most he has against any one team.
— The Vikings have just five giveaways this season, their lowest total through Week 9 in franchise history.
"We didn't win the game the other day, but I was proud of the team, the way they fought, the way they competed and the way they played. I just felt like during the game, they looked like my football team has looked." — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on his team's mindset after the bye.
*Worth a watch
Listen in as Zimmer was mic'd up during Sunday's 22-16 overtime loss to the Lions.