EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings have been successful at limiting receiving gains by opposing running backs in the past three games and will try to continue that Sunday against the Redskins.
Washington running back Chris Thompson leads the team with 35 receptions and 453 yards. The 35 receptions are tied for eighth in the NFL among running backs, and he also is tied for the team high with three touchdown catches.
Minnesota's past three opponents have targeted running backs a total of 33 times and recorded 22 receptions for 120 yards (5.45 yards per catch). Those numbers are significantly impacted by Cleveland's Isaiah Crowell recording a 38-yard reception and Matt Dayes gaining 15 on his only target in Week 8.
Browns running back Duke Johnson, who ranks seventh among running backs with 36 catches, was limited to 10 yards on four receptions.
In Week 6, Green Bay's running backs totaled three receptions for four yards on eight targets. The following week, Baltimore's backfield combined for 10 receptions that gained a total of 37 yards on 13 targets. Javorious Allen, who ranks fourth among running backs with 39 receptions, caught eight passes for 29 yards against the Vikings.
The playmaking of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks in the middle of a defense with an intimidating front line and stingy secondary is a major factor.
"It's just about being focused on knowing what back is in there," Barr said Monday. "They have certain guys who like to do certain things … each team does. Just recognizing situations and who is in the ball game. Their alignment, sometimes they cheat a little bit when they're trying to get out. It's about being focused and playing together, trusting the guy next to you."
Samaje Perine has added five receptions for 30 yards, and Robert Kelley has two catches for 14 yards, so Thompson has done the most damage out of the backfield, but Kendricks noted the diversity in Washington's offense.
"They definitely have a good offense, a lot of people everywhere," Kendricks said. "It's going to be a challenge."
The Redskins have six players with at least 20 receptions. Receiver Jamison Crowder is second on the team with 28 catches for 272 yards, and tight end Jordan Reed is next with 27 for 211 with two scores.
Kendricks has been credited with 80 tackles by Vikings coaches, including 51 solo, and Barr ranks second on the team with 60 tackles and 42 solo takedowns.
The former UCLA teammates lamented that Minnesota did not do as well against the run in their most recent outing when Cleveland totaled 115 rushing yards on 22 carries. Crowell did the most damage with a 26-yard touchdown on the Browns first rush of the game.
"Our last game we didn't play the run or play well defensively against Cleveland," Barr said. "We didn't play very well in the first half. We need to stop the run, I think that's the biggest thing. Stop the run and everything else kind of falls into place. That's how it's been all year, so hopefully we can keep it up."
The Vikings defense, nonetheless, ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense (282.1 yards allowed per game), third in rush defense (81.4) and seventh in pass defense (200.8) through eight games.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was a guest of Dan Barreiro's radio show on KFAN 100.3-FM on Monday and was asked about the improvements in run defense. He noted the linebacker duo as well as defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
"Linval is playing really well, and the defensive ends and linebackers," Zimmer said. "Barr is playing good, Kendricks is playing good, so I think it's a combination of things. We haven't been giving up a lot of big plays in the running game. I think it kind of starts with that."
Asked to elaborate on what the Vikings saw in Kendricks when he was in college, Zimmer said the 2015 second-round pick has brought what helped him make plays in college to the NFL.
"He's a guy that was very instinctive in college, ran around, has got good speed and probably is the same way here for us," Zimmer said. "I think the best thing about it is he's been good in pass coverage, too. You can get him on backs and tight ends and things like that, and usually, he does a really good job."
The Vikings have won four in a row and rank in the top eight of 12 major statistics, but the team has work left to accomplish.
"I mean, I feel like we always have things to improve on," Kendricks said. "Especially even after last game, you go back and watch film, and you're making some mistakes here, putting stuff on film that we can get exploited on. So it's about correcting those and getting back to the basics."