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Vikings Roundup, 10/31: Stressful Stretching

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings defenders were alerted this week to the stress the Redskins offense can place on opponents by stretching them down and across the field.

Washington ranks atop the NFL with 12 pass plays that have gained 40 or more yards this season and is tied for third in the league with 34 passes that have gained at least 20 yards.

Minnesota (3-5) will try to keep that attack grounded when Washington (3-5) visits TCF Bank Stadium at noon (CT) Sunday.

Free agent signee DeSean Jackson switched from the Eagles to the Redskins this offseason, but his numbers have continued to soar. He has an NFL-best seven catches of at least 40 yards this season for a per catch average of 20.8 yards (664 yards on 32 catches).

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Jackson's speed and ability to separate from defenders with a seemingly extra burst stress a defense "a lot."

"He's got great speed, great quickness, great acceleration, so yeah, he's stressful," Zimmer said. 

The Vikings have allowed 22 pass plays this season to gain at least 20 yards (tied for 20th in the NFL) and four pass plays to gain at least 40 yards (tied for 16th), but still haven't allowed an opposing passer to have a 300-yard game this season.

Washington's Colt McCoy threw for 299 Monday at Dallas, Kirk Cousins threw for 427 in a loss at Philadelphia and 354 in a loss at Arizona before being benched for McCoy at halftime in Week 7. Reports, however, indicate that Robert Griffin III will return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2.

Twenty of the 34 pass plays to gain 20 yards for the Redskins this season traveled at least 15 yards beyond the line of scrimmage through the air, six were thrown between 5 and 14 yards, and eight were thrown less than 5 yards beyond — or even behind — the line of scrimmage and capitalized on missed assignments or missed tackles or both.

"They throw the ball and they've got some receivers that can really get out and run so from that aspect of it we've got to do a job," Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards said. "That's one of our goals, not only just to stop the run, but to come back and don't give up big plays. That's one of our main focuses each week, 'When do they like to take the shots, down and distance-wise, position of the field?' So from that aspect of it that is one of our goals and one of our concentrations from week to week."

WR Pierre Garcon has four pass plays of at least 20 yards and two of 40 or more this season, but TE Niles Paul's seven catches of at least 20 yards and the six such gains by RB Roy Helu, Jr. have also perplexed defenses.

Edwards said Redskins players have enough speed to stretch defenses in multiple directions. 

"With this offense, number one they can vertical stretch you down the field, but also, underneath, they've got enough speed in their crossing routes and their opposite high-lows and their bunches and clusters and those kinds of things that we've got to do a good job."

Bunch or cluster formations are used to try to confuse defenders, but Edwards said Vikings defenders have established a good line of communication to aid clarity.

"Our guys underneath in coverage have done a good job of talking and communicating about the different pass-offs and that kind of thing," Edwards said. "That's another area that we've tried to stress and guys have gotten better at it and more comfortable schematically at what we're trying to do underneath."

STOP FIRST, STRIP SECOND: Rookie Anthony Barr's forced fumble, recovery and 27-yard return for a touchdown to beat Tampa Bay 19-13 on the first play of overtime last week helped him earn NFC Defensive Rookie of the Week, but he spoke this week about being selective when going after the ball so that a missed tackle doesn't occur.

Zimmer double-stamped that philosophy Friday during his week-ending press conference.

"We're going to make sure we make the tackle first, that's the number one thing," Zimmer said. We'll work on stripping the football as well. I don't want to be a football team that tries to strip balls and miss tackles. The good defensive teams are sound fundamentally, they are great tackling teams, and then, usually, you're getting a lot of fumbles because you're in the right place and you're hitting people. You get some stripping, obviously, but that's really not what we're about."

PARTICIPATION: Zimmer said Brian Robison (glute) and Jabari Price (hamstring) should be "good to go." Robison fully participated Friday for the first time week, and Price was limited and is the only player listed as questionable. Click here for the full injury reports for the Vikings and Redskins.

WEATHER: The Vikings opted to hold Friday's practice indoors at Winter Park. The National Weather Service forecast for Sunday is calling for a high of 52 with 15 mph SSE wind and gusts up to 25 mph.

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