Washington faces Minnesota on Thursday Night Football

Robert Griffin, III leads Washington in to Minnesota to face the Vikings on Thursday Night Football.

Robert Griffin, III leads Washington in to Minnesota to face the Vikings on Thursday Night Football.

Opening up Week 10 of the NFL 2013 season, we preview the Washington Redskins (3-5) visiting  the Minnesota Vikings (1-7) on Thursday Night Football. Both teams are on a quick turnaround after playing last Sunday, but both expect to be ready to hit the field and each other with everything they’ve got. This is the fourth time in a row these teams have met in the regular season, and the Vikings have won three of the last four.

Redskins’ second year quarterback Robert Griffin III seems to have finally found his groove this season. After sitting  Griffin out all preseason to rest the knee that ended Washington’s playoff run, the Redskins had a slow 0-3 start. However, it seems once RG3 got past concerns about his knee, he gradually began to use all the skills and mobility we saw last year.

Griffin is a true double threat, like so many young quarterbacks (Terrelle Pryor, for example) who can run and rush and catch as well as they pass. This mobility can lead to a higher incidence of injury but Griffin has been making an effort to be more careful with himself lately.

Behind Griffin we have an exotic creature hardly seen in the NFL any longer: a fullback. So many teams are phasing out or eliminating this position altogether, but the Redskins learned last week that this is a rare bird worth preserving.  Darrell Young was critical in Washington’s win over Oakland Sunday with his three rushing touchdowns. He admitted he has not actually scored three touchdowns since high school. “It’s been a long time,” he laughed.

Young functions as a power back but also lends his skill, size and strength to blocking for running back Alfred Morris,as well as picking up blitzes and getting those grinding yards between the big passes.

These three together would be headache enough for the Vikings, but add 13-year vet Santana Moss and things get a bit more frustrating. Former Colt Pierre Garcon had a career game against the Raiders and Roy Helu, the other running back is doing his part in the Redskins’ backfield and beyond.

Helu had two carries for 23 yards with an 11.5 average on Sunday.  Garcon had 7 catches for 172 yard, and averaged 24.6 yards per catch. Moss did not do much as far as numbers with only two catches but his presence on the filed opens things up for other receivers and rushing plays. The defense cannot discount him, he must be covered, because letting him run free is a mistake more than one team has made in the past.

Morris, on the other hand, had 25 carries for 21 yards, averaging 4.8 yards and one touchdown.  Young was the unsung hero, however, scoring three touchdowns on five carries. Number-wise he only got 12 yards, but in this case, it is the results that count. Young is also credited the game-winning touchdown that sealed the deal for Washington.

The Vikings have got to tighten up their secondary and the defensive line has to get after RG3 and keep him contained. Forcing this quarterback out of the pocket can have game-losing consequences. The Vikings need to collapse and seal the pocket so Griffin cannot escape to run. Passing lanes need to be shut down or monitored because Griffin’s arm is as strong as ever and he can and will heave that ball down the field.

Keeping RG3 contained should help keep Morris and Young busy, as they both act as auxiliary blockers when needed. Screen plays have become meat and potatoes for the Redskins, so someone has to be watching for the check down and the short pass as well.

The Redskins will have to watch out for the Vikings’ three Ps –Ponder, Petersen and Patterson. Quarterback Christina Ponder is starting for the third time in a row Thursday, which indicates recent acquisition Josh Freeman either is not ready to play after his debut concussion against the Giants, or Ponder is pleasing coach Leslie Frazier with his performance.

On Sunday, Ponder completed 25 of 37 passes for 236 yards against the Dallas Cowboys, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. He had one interception but also scored a touchdown and only lost 12 yards on two sacks. However, he did fumble twice and one of those went to the Cowboys.

Ponder keeps plays going with his feet, and while he is not as mobile as Griffin, he has no compunction about taking off for the first down marker when his men down field are covered. Ponder has rushed 24 times for 143 yards this season and averages six yards per dash. He has also scored four rushing touchdowns.

Any quarterback under pressure is a quarterback who is capable of making mistakes. Make a passer hurry to get rid of the ball or avoid a sack, and the defense is doing the job. The Redskins can keep Ponder reeling if they can get the pressure down the middle.  Catching him on the run is not as complicated as catching RG3, but he can be elusive and crafty. After three years in the league he has learned a trick or two for misdirection and escaping pursuit.

Thursday night will be a pivotal game for the Vikings and Redskins. In the latter half of the season, the playoff picture becomes clearer with each minute of play and these two teams are not in high consideration in that race.  A win for either team will not move them much closer than they are now, but it will go a long way towards boosting confidence and gaining experience for games to come. Griffin is hitting his stride and Ponder is working his way out of a slump.

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