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First-and-Ten: Vikings @ Redskins

November 10, 2017
It’s the (4-4) Washington Redskins hosting the (5-2) Minnesota Vikings at FedExField this Sunday at 1, almost a year after Washington put together a mostly solid performance in all phases to beat the Vikings out of Washington’s bye.

Now, the challenge is this: Can Washington handle prosperity (they struggle big time in this area) and can they recover from such an emotional, gut-spilling win in Seattle and a long-flight home?

Also, can the much-improved Redskins defense under Greg Manusky (pictured above) do much of the heavy lifting, if the offense struggles as expected? 

Let’s take a look at “First-and-Ten” including our “Monumental Matchup!” for this key game. The Redskins ideally need to split their next two (at New Orleans next week) to remain in good standing.


The Redskins wide receivers vs. Minnesota cornerbacks is our "Monumental Matchup!" : As we mentioned in “Inside the Numbers” the Vikings are a terrific defense but have not really been super tested, like they might be this week, if Kirk Cousins and the Skins offense is sharp.

As everyone knows, Josh Doctson made a huge 38-yard catch on a big time throw by Cousins down the left sideline to set up the go-ahead touchdown in Seattle. What you may not remember is Doctson finished the game with three catches for 59 yards overall and is slowly getting better. 

Doctson has caught eight-of-nine catchable targets for 110 yards with two touchdowns in the last four games, per’s (PFF) grading system. During that span, per PFF, Doctson and Cousins have generated a 122.0 passer rating, which is # 13 out of 77 receivers with at least 11 targets during that span.

Terrelle Pryor has been a disappointment based on pre-season expectations and his size/speed makeup, but he contributed to the win last week, with a big third-down catch on the Redskins first scoring drive and then drawing a defensive pass interference call on Richard Sherman in the end zone to set up that same touchdown drive.

Washington’s receivers may be bolstered by the return of Jamison Crowder, but they’ll be going against a great free safety in Harrison Smith, who ranks as PFF’s second-best coverage safety. He’s PFF’s # 1 safety overall with three interceptions and two passes defended on 23 targets this season.

The Redskins also must deal with stud corner Xavier Rhodes, who received a big contract extension earlier this season.

And Ten …. 

1 – So who can the Redskins target on Minnesota’s defense? Well – not everybody can be a stud and that sums up Trae Waynes, who per PFF is allowing 1.54 yards per coverage snap this season, which has him at # 66 among the top 73 top qualifying cornerbacks in the NFL.

2 – The Redskins will also have to get Vernon Davis into the fold early as they’ve done a great job of this year. Per PFF, Davis has brought in 23-of-25 catchable targets for 384 yards on the season. He was terrific last week in a couple of big spots. He had few clutch third-down catches (including a 3 rd -and-1) and a big 2 nd-and-15 situation catch. Davis banged his hand up in the win, but should be OK. He scored a touchdown against the Vikings last year.

3 – Offensive line protection will once again be a concern for the Redskins. They might get Brandon Scherff back and possibly one other starter, but it’s not likely that Trent Williams will return.

Ty Nsekhe could return but he’s missed a lot of time so that means it could and likely will be former Vikings offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings against stud pass rusher Everson Griffen.

Per PFF. Clemmings has allowed two sacks, two hits and four quarterback hurries in 79 pass-blocking snaps over the last two weeks, manning the left-tackle spot for Washington. That’s not very good, but what did you expect. He’s still extremely raw but has some natural talent that Bill Callahan is charged with developing.

Griffen is officially credited with 10.0 sacks on the year, per NFLGSIS. Griffen is banged up with a foot injury, but barring a late setback, will play in Landover.

4 – The Redskins must run the ball. They have no choice. As we mentioned in “Inside the Numbers,” they did a good job of it last year against the Vikings who are better numbers wise this year. Sure, Rob Kelley had two short rushing touchdowns last week and that counts for something, but Washington needs a lot more from Kelley and no fumbles along with a little bit of production from Samaje Perine.

5 – Special teams were a huge problem against the Cowboys and at times, throughout the first-half of the season. However, for the most part, they were good in Seattle. The defense came up with a huge three-and-out after a short, partially blocked punt but that was about the only blemish. They need to be a lot better. Period.

6 – So many critics loathe Kirk Cousins for whatever reason they have and that’s fine. He’s far from elite. He’s not great. He’s good to very good, as I always say. Per PFF, he ranks tied for 12 th best quarterback through nine weeks with a grade a hair below Ben Roethlisberger and tied with Matt Stafford.

One skill that jumps out? Cousins has a 120.9 rating against the blitz, which PFF has as # 2 in the NFL.

7 – One more for the road on Kirk Cousins. Per my pal Jake Russell, an author and contributor to the Washington Post,  Cousins is doing just fine and dandy this year. Leave him alone is the nice way of saying critics should…well you know.

8 – For the Redskins on defense, they might not have to play as spirited as they did last week in Seattle, but Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen can hurt you, if you let them.

Thielen has 48 receptions for 627 yards so far this year and had a touchdown against the Redskins last year.

Diggs only has 27 receptions for 422 yards, but has big play ability and four touchdowns, including a 59-yard score. Diggs, from Maryland, hurt the Redskins last year with 13 catches for 164 yards, mostly working against at that time, rookie Kendall Fuller.

Keenum shouldn’t hurt you but he has a 2:1 touchdown to turnover ratio and has only been sacked five times so far this year. His 88.8 rating is certainly not great but barring a first-half disaster, he should be able to hold off the returning Teddy Bridgewater.

9 – Watch out for Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph who had a touchdown on five receptions for 69 yards last year in Washington, along with 32 catches for 271 yards and three scores this year.

The Redskins are still brutal defensively at defending tight ends and mobile, running quarterbacks so Rudolph presents another challenge in that regard. Last week, they allowed a short play-action boot touchdown to Seahawks # 2 tight-end Luke Wilson and on the season, they’ve allowed 46 receptions (sixth-most) for 624 yards (MOST in NFL) and four touchdowns to the position.

10 – My pal Evan Silva of projects the Vikings as a winner with his team totals at 22 – 20.5 in favor of Minnesota. He cites the Redskins with the 11 th best pass-defense DVOA, which is a complicated formula that many analysts are using for a true evaluation of performance.

Silva also correctly notes that Jerick McKinnon is the running back that Washington must have more fear of, over Latavius Murray and the returning Mack Brown. McKinnon, who can hurt you as both a runner and receiver had 122 yards in the Vikings last game on 20 touches and almost doubled Murray in snap count.

As Silva notes, the Redskins defense has been very good at stopping the run (3.77 per attempt) and has allowed the tenth -fewest receiving yards to running backs on the season (330).

Chris Russell has covered the Washington Redskins for eight seasons for multiple media outlets and was a part of the Redskins Radio Network broadcast team for five years. He covers the Redskins, Washington Valor and Baltimore Brigade for Monumental Sports Network (  Listen to Chris on Washington D.C.'s # 1 sports radio station, 106.7 The FAN