Preview: Vikings need another fast start versus home-skidding Redskins
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (4-1) at Washington Redskins (2-3).
When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
Where: FedEx Field (capacity: 79,000), Landover, Md.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd year, 10-17); Redskins -- Mike Shanahan (3rd year, 13-24; 19th year overall, 167-125).
Series: The regular-season series is tied 8-8. The Redskins have won three of five playoff meetings.
Last meeting: With Christian Ponder (concussion) and Adrian Peterson (knee) in the locker room, Joe Webb completed 4 of 5 passes for 84 yards and Toby Gerhart ran for 109 yards as the Vikings rallied for a 33-26 win on Dec. 24 at FedEx Field.
At stake: The Vikings have looked like a different team during their three-game win streak and have a chance to take sole possession of first place in the NFC North, with Chicago on its bye. The Redskins are a game back of Philadelphia and the New York Giants in the NFC East and are looking to snap a home losing streak that reached eight games with last weekend's 24-17 loss to Atlanta.
Vikings: S Mistral Raymond (ankle) is out. LB Marvin Mitchell (calf) is doubtful. WR Jerome Simpson (foot/low back) is questionable. HB Adrian Peterson (ankle), LG Charlie Johnson (low back), S Andrew Sendejo (ankle), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), QB Christian Ponder (knee) and WR Percy Harvin (hamstring) are probable.
Redskins: S Brandon Meriweather (knee) and DE Doug Worthington (calf) are out. WR Pierre Garcon (foot), CB Cedric Griffin (hamstring) and QB Robert Griffin III (head) are questionable. NT Barry Cofield (shoulder), CB DeAngelo Hall (knee) and RB Evan Royster (knee) are probable.
Five things to watch
The RG3 show: Griffin was a limited participant in practice throughout the week, but all indications are the No. 2 overall draft pick will make his sixth NFL start against a Vikings defense that hasn't seen anything like him. He ranks second in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.4) and fourth in passer rating (101.0), has thrown only one interception in 139 passes and leads all quarterbacks with 241 rushing yards on 42 attempts (5.7 average). That means the Vikings have to be ready not only for Shanahan's movement-heavy West Coast offense, but option plays some haven't seen since college. Gap discipline and sound tackling will be crucial, especially from the corners if the Vikings' interior can spill those plays to the edge.
An ailing attack: The Vikings have finished off wins at Washington the past two seasons with Peterson on the sideline. He sprained his right ankle in the second quarter on Nov. 29, 2010, and tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee last Christmas Eve on a hit by Redskins S DeJon Gomes, whom Peterson will have in his sights on Sunday. The knee has healed to the point Peterson ranks eighth in the NFL with 420 yards on 96 carries (4.4 average) -- a far heavier workload than many expected early in the season. But he was limited in practice this week because of a sprained left ankle that admittedly left him "out of whack" in last weekend's win over Tennessee. Throw in Simpson's tenuous status and the hamstring Harvin tweaked on Thursday, and the Vikings may have to get more production than usual from the second unit -- albeit against a Redskins team that ranks 26th in total defense (416.4 yards per game) and 28th in points allowed (147).
Playing for 'Mama': Backup DL Everson Griffen rejoined the Vikings on Friday, two days after getting the shocking word of his visiting mother's death. He was visibly shaken while speaking briefly with reporters but was expected to make the trip and play on Sunday, saying that's what "Mama" would want him to do. Griffen practically has been a starter this season, playing 178 of 352 gradable defensive snaps (50.6%), and he's tied with RE Jared Allen for the team lead with three sacks. He's an emotional guy and the Vikings no doubt will try to channel that in a positive direction against the Redskins, knowing Griffen will be playing for more than himself.
Get on top: The Redskins' lengthy home drought will have fans on edge, giving the Vikings another chance to turn the vibe in the building negative from go, just as they did when Harvin returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown two weeks ago in Detroit. The Vikings have never trailed during their winning streak, holding a lead for more than 159 of a possible 180 minutes, meaning they haven't had to play catch-up since Sept. 16 at Indianapolis either. This also is the Vikings' first outdoor game of the regular season and their first game on grass. The forecast calls for game-time temperature in the low 70s with minimal wind. Players were instructed to bring two types of cleats and warned the field is chewed up between the hashes. They must get a handle on the conditions during pregame, because once the game kicks off, there are no excuses.
Kicking games: The Redskins released struggling veteran PK Billy Cundiff on Tuesday and replaced him with former UCLA standout Kai Forbath, 25, who was 5-for-5 in the preseason with Tampa Bay this year but has never appeared in a regular-season NFL game. No matter how bad Washington's place-kicking has been -- Graham Gano made only 55 of 76 attempts (72.4%) over the past two seasons, and Cundiff was 7-of-12 (58.3%) before his release -- the unknown has to be a little frightening, too. Forbath beat out Vikings PK Blair Walsh for the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2009, but how much faith will Shanahan show in him out of the gate? He only attempted one field goal from 50-plus as a Bruins senior in 2010, connecting on a 51-yarder to beat Oregon State.
Judd Zulgad: The Vikings already have exceeded their victory total from last season, and as cliché as it may sound, their one-game-at-a-time philosophy seems to be working. Look for Peterson to have a big day in his return to the stadium where he ripped up his left knee last Dec. 24. After facing Titans backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck last Sunday, the Vikings will get no such break this week. Griffin is expected to start for the Redskins and will provide the Vikings defense with a challenge. However, the Vikings have played good, tough defense since a Week 3 victory over San Francisco and will attempt to continue that on Sunday. Vikings 27, Washington 21.
Tom Pelissero: The Vikings have played so well over the past three weeks, especially on defense. But if Griffin is healthy, the Redskins' option offense will present a challenge unlike anything they've seen. Every Washington game so far has been decided by one score and this one doesn't figure to be any different, one way or another. It's a coin flip, and the edge goes to the home team -- no matter how long it's been since that made a difference. Redskins 30, Vikings 27.