Preview: Vikings vs. Redskins
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (3-7) vs. Washington Redskins (5-5).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: FedEx Field (capacity: 91,704), Landover, Md.
Line: Redskins by 1.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (interim, debut); Redskins -- Mike Shanahan (1st year, 5-5; 17th year overall, 159-108).
Series: Redskins lead 11-8.
Last meeting: Coincidentally, the Vikings won 19-16 at Washington on Sept. 11, 2006, in their first game under coach Brad Childress, who was fired on Monday.
At stake: Six days after Childress' dismissal, Frazier and the Vikings will begin the process of trying to salvage something from their lost season. Their long-shot playoff hopes hinge on winning six in a row and getting help, but that's not even in the discussion at this stage. Snapping a nine-game road losing streak and forgetting the past -- including last weekend's 31-3 blowout against Green Bay -- was the focus all week. A win would keep the Redskins in the playoff picture, as their surprise overtime victory did last week at Tennessee.
Vikings: WR Sidney Rice (hip) is questionable but said on Friday he expects to play the entire game. WR Bernard Berrian (groin), CB Chris Cook (knee) and S Eric Frampton (hamstring) also are questionable -- Frazier hoped to determine Berrian's status on Saturday. S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) is out. RE Jared Allen (neck), S Husain Abdullah (ankle), QB Brett Favre (ankle/foot/right shoulder), SLB Chad Greenway (eye) and C John Sullivan (calf) are probable. RG Anthony Herrera (knee) was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, joining CB Cedric Griffin (knee).
Redskins: S LaRon Landry (Achilles) and RB Ryan Torain (hamstring) are out. QB Donovan McNabb (hamstring) is probable. LB Lorenzo Alexander (hamstring), WR Brandon Banks (knee), Derrick Dockery (knee), DE Kedric Golston (elbow/groin), G Artis Hicks (thigh, DE Jeremy Jarmon (hamstring), LB Rocky McIntosh (thigh), WR Santana Moss (knee), C Casey Rabach (knee) and CB Carlos Rogers (hamstring) all are questionable. RB Clinton Portis (abdomen/groin) on Thursday became the ninth player on injured reserve -- a list that also includes P Josh Bidwell (hip) and WRs Mike Furrey (concussion) and Malcolm Kelly (hamstring).
Five things to watch
Play to win: One lasting snapshot from Childress' final game as Vikings coach is Favre taking the snap on the next-to-last play with only 10 men on the field, then standing flat-footed in the pocket before heaving downfield for WR Greg Camarillo -- a needless, bizarre play to call with a 28-point deficit and seconds remaining. It was, however, a fitting end to a game that saw the Vikings crumble on both sides of the ball and players spar verbally with each other and coaches on the sideline. There were no signs of quit, though. If anything, the sideline exchanges indicated the opposite. So, will the coaching change really make a difference for a team that has played hard, but simply hasn't played good football? Frazier's emphases all week were fundamentals, attention to detail and taking care of the football. The Vikings' NFL-worst minus-13 turnover margin probably makes the last one the most important.
In Bevell's hands: Childress' departure means the offense belongs to coordinator Darrell Bevell, whose most pressing task is figuring out how to get the best from Favre. The numbers -- 60.2% completions, an NFL-high 17 interceptions and a 69.8 passer rating that would be Favre's worst as a starter -- don't tell the full story. But there are times this season Favre has appeared worn out or simply disinterested, and Bevell surely is aware his close friend and 41-year-old quarterback needs a lift. The Redskins might provide one themselves -- their defense statistically is the NFL's worst (411.1 yards allowed per game) and they'll be without Landry, who regularly comes down to stop the run and blitz. The first step to exploiting that hole is running the ball effectively with HB Adrian Peterson. The second is giving Favre the plays he feels best about running and whatever freedom he felt he lacked under Childress to adjust on the fly and expose the weaknesses the Redskins have all over the field.
Percy's touches: There's a good chance one of Frazier's requests to Bevell is that he manufacture more touches for WR Percy Harvin, who had only four -- two catches for 12 yards and two rushes for 18 yards -- against the Packers. That's inexcusable for a multidimensional threat who can be just as dangerous a zone runner as he is a receiver. Harvin has improved his overall game, but detailed route-running still isn't his strong suit. So, whether it's a single-back look or -- gasp -- even the Wildcat, Harvin just needs the ball in his hands, period. If Childress was holding back anything from Bevell in that regard, now's the time to bring it out.
In the zone: Assuming Cook suits up, the Vikings are expected to take the field with the same secondary that started against the Packers and got shredded -- including Cook and Asher Allen playing outside in the nickel defense. It's not like the Vikings have a better option in Lito Sheppard or Frank Walker. Frazier and de facto coordinator Fred Pagac have to figure out ways to limit their young corners' one-on-one challenges against a Redskins team that doesn't do much right -- but can pass the football (247.5 yards per game, 7.4 yards per attempt). And the Vikings' pass rush has to take advantage of its opportunities against a Washington offensive line bookended by LT Trent Williams and RT Jammal Brown, who each have allowed more than 25 unofficial quarterback pressures this season. Leaning harder on zone concepts in coverage and perhaps playing more split-safety looks are two possibilities to shore up the back end.
Cover up: Washington rookie Brandon Banks has emerged as a home-run threat in the return game, with three kick returns longer than 40 yards (including a 96-yard touchdown) and four punt returns longer than 20 (including a 53-yarder). One of the NFL's smallest players at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, Banks also may be among the fastest, having run the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds while at Kansas State. The Vikings' coverage units snapped out of their funk last week, but the task won't be easy against Banks without at least one of their top teams players (Sanford) and perhaps another (Frampton). Forecasts are calling for sun, light winds and temperatures in the high 40s, so the elements shouldn't prove a hurdle for the Vikings' specialists. Slowing down Banks, however, will have to be a team effort.
Perhaps Childress' firing will have the same impact as Wade Phillips' earlier this month, after which the Cowboys beat the New York Giants and Detroit in consecutive weeks. Until that takes place, though, there's no sense betting on a Vikings team that's regressed badly the past two weeks, hasn't won on the road in more than a year and has shown time and again it'll make enough mistakes to throw away games against all but the NFC's bottom-feeders.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Vikings 23.