Welcome to another installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Washington Redskins.
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Redskins.
For the fifth time in nine games, a Minnesota Vikings game boiled down to one final defensive possession.
After Thursday night's 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins, the defense now holds a 2-3 record in those situations after stopping quarterback Robert Griffin III on four tries, aided by some dropped passes.
The Redskins' 433 yards are the most on the Vikings defense since the Sept. 29 win in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite allowing scoring drives of 50-, 77-, 80- and 77-yards on the Redskins first four drives, the Vikings held them scoreless for the final 24:22 of play.
Redskins running back Alfred Morris racked up 88 yards on 17 carries in the first half, but saw just nine handoffs the rest of the game as the Vikings held the Redskins to a field goal in the final 30 minutes of play. Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon caught seven of the 10 passes thrown his way for 119 yards and a touchdown, mostly off receiver screens and a couple post routes.
The Redskins' pistol offense didn't stretch the field much as safety Andrew Sendejo essentially lived inside the box, finishing with a team-high 16 tackles. Misdirection caused by their read-option plays had the Vikings guessing at the ball carrier, which led to some big plays off apparent missed assignments.
Griffin's first half performance buoyed the Redskins' poor second-half performance as he threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in the first 30 minutes. In the second half, the Vikings sacked Griffin four times and held him scoreless.
After allowing 433 yards and 27 points on Thursday, the Vikings defense now allows 399 yards/game (30th) and 31 points/game (30th).
Base: 21/39 [54%]
Nickel: 16/39 [41%]
6-2: 2/39 [5%]
Base: 17/36 [47%]
Nickel: 19/36 [53%]
Base: 38/75 [51%]
Nickel: 35/75 [47%]
6-2: 2/75 [2%]
1) Playing short-handed from injuries, the Vikings defense stayed in base for 51 percent of the snaps. Cornerback Chris Cook, safety Jamarca Sanford and defensive tackles Fred Evans and Letroy Guion were out on Thursday, leaving just six healthy defensive linemen. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams had to put all six in the game during two situations when they were backed up to their own goal line. Especially limited along the interior line, rookie Sharrif Floyd made his first start at the three-technique alongside defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who switched to nose for a season-high 63 snaps. Floyd saw a career-high 47 snaps on Thursday night and seemed to struggle holding his own in run defense. Redskins tackle Trent Williams consistently chipped Floyd out of the hole for gains of 14 and eight yards along the left side. Williams played his best game this season from the nose tackle position, racking up 2.5 sacks on Griffin as well as pinning down Morris for gains of one and two yards in the game as he worked through double teams. Defensive end Everson Griffen mainly filled in along the interior as he had one sack and tied the team high with five quarterback hurries, along with defensive end Brian Robison.
2) Defenders appeared to blitz on 10 on Griffin's 42 dropbacks [24%], though Griffin felt pressure 19 times [45%]. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Marvin Mitchell each rushed at least four times, Greenway accounting for two hits on the quarterback.
The Redskins' read-option seemed to give the Vikings front seven trouble at times in identifying the ball carrier. Morris hit the gap between Greenway and linebacker Erin Henderson en route to his longest run of the day, a 26-yarder in the first quarter, as Henderson chased the lead blocker and Greenway got caught behind a blocker. However, the Redskins' screen game hurt the most. Redskins' receivers gained 171 of their 281 yards after the catch, just under 61 percent.
Griffin's first touchdown pass came off a receiver screen as he passed to Garcon two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Mitchell appears to blow the assignment as he bites on play action and slips trying to change directions to catch Garcon, who runs 10 yards into the endzone for the 10-7 lead.
Garcon gained another 32 yards off a similar play on their third drive. He motioned from the backfield and in line with three other receivers on the right side. The Vikings had just three defenders to four receivers on that side as no one covers Garcon. Griffin immediately throws the screen as Henderson whiffed on the initial attempt. Garcon ran over Sendejo a few steps later as Greenway also missed. Cornerback Josh Robinson, the guy who started farthest away from the play, forced Garcon out of bounds 32 yards downfield.
3) Each week we'll breakdown a sequence in the game that helped decide the outcome. We'll take a look at the Redskins' 14-play, 76-yard drive that the Vikings stopped at their own four-yard line to seal the one-score victory.
After kicker Blair Walsh's 40-yard field goal for the seven-point lead, the Redskins got the ball back with 3:36 left in the game. Griffin ran the ball or handed it off six of the first seven plays of the drive, opening after the two-minute warning with a 4th-and-1 attempt from midfield. On the play, Greenway appears to hesitate as Griffin goes through the read-option. As Greenway and Robison make the inside move to the running back, Griffin runs the keeper off the right side for a 12-yard gain.
Two plays later, tight end Jordan Reed caught a 17-yard pass over Henderson down the middle to take the ball to the eight-yard line.
After running back Roy Helu's four-yard gain on first and goal, the Vikings blitz Sendejo, Greenway and safety Mistral Raymond. Under pressure, Griffin hits Reed just across the goal line, but it's dropped. On 3rd and goal, Greenway, Sendejo and Henderson blitz as Griffin's throw is a little high and Garcon drops it on the slant. On the final play, Raymond and Henderson blitz as Griffin's throws to receiver Santana Moss on a fade route. Moss makes the catch, but is out of bounds.
4) The Redskins converted 9-of-16 third-down attempts [56%], but failed on their final six attempts and went 2-of-8 in the second half overall. Seven of the nine Redskins' conversions came through the air as they struggled to prevent completions. The Vikings had just two pass deflections as Griffin had just 13 incompletions, four of them drops - two of those on the goal line stand.
5) Sendejo and Raymond were rather transparent in terms of coverage on Thursday as Griffin did not throw farther than 20 yards. His longest completions were due in part to missed tackles by the Vikings. Receiver Leonard Hankerson's 29-yard completion seems to be a coverage bust. Robinson covers Hankerson's deep crossing route and pointed off coverage, seeming to expect safety help. Raymond is in single-high and not in position to help as Hankerson makes the catch without a purple jersey 10 yards around him.
Game Ball: Kevin Williams. Switching to nose tackle may have been just what Williams needed. The veteran seemed to capitalize on the new perspective as he would muscle through double teams and, at times, take advantage of a single block as Redskins guards would break off to chip Allen or Robison. Williams' 2.5 sacks are more than he's had in his past 23 games combined and almost as many as Letroy Guion, who switched to nose tackle 1.5 years ago and has just three sacks since.
Goat(s): Linebackers. According to ProFootballFocus.com, linebackers were on the hook for 103 of the 171 yards after the catch by Redskins receivers. Griffin also averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on seven rushing attempts off the read-option as Vikings linebackers failed to keep up. As a whole, the Redskins gained 191 rushing yards and averaged 7.4 yards-per-carry off tackle.