Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins: Preview, Storylines and Prediction

The suddenly struggling Washington Redskins entertain the suddenly hot Minnesota Vikings, with the Redskins yet to win at home this season. They've also lost their last two home encounters against the Vikings.

Minnesota enter the game at an impressive 4-1. Their surprising record has been made possible by significant defensive improvement and a power running game, sparked by the return from injury of Adrian Peterson.

The Vikings will look to use Peterson and backfield mate Toby Gerhart to pound an  injury-depleted Redskins' defensive front and set up big plays in the passing game. Speedy wide receiver Percy Harvin and bruising tight end Kyle Rudolph could exploit a weak Washington secondary.

The biggest storyline involving the Redskins concerns the fitness of dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The second-overall pick left last week's defeat to the Atlanta Falcons with a concussion, following a major hit from linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

It was just one of many crunching hits Griffin has already taken in his young pro career. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal reports that Griffin ran a complete practice on Friday and should start, despite his "questionable" status.

Even if he does start, the weekly beating Griffin is taking, raises serious questions about how the Redskins are using him. Running a series of zone option and triple option plays has certainly taken advantage of Griffin's natural athleticism and skills as a runner.

However, this kind of play-calling has made him an easy target for defenders only too willing to lay their best hit on an opposition quarterback. In truth, it's a bit of a catch-22 for Washington head coach Mike Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle.

If they weren't using Griffin's talents outside the pocket, they would receive criticism for failing to maximize their prized asset. The duo do deserve credit for incorporating a lot of what Griffin excelled at during his college days, into their notoriously strict offensive structure.

Finding the right balance is now the key for the Shanahans and for Griffin. The trio should come up with the answers fast, or Vikings' rush end Jared Allen will inflict more pain on Griffin.

Allen leads a Minnesota front four that has no problem getting to the quarterback. They are also receiving more help from a talented group of linebackers.

Griffin would be wise to know where Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are at all times. He would also be smart to turn the game over to his fellow rookie, prolific running back Alfred Morris.

The former Florida Atlantic standout is emerging as a star in Shanahan's zone-running scheme. The system is designed to undermine 4-3 defensive fronts like the one the Vikings play.

Morris has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last two games and the Redskins will need a third effort of similar quality to overcome the NFL's seventh-ranked defense.

For their own defensive effort, the Redskins will rely on outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan to continue his recent stellar play and pressure young Vikings' passer Christian Ponder into mistakes. Linemen Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield will also need to play key roles and clog the middle to prevent Peterson from dominating.

If the Redskins are going to win, they must call a smart game against a team that has already bested the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers. Against the Falcons, the Redskins lost the time of possession battle, exposing their defense to far too many offensive snaps.

Shanahan simply can't let that happen against the Vikings. If Peterson wears down the Redskins early, their 31st-ranked pass defense won't be able to cope with Harvin and Rudolph as the game progresses.

But if Griffin can make some big plays and force Ponder and the Vikings into chasing a lead for a change, the Redskins can let Morris take over and control the clock.

 

Prediction: Minnesota Vikings 20 - Washington Redskins 24

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