The first game of the Brad Childress era back in 2006 was at the Washington Redskins. The first game of the Leslie Frazier era is at…the Washington Redskins. Frazier, who was named interim head coach after the Vikings relieved Childress of his head coaching duties, will lead the Vikings to FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Sunday to try and get the franchise moving in the right direction after a disappointing 3-7 start to the 2010 season.
The Vikings have 4 games behind the Bears and Packers in the NFC North, they’re dealing with injuries to key starters and they’re coming off perhaps their worst defeat in several seasons – a 31-3 drubbing by Green Bay at Mall of America Field. As if those circumstances weren’t difficult enough, Frazier’s first game as the head man comes on the road – the Vikings haven’t won a game on the road in over a year.
But with a new head coach comes a sense of a new beginning and a new direction. Frazier has certainly embraced his chance to lead this team.
“As we prepare for the Washington Redskins,” Frazier said on Monday, “just stressing the importance of them moving forward and not looking back. There will be a lot of things written about the past, but the one thing I am hoping that all of our players recognize, is that we can only do what we can going forward. That means our focus and our attention has to be on the Washington Redskins. Period. Anything else is really inconsequential as to what we have to achieve as a group.”
So let’s briefly discuss the Vikings next opponent – the 5-5 Washington Redskins.
Washington is led by QB Donovan McNabb, who was traded by Philadelphia to Washington this past offseason. McNabb has not quite played to expectations – he has 10 TDs compared to 12 INTs and he’s completing only 57.5% of his passes. But there’s no question he’s still a capable QB. There are a couple of things about McNabb that I like: 1) he’s still mobile and able to make plays with his feet and 2) he has a live arm and is probably looking forward to playing against a Vikings secondary that has seen its fair share of adversity so far this season.
Washington’s receivers are solid, with veteran Santana Moss the most recognizable name. TE Chris Cooley might be McNabb’s most reliable target. He’s in the mold of a Dallas Clark from Indianapolis – they play the TE position but behave and look more like a WR. Also, don’t sleep on a youngster named Anthony Armstrong. He had a nice preseason and I’ve noticed him several times this season making plays down the field.
The RBs are up and down, with starter Clinton Portis back in the lineup after missing several games with a groin injury [UPDATE: Portis has been placed on IR]. Ryan Torain filled in for Portis and did well, but now he’s injured as well.
Washington’s offensive line is okay and features 1st-rounder Trent Williams at LT and then a pair of former Vikings in RG Artis Hicks and LG Kory Lichtensteiger.
When looking at Washington’s defense, the temptation is to immediately discuss DT Albert Haynesworth. We’ll get into that shortly, but the first aspect I want to mention is LB London Fletcher. He’s a pro’s pro and is a well-respected player in the NFL. He plays inside LB for the Redskins 3-4 defensive scheme and is the quintessential leader – a player who leads by example and has been a productive player for 13 seasons. The other LB I’d mention is OLB Brian Orakpo, who is for my money the team’s best pass rusher and has 7.5 sacks so far this year.
I think the most dangerous part of this defense for the Vikings this week is the secondary. CB DeAngelo Hall is the most recognizable name probably because he’s been around for 7 seasons as a member of both the Atlanta Falcons and now the Redskins. If you remember, Hall had 4 INTs in one game earlier this year against Chicago. He took one of those picks back for a TD. Another member of the secondary to keep your eye on is S LaRon Landry, who can make all sorts of plays. He was drafted the same year as Adrian Peterson and is developing into a dangerous defender. Landry has 8 passes defensed and 1 INT this year; he also has a forced fumble and a sack. Landry is known as a fierce hitter as well and has terrific speed.
Okay, now let’s talk about that defensive line and Haynesworth. This is head coach Mike Shanahan’s first year on the job in Washington and he’s immediately clashed with his high-profile DT. Haynesworth is supremely talented but has gained the reputation of a malcontent and has also been known to give poor effort too often. When Haynesworth does give maximum effort, though, he’s dominant and can ruin an offense.
Graham Gano handles placekicking duties for Washington and he’s 19 of 26 (73.1%) of FGs this year – not great but also consider he hit a game-winner last week in Tennessee. Gano is a perfect 19 of 19 on PATs. Hunter Smith is the team’s punter and he’s netting just 32.6 yards per punt with only 13 punts being downed inside the 20. Washington is allowing 18.3 yards per return, which ranks 2nd-worst in the NFL.
From a return standpoint, the speedy Brandon Banks is Washington’s man. He’s small – 5-7, 150 pounds – but he has good speed and is as quick as a whip. The Redskins rank 9th in the NFL with 24.9 yards per kickoff return and 9th with 12.0 yards per punt return. Banks has taken 27 of the team’s 46 kickoff returns and 19 of the team’s 21 punt returns.
Other Redskins notes…
– Washington has the 22nd-ranked rushing attack and the 10th-ranked passing offense
– The Redskins have the NFL’s worst 3rd-down offense (25.5% conversion rate)
– Washington has the 27th-ranked rushing defense and the 29th-ranked passing defense
– The Redskins are +6 in the give/take ratio
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