Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
For the Vikings’ Week 9 matchup against Washington, we spoke to Zac Boyer, who covers the team for the Washington Times, in this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.”
1. How has quarterback Robert Griffin III looked in practice and what does Washington gain with his presence?
ZB: Griffin returned to practice in a limited fashion the week leading up to the Redskins’ game against Tennessee on Oct. 19, and his reps remained that way until this week, when he started getting full first-team snaps in team drills. The portion of practice we’ve been able to see has been limited to little more than one-on-ones, and he seems to be, thus far, the same player he was during the preseason: inconsistent with his throws and his timing, capable of delivering some crisp passes but leading or underthrowing his receivers at other times.
2. Even with three quarterbacks, the pass offense statistically is fifth in the NFL. What’s the reason behind that?
ZB: DeSean Jackson. The speedy wide receiver, who the Redskins signed to what’s essentially a three-year contract in April, is averaging a league-high 20.8 yards per reception this season. He has seven receptions of more than 40 yards, including a 49-yard grab against the Cowboys on Monday, and even when he’s not catching passes, the flurry of go routes the Redskins have sent him on has been enough of a distraction to open up more intermediate gains for the offense.
3. What’s the biggest area of concern on defense?
ZB: While the Redskins’ pass rush hasn’t been as aggressive as the team thought it would be in training camp, the biggest problem has been the coverage in the secondary. Washington has two safeties, Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark, who have been inconsistent with their tackling, though Meriweather had what may have been his best game in three seasons with the Redskins on Monday. The other part of that has been that the Redskins are without cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who tore his left Achilles’ tendon in Week 3. Rookie Bashaud Breeland has stepped in and made some big plays Monday when matched up with Dez Bryant, but still has to prove he can be more consistent.
4. Why has linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had so much success during the first eight games this season?
ZB: Kerrigan has shown in his four years that he’s a smart player with a nose for the quarterback, and even when Brian Orakpo was healthy, he was the Redskins’ best pass rusher. Defensive end Jason Hatcher and nose tackle Chris Baker have been able to provide adequate pressure on interior linemen, which often has forced the quarterback out of the pocket, to his right and into Kerrigan’s waiting arms. It helps that as a right outside linebacker — and a good one — he has faced a number of pedestrian right tackles this season.
5. What do the Redskins need to do to win on Sunday?
ZB: Limit their turnovers. Kirk Cousins was benched for Colt McCoy during the Week 7 victory over the Titans because he was reckless with the football, and McCoy, in six quarters of the team’s last two victories, has thrown just one interception. Griffin threw just five interceptions as a rookie in 2012, but that number ballooned to 12 last year. If he plays — and that’s the team’s plan, barring any kind of lapses in practice — he’ll need to make responsible decisions. His ability to do that still remains uncertain.
Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
— Rookie RB Jerick McKinnon has been impressive since becoming a starter.
— DE Everson Griffen was named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month.
— WR Cordarrelle Patterson says he will be 100 percent for Sunday’s game.
— The Vikings are considering making personnel changes on special teams.
— Both DE Brian Robison and CB Jabari Price returned to practice yesterday.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
— Greg Jennings (@GregJennings) October 31, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Are the Vikings too good for the Redskins to start QB Robert Griffin III?
— Redskins head coach Jay Gruden says there is no reason not to play RGIII.
— The Redskins might opt to blitz less against Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater.
— RB Alfred Morris regained his top form in Monday’s win over the Cowboys.
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
The Vikings will run though their regular Friday morning practice at 10:50 a.m. Head coach Mike Zimmer will chat with reporters at 12:30 and the locker room will also be open to the media.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Bridgewater has already had six passes batted at the line this season on just 155 attempts, including one that led to an interception. That is tied for the sixth-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That rate of one batted pass in every 25.8 attempts puts him in the top three.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Jabari Price returned to Thursday’s practice after not participating on Wednesday.
Robison sat out with a glute injury, and Price dealt with a hamstring issue. Both were limited, participating in team stretch and individual drills during the open portion of practice.
The only player held out of practice was tight end Kyle Rudolph, who continues to rehab from sports hernia surgery. Rudolph was conditioning on the side.
Cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee) and tight end Chase Ford (foot) were all limited as well. Linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring) and safety Antone Exum Jr. (ankle/shoulder) were elevated to full participants.
Guard Vladimir Ducasse said he’s healthy, but Joe Berger remained as the starting right guard during practice. Ducasse was inactive on Sunday due to a knee injury, while Berger received the start. At this point, it appears that Berger will get the nod once again, though Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has not officially named the starter.
Zimmer said practice squad quarterback Chandler Harnish suffered a Lisfranc injury after an offensive lineman stepped on his foot in practice. He’s expected to be out for a while, and the Vikings will look at other quarterbacks on Friday for the practice squad.
Head coach Mike Zimmer sent a message to the special-teams unit during Monday’s team meeting.
So what exactly was Zimmer’s message and who in particular was it aimed at? Let’s ask Mike Priefer.
“It’s the mistakes,” the special teams coordinator said. “It’s the penalties, to be honest. … We were not penalized very often last year. This year we have been and that’s been tough. We’ve lost a lot of hidden yardage, return yardage because of the penalties. That was the big message with the young guys. Those are the ones making the most mistakes, the young guys. That’s usually what it is. But when you’re an error-repeater, as I’ve said, you’re going to run out of chances at some point. We need to make sure we either get it corrected or we’ve got to find somebody else to do those jobs.”
Rookie defensive backs Antone Exum and Jabari Price were both flagged for penalties in the 19-13 win over the Buccaneers. For Exum, it was his third special-teams penalty in the past four weeks.
So Priefer and the Vikings this week are preparing more players for special-teams roles than they typically would as they consider possibly shaking things up for Sunday’s game against the Redskins.
Another problem that cost the Vikings field position was punter Jeff Locke’s propensity to boom the ball into the end zone for touchbacks. He booted three touchbacks after having just one all season.
Priefer said that Locke is still trying to figure out the best swings for punts from midfield based on the wind, though the weather was nearly perfect down in Tampa. Priefer said Locke needs to do a better job of gauging the field conditions during pre-game warmups to prepare for punts that count.
“He understands situational football. We preach it all the time. The head coach preaches it. I preach it,” Priefer said. “Those were very uncharacteristic mistakes for Jeff and he’s going to get better going forward.”
It’s only Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen’s second month as a full time starter, and he was rewarded for his early season performance on Thursday by winning NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for October.
Don’t think Griffen will be satisfied by receiving the award.
“I’m excited, I can’t let this accolade become something that I think I have arrived,” Griffen said on Thursday. “That hasn’t happened yet. There’s still more to come, and I’ve still got to go out there and keep doing my job each and every day.”
Griffen led the NFC with six sacks in October and was the only player in the conference to snag a sack in four games this month. Griffen tied a career-high three sacks against the Bills two weeks ago. He also led all NFC defensive lineman with 20 tackles totals.
While it’s an individual award, and the first Vikings defensive player since Jared Allen in October 2011 to accomplish the feat, Griffen gave credit to the defensive line for his accomplishments.
“The whole defensive line, we’ve been playing well,” Griffen said. “We’re second in the league in sacks, and we’ve just got to keep it coming. At the end of the day I’m happy with the award, but it’s time to get back to work. Now I’ve got to go try and get it the next month, keep building on that and don’t let this be the ending point.”
|Tampa Bay||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|Philadelphia||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|NY Jets||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|Jacksonville||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|San Diego||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|Washington||11/2/14 12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||11/2/14 3:05 PM|
|Denver||11/2/14 3:25 PM|
|Oakland||11/2/14 3:25 PM|
|Baltimore||11/2/14 7:30 PM|
|Indianapolis||11/3/14 7:30 PM|
|(2) Florida State||42||FINAL|
|Air Force||11/1/14 10:30 AM|
|ULM||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|(19) Oklahoma||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|Northwestern||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|(24) Duke||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|Maryland||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|Wisconsin||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|Rice||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|(21) East Carolina||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|UCF||11/1/14 11:00 AM|
|Boston College||11/1/14 11:30 AM|
|North Carolina||11/1/14 11:30 AM|
|Washington||11/1/14 12:00 PM|
|Central Mich||11/1/14 12:00 PM|
|Western Mich||11/1/14 1:30 PM|
|Western Ky||11/1/14 2:00 PM|
|NC State||11/1/14 2:00 PM|
|Virginia||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|Purdue||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|BYU||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|(10) TCU||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|(20) West Virginia|
|Indiana||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|Florida||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|Georgia State||11/1/14 2:30 PM|
|Kentucky||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|Texas State||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|Houston||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|USC||11/1/14 3:30 PM|
|Arkansas State||11/1/14 4:00 PM|
|South Alabama||11/1/14 4:00 PM|
|New Mexico||11/1/14 4:30 PM|
|UAB||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|(4) Auburn||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|(7) Ole Miss|
|Old Dominion||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|Colorado State||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|San Jose St|
|Arkansas||11/1/14 6:15 PM|
|(1) Miss State|
|Stanford||11/1/14 6:30 PM|
|Tennessee||11/1/14 6:30 PM|
|Texas||11/1/14 6:30 PM|
|Southern Miss||11/1/14 7:00 PM|
|(6) Notre Dame||11/1/14 7:00 PM|
|Oklahoma State||11/1/14 7:00 PM|
|(11) Kansas State|
|Illinois||11/1/14 7:00 PM|
|(13) Ohio State|
|(14) Arizona||11/1/14 9:30 PM|
|California||11/1/14 9:30 PM|
|San Diego St||11/1/14 9:30 PM|
|Wyoming||11/1/14 9:45 PM|
|(18) Utah||11/1/14 10:00 PM|
|(15) Arizona State|
|Utah State||11/1/14 10:00 PM|
|Bowling Green||11/4/14 7:00 PM|
|Toledo||11/4/14 7:00 PM|
|Buffalo||11/5/14 7:00 PM|
|Northern Ill||11/5/14 7:00 PM|
|(22) Clemson||11/6/14 6:30 PM|
|Sporting Kansas City||1||FINAL|
|Red Bull New York||2|
|Winnipeg||11/1/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||11/1/14 6:00 PM|
|Toronto||11/2/14 11:00 AM|
|Ottawa||11/7/14 6:00 PM|
|Calgary||11/7/14 9:00 PM|
|Montreal||11/8/14 3:00 PM|
|Edmonton||11/8/14 6:00 PM|