NFL Week 10 Thursday Night Preview

Washington at Minnesota

Christian Ponder will get the start again this week after pushing the Dallas Cowboys to the brink last week. The Cowboys scored with 35 seconds left to take the lead in the 4th quarter. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Vikings who had played fairly well all day.

There’s a bit of a misconception of Ponder’s play based on his stats. While Ponder completed 78% of his passes with 1 touchdown (add another rushing TD) and 1 interception, he missed a lot of open throws. The play calling gave Ponder a lot of “snap throws” where he grabs the ball and throws it to a defined receiver immediately. These plays are designed to keep Ponder from having to read a defense. It’s defined and high percentage. There were a few throws that came out so quickly that Ponder didn’t even get the laces on the football. The play calling was designed to keep Ponder on a very tight leash and not ask him to do too much. It’s a smart thing to do with a mediocre QB like Ponder.

The Vikings had some major opportunities in the run game last week that they just missed. Adrian Peterson had a few runs that were an ankle tackle from going the distance and he was clearly frustrated that it kept happening. He was so close to breaking a few of them. The run blocking was only slightly above average as Peterson had to really work for the yards he gained – 140 on 25 carries.

Washington played a tough matchup against the Chargers last week at home. Washington is still figuring itself out on both offense and defense and they seem to be finding their identity slowly but surely.

The defense plays a lot of single-high safety and press coverage and will absolutely continue that tonight. Washington will load the box and blitz the daylights out of the Vikings offense. I would expect some conservative run blitzes to help contain Peterson but Washington Defensive Coordinator like’s to bring pressure off the edges at all times. The front 4 can’t get solid pressure on their own so blitzing is necessary. The problem is that it’s creating gaps in other places and a smart QB and RB will make any base-blitzing defense pay dearly.

On offense, Washington and it’s QB Robert Griffin are still finding their legs, both literally and figuratively. Griffin has thrown more this season than he did last year but the offense is slowly getting back to it’s run foundation. Griffin is essentially another RB in the backfield that can throw the ball at this point. They’ll even run some triple option out of the pistol tonight. Griffin excels in throwing to the intermediate levels of the field. He’s sharp and on time with the ball. It helps the the linebackers and safeties end up sucked up into the line of scrimmage off the play fakes that Washington likes to throw off of.

Look for both teams to load the box tonight on defense. This could be a massive run fest unless either team decides to get cute and throw too much in the passing game. The team that runs the ball consistently on early downs will be more effective tonight. The Washington offense has a much greater potential for the big play. Pierre Garcon shouldn’t have any problem getting over top of the Vikings’ aggressive safeties that play the line of scrimmage first and the pass second.

I expect the tight ends to play a big role in this game. Neither team has gotten good safety play this year. None of the starting safeties are great in coverage so it’s an ideal matchup for whoever the Vikings run out at TE (Kyle Rudolph has a broken foot) or Jordan Reed to have a safety trying to matchup with them. It’ll be another quick passing and conservative gameplan for Ponder tonight.

While I think Adrian Peterson has a monster night, I think Robert Griffin and the Washington offense have a bigger night. As long as LT Trent Williams can keep DE Jared Allen off of Griffin, Griffin should shred a defense that leaves too many gaps in its secondary coverages.

While I want to say Washington runs away with this one, the blitzing tendencies of Washington makes me think the Vikings hit a couple of big plays off of it. If they can’t handle the blitz, the Vikings will get buried.

Washington wins by 5+.

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