Griffen, Vikings’ defensive line pose challenge for Redskins
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) Everson Griffen doesn’t take much credit for his place in NFL history.
The Minnesota Vikings defensive end joined stud pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as the only three players with a sack in each of his team’s first eight games of the season since the league began tracking the stat in 1982. Griffen talks like a chunk of his 10 sacks belong to fellow linemen Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph.
”I can’t do it without my defensive line,” Griffen said. ”It’s not me only back there getting the sack. When I get a sack, everybody is working together.”
With their offensive line in flux because of a handful of injuries, the Washington Redskins need to be concerned about Griffen and the entire Vikings’ defense on Sunday. Hard hit by injuries, the Redskins (4-4) have been without five of their best six offensive linemen and pressed into starting ex-Minnesota tackle T.J. Clemmings along with rookies Chase Roullier and Tyler Catalina.
Even if left tackle Trent Williams remains out with a lingering knee injury, they could get back top backup Ty Nsekhe, guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff and center Spencer Long. Griffen himself is dealing with a foot injury, but is a big emphasis for the Redskins.
”Everson Griffen poses a threat against anybody,” Williams said. ”Setting the edge is going to be hard to operate against him no matter who’s out there. That’s pretty obvious looking at his body of work. He has been a problem for some time now.”
Washington is trying to build off an emotional, comeback victory at the Seattle Seahawks, while Minnesota (6-2) wants to reverse a bad trend coming out of the bye week to keep pace in a suddenly stacked NFC playoff race.
The only time the Vikings have won their first post-bye game in the past seven seasons was in 2015, when they started a five-game winning streak by beating Kansas City at home. Last year, they were 5-0 at the bye before losing four consecutive games on their way to an 8-8 finish.
”It’s a whole new year,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. ”We’re just going to continue to play ball and play with a chip on our shoulder and see where it takes us from there.”
Some things to watch when the Vikings visit the Redskins:
TRUST THE PROCESS: Celebrated like a conquering hero after his game-winning drive inside the two-minute warning at Seattle, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t feel like one. With his mind trained on the intricacies of his play, Cousins said the Seahawks game was filled with mistakes and was ”by no means was perfect.”
”I’m a little bit more process-oriented and there have been games where I’ve thrown for a lot of yards and felt like I played nearly flawlessly but we lost,” said Cousins, who has thrown for 2,147 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. ”I’ve learned to ignore outcomes at times, I’ve learned to ignore the noise on the outside and just focus on the process.”
WON’T BACK DOWN: Buoyed by strong performances from linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks in the first half, the Vikings’ defense has been difficult to crack for opposing running backs. Not only are the Vikings third in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 81.4 yards per game on the ground, but they’ve been able to consistently keep the success of running backs catching passes out of the backfield to a minimum.
Baltimore’s Javorius Allen, fourth in the league in running back receptions, had eight catches but for only 29 yards against Minnesota on Oct. 22. Alvin Kamara, sixth in the NFL, had four catches for 20 yards for New Orleans on Sept. 11. Duke Johnson, seventh in the league, had four catches for 10 yards for Cleveland on Oct. 29. Le’Veon Bell, tied with Washington’s Chris Thompson for eighth in the NFL, had four catches for 4 yards on Sept. 17.
”It’s just about being focused, knowing what back is in there,” Barr said. ”They have certain guys they do certain things with, each team does, so just recognizing situations, who’s in the ballgame, just recognizing his alignment.”
Thompson had just four receptions for 11 yards last week against Seattle.
”They were all over me,” Thompson said. ”We’re up against a battle again. It’s almost like the same group of guys once again that we’ll be seeing this week. Their defense is pretty similar to what Seattle did. ”
MCKINNON MOMENTUM: The Vikings have their own pass-catching specialist out of the backfield in Jerick McKinnon, the only player in the NFL with 20-plus catches, 400-plus yards from scrimmage and four-plus touchdowns over the last five weeks, when he took over as the lead running back for injured rookie Dalvin Cook.
In the last game against Cleveland, McKinnon was targeted 10 times by Case Keenum, catching six passes for 72 yards.
”Case has done a great job at extending plays,” McKinnon said. ”It’s his whole world. I mean, the guy’s for real.”
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, contributed.
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