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.


Behind Enemy Lines: Redskins present golden opportunity for Vikings to notch third win

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Vikings Updated: December 22, 2011 - 7:34 AM

As the Vikings prepare for Saturday’s game at Washington, we asked Mike Jones, beat writer for the Washington Post, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report on the Redskins. Here are four things you need to know …

 
1)      Rex Grossman may not be perfect. But he’s the best quarterback the Redskins have.
Keep in mind, Grossman was benched during a four interception disaster in Washington’s 20-13 Week 6 loss to the Eagles. Grossman was 9-for-22 in that game and posted a passer rating of 40.9.
Given his history, you’d have thought he had squandered his last chance to be an NFL starter. But then John Beck relieved Grossman and proved things could get worse.
 
“Mike Shanahan continually said publicly and privately, ‘I believe in this guy. This guy’s going to be something special,’” Jones said. “But when Beck came in, he really couldn’t move the ball very well at all. He was very indecisive. And he really didn’t have that ‘it’ factor you look for in a quarterback.’”
 
In Beck’s three starts, the Redskins scored three touchdowns on 34 possessions. Beck averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. And in a 23-0 loss to Buffalo, he was sacked 10 times.
 
“Half of those were because he held the ball too long,” Jones said. “When Beck was playing, he was so conscious of taking care of the ball and not making bad decisions that he was almost afraid to let go of the ball. With Rex, guys like him because he at least throws the ball and gives them a chance to make plays.”
 
2)      The Redskins defense played terrific in last week’s confidence-building 23-10 road win over the Giants.
New York’s lone touchdown came with 33 seconds left, long after the outcome had been decided. For Washington, Oshiomogho Atogwe, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson all recorded interceptions against Eli Manning. London Fletcher also added a team-best 12 stops, padding his NFL-best tackles total.
 
The takeaways were timely.
 
“Grossman threw an interception on the first play of the game,” Jones said. “And he threw his second interception later in the first quarter. If it hadn’t been for the defense, I don’t know if they would have been able to bounce back as well as they did.”
 
As for Fletcher’s production this season, Jones says nose tackle Barry Cofield and end Stephen Bowen have been instrumental, doing their jobs well up front in the Redskins’ 3-4 system.
 
“There was one play in New York where Cofield was holding up two-and-a-half guys and Bowen had two other guys tied up and Fletcher just flew right up through the middle to make the tackle,” Jones said. “There’s been a lot of that. And that’s the way they want this defense to work with those guys up front taking on the blockers and allowing the linebackers to fly in and finish plays.”
 
3)      Like the Vikings, Washington has experienced its own six-game losing streak this season.
The Skins’ skid started with that loss to the Eagles and was punctuated by a 27-24 home loss to the Cowboys in Week 11.
 
What caused the spiral? In the loss to Philadephia, tight end Chris Cooley was lost for the season with hand and knee injures. Guard Kory Lichtensteiger also suffered a season-ending knee injury. Equally significant on the injury front was the ACL tear suffered by running back Tim Hightower in Week 7 and a broken hand that kept receiver Santana Moss out for four weeks.
 
Throw in the failed Beck experiment and things were ugly for a while.
 
Now, Washington has split its last four games with wins over the Giants and Seahawks.
 
4)      This might be the week the Vikings end their nine-game drought without an interception.
Merry Christmas. Grossman has handed out 18 picks in 11 appearances this year and can be flustered into throwing interceptions in bunches, especially if he gets too eager to exploit the Vikings’ weakened defensive backfield.
 
The Redskins have a decent ground game with rookie Roy Helu having posted three 100-yard rushing games this season. But no doubt, they’ll try what every other recent Vikings opponent has done and throw the ball early and often.
 
And with Grossman, that means the Vikings secondary will have ample opportunity to make a few plays.
 
“With a lot of quarterbacks, they throw an interception or two and they get down,” Jones said. “Rex doesn’t have a conscience. He just keeps throwing. And he frequently makes bad decisions. It’s just that the Redskins have learned to live with ‘Hey, he might turn the ball over a couple times. But in the big picture the good outweighs the bad.’”

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