Each week, NFL and Vikings reporter Mark Craig brings you his five takeaways from the Vikings game.
1. Ouch: One play, two injured linebackers
It’s quickly becoming that type of Vikings season. The type of season where two linebackers converge to break up a pass near the goal line, but they run into each other, get hurt, leave the game for one snap and watch as that one snap becomes a 4-yard touchdown pass into a zone being defended by one of the backup nickel linebackers. That happened on Washington’s first possession. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks were hurt. Both returned to start the next series, although Kendricks played only two more snaps. Nickel backups Emmanuel Lamur and Chad Greenway were on the field on the 4-yard touchdown pass. Jamison Crowder was in the near slot position as the Redskins lined up with three receivers to the left. Crowder crossed routes with running back Chris Thompson, shifting Thompson into Greenway’s zone and Crowder to Lamur’s responsibility. Lamur got out of position when Kirk Cousins looked him off to Thompson. That created enough of a separation for Cousins to fire the ball through an open lane to Crowder before safety Harrison Smith could close. “I was reading the quarterback’s eyes,” Lamur said. “It was great execution by them. I have to step up in that situation when two guys go down.”
2. Alexander going backward
Facing the league’s fourth-ranked offense with starting nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn sidelined was a bad enough start. When cornerback Xavier Rhodes went down with a head injury early in the fourth quarter, things got much worse. That forced rookie corner Mackensie Alexander, who lost his job as the backup nickel corner a week earlier, to step in. Cousins alertly went after him on the first snap and easily completed a 17-yard pass to Pierre Garcon. Alexander’s coverage on the play was sloppy, at best. He wasn’t any better on a 16-yard completion to Garcon on the next series. “They got after us a little bit on the outside,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
3. Run defense slipping away
Whenever this team unravels as it has the past month, the run defense typically is one of the first, if not the first, thread to start the process. The Vikings had one of the league’s best run defenses while starting 5-0. But it’s been leaking of late. Sunday marked the third straight week that an opponent’s lead back averaged at least 4.4 yards per carry. Robert Kelley averaged 4.4 yards with runs of 12, 14 and 21 yards. Rhodes was hurt trying to make a tackle 21 yards downfield on a Kelley run. Kelley got to that point when Greenway didn’t fill an inside gap and Smith missed a tackle. Because the Vikings couldn’t stop the run, they were consistently a step behind in trying to keep pace with Washington’s misdirection play-action and bootlegs. “I thought Washington did a good job of keeping us off balance,” Zimmer said.
4. Defense hits early snooze alarm
The game started at 1:04 Eastern. The Vikings defense slept in and didn’t arrive mentally until the second quarter. In the first 16 minutes, the Redskins had 19 plays, 10 first downs, 159 yards and a 14-0 lead. “I can’t really tell you what was wrong,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “We settled down and played ball. We played better in the second quarter.” In a complete about-face, the Vikings closed the half with a three-and-out, a four-play possession and a takeaway that led to a touchdown and a 20-14 lead. “Honestly, right now, I’m at a loss for words,” Robison said. “It’s one of those deals where we’re trying to figure it out and we’re just not figuring it out.”
5. Figure this: Problem? No pressure
The Redskins were missing an All-Pro left tackle in Trent Williams, but they didn’t alter the tempo or timing of their passing game with journeyman Ty Nsekhe making his first start of the season and just the third of his career. The Redskins stayed with longer-developing deep throws and several crossing routes that take longer to unfold. Cousins wasn’t sacked until Danielle Hunter got to him on a third-down red-zone play with 2:35 left. The Vikings got virtually no pressure with their front four and only limited pressure when they blitzed. Cornerback Terence Newman did provide a nice blitz on a blind-side overload look that resulted in a third-down incompletion that sent Cousins chasing after an official to complain about cornerback Trae Waynes’ physical pass defense. “We didn’t get the pass interference on that one,” Cousins said. Everson Griffen had a quiet game against Nsekhe, but did create the pressure that ran Cousins into the Hunter sack, only the third by a Viking in the past four games.