As the Vikings enter their noon game against the Washington Redskins today, with the knowledge that winning puts them in the playoffs, they face a familiar foe--themselves. Presented a similar challenge at the end of the 2003 season, the Vikings collapsed mightily. That collapse came against the lowly Cardinals, in front of mostly friendly snowbird fans, and against a feeble offense. With the possible exception of having to face a more partisan hometown crowd, the Vikings' face a similar challenge today in Washington.
Washington enters today's game with one of the worst offenses in the NFL, led by one of the lowest-rated starting QBs, and has little reason to give the Vikings a game today. In fact, the Redskins have such little reason to win today that they have decided to hold out three of their best players--cornerback Fred Smoot, linebacker Lavar Arrington, and running back Clinton Portis, a move that should help the Vikings move the ball on offense and focus the defense on what, by necessity, should become a one-track Washington Redskins' offense.
The conventional wisdom is that the Vikings should blitz Patrick Ramsey early and often. The theory is that if the Vikings permit Ramsey to get in a groove and establish some confidence, Ramsey will believe he can do against Minnesota what he has been unable to do against every other team.
The conventional wisdom has merit. Ramsey has proven that he is easily rattled and is susceptible to making throwing mistakes and turning over the ball when flustered. That suggests that the blitz approach might work.
The Contrarian Approach
The skeptic of the blitz approach would note, however, that the Vikings have had very limited success with the blitz this season. This has been particularly true of the Vikings' defense when faced with a West Coast offense.
I cannot say with any certainty exactly what offense it is that the Redskins are attempting to run this season. Despite purportedly having one of the best running backs in the NFL (a.k.a., a product of the Denver offense), the Redskins have been a pass-first team this season. This might suggest a wide-open offense, but the Redskins are without an experienced deep threat. That suggests the WC offense (yes, ironic abbreviation).
In the end, watching the Redskins' offense on the field will not help determine the style of offense that Joe Gibbs has implemented for Ramsey to run, primarily because Ramsey is still the one running whatever offense it is. And Ramsey has been awful.
Ramsey's awfulness has come against all-walks of NFL clubs. It has come against teams that blitz frequentlyand against teams that spare the blitz. So it does not seem imperative for the Vikings to blitz today.
In fact, one contrarian thought is that the Vikings might even want to play a modified 3-4 defense today. I know, the Vikings are at least one linebacker short of being able to field a 3-4 package. But that doesn't mean that the 3-4 is impossible. Instead, the Vikings can slide Spencer Johnson back to linebacker or, perish the thought, insert Chris Hovan at one of the outside linebacker spots. We are always told that Hovan has speed and quickness, but that he has trouble against double teams. This would be a golden opportunity for Hovan to display his assets without leaving himself vulnerable to his weaknesses.
The 3-4 could ensure that Ramsey has no mid-range targets. That would force Ramsey to look deep, where he has often made mistakes this season. If the Vikings' d-backs find last season's ability to make picks, today's game could be big for the Vikings' secondary.
The 3-4 is also appealing against the Redskins today because the Redskins are so vulnerable across the offensive line. Lining up in the 3-4 would permit the Vikings to gauge the particular vulnerabilities of today's version of the Redskins' offensive line and allow more linebacker blitzes. Such blitzing likely would be more beneficial and more productive than the weak safety and corner blitzes that the Vikings have attempted in previous weeks and would ensure that the secondary is not left in precarious man-to-man situations.
On offense, the Vikings need to do what they continually refuse to do. Namely, the Vikings need to spread the wealth and take what the Redskins give them. That should mean plenty of work for Jermaine Wiggins, Michael Bennett, and Nate Burleson, and probably less action for Randy Moss. If the Vikings accept this, they should have solid success against a banged up defense. If not, well, it may be Arizona all over again.
While we know that the Vikings are still far from a cinch to salt this game away in the face of such overwhelmingly positive odds, they should still pull this one out. And, in the final analysis, if they do not beat a team that long ago packed in the season, should we really care?
Up Next: Halftime.