The Washington Redskins on Saturday will host the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday in a game that will mark the Redskins’ home finale of the 2011 season.
The Redskins are coming off of a 23-10 victory over the New York Giants and own a 5-9 record. Meanwhile, the Vikings have lost six consecutive games and are 2-12 on the season.
Here are five story lines to follow as the Redskins take on the Vikings:
1.) Momentum carryover – The Redskins got off to a slow start against the Giants, but recovered to put together one of their most complete victories in the last two seasons. Aside from a poor showing against the New York Jets three weeks ago, the Redskins have made improvements in the second half of the season with solid outings against Seattle, New England and the Giants. Balanced offensive schemes and an aggressive defense have been key for Washington, which owns a 2-2 record in its last four outings. And last week, the Redskins won the turnover battle for the first time all season. Washington’s coaches and players would like to continue their improved play Saturday.
2.) Grossman’s INT streak – Washington won last week despite two early interceptions from Rex Grossman. The quarterback has thrown at least one interception in 10 straight games. It’s rare to see an offensively challenged team like the Redskins overcome turnovers the way they did last week, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Grossman has to take better care of the ball. One factor that could help Grossman is the fact that Minnesota has a rather weak secondary and has gone nine consecutive games without an interception. If Grossman can pick up where he left off in the final three quarters of last week’s game, Washington should have a strong shot at posting a consecutive victories.
3.) Helu’s health – The Redskins’ workhorse rookie running back has been limited all week in practice, suffering from knee and toe injuries. Helu said he felt a lot better on Thursday, and it appears likely he will play Saturday. Washington’s offense is at its best when Helu gets a steady dose of carries and also gets involved in the passing game. If those injuries keep the Nebraska product from producing as he has since taking over as starter four games ago, look for fellow rookie Evan Royster to have his number called often.
4.) Smith’s tall task – Rookie left tackle Willie Smith, who made his NFL debut two games ago, has certainly had a baptism by fire. First Andre Carter, then Jason Pierre-Paul, and now comes Minnesota’s Jared Allen, who has 17.5 sacks on the year. Smith, who went undrafted out of East Carolina, must do his best to keep Grossman upright. Grossman’s decision-making deteriorates when he finds himself under pressure and he has been sacked nearly two times a game. If Allen has his way with Smith, expect offensive struggles, and either Grossman’s interception streak to continue, or for him to cough up the ball a time or two while being drilled from his blind side.
5.) Auditioning players – Mike Shanahan and his assistants won’t start digging in and fully evaluating players for the 2012 season until this campaign comes to an end, but these final two weeks are crucial for a number of players because it could be their final opportunity to put some positive work on film. Free agents-to-be include Graham Gano, Donte Stallworth, Adam Carriker, London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh, Keyaron Fox, Byron Westbrook and Sean Locklear. Meanwhile, other players have contracts beyond this season, but need strong play to assure coaches that they belong in the team’s future. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett named Westbrook, Oshiomogho Atogwe and Kevin Barnes as such players earlier this week, and on the offensive side of the ball, players like Jammal Brown, Maurice Hurt, Anthony Armstrong and Terrence Austin may be in similar situations. Who will help or hurt his case this weekend?