There's Agreement All Along the Line
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Joe Gibbs football archetype is constructed at the line of scrimmage. He envisions two burly, dominant sets of linemen able to punish teams with the ground game on offense and, on defense, take away opponents' ability to run the ball.
While Gibbs has other core principles -- connecting on deep passes and playing stout special teams are two -- the ability to run the ball and stop the run are paramount. So it is not surprising that Gibbs speaks about the Minnesota Vikings with a degree of reverence, for while they are a flawed team in many regards they do two things better than anyone in the NFL this season: run the ball and stop the run. Finding a way to counter those traits dominated meetings and preparations at Redskins Park in the run-up to tonight's game at the Metrodome.
Washington must win the game to remain eligible for the playoffs; the Vikings' wild-card chances would be damaged by a loss.
No two NFC teams have rushed the ball as frequently as Washington (7-7) and Minnesota (8-6) this season.
"That's what they do," Gibbs said of Minnesota's strengths. "You've got to respect that. I know I do. I'm not sure how many teams lead the league in rushing and lead the league in defense, too, against the rush. I think they've done a heck of a job and you watch them each and every week and they've gained a lot of respect from a lot of people."
Said Vikings Coach Brad Childress: "I do have a healthy respect for running the football, because I believe that's how you have a physical offense. I think it's the best way for an offensive lineman to be able to exert his will on somebody.
"And I respect a team like Washington and the way Joe has built that, because I think he also has a healthy respect for that. It doesn't mean you wouldn't like to be good passing the football -- and you have to be able to create big plays -- but obviously your play-action stuff has a lot more merit to it when you're being able to run it."
While the Redskins and Vikings share philosophies and have similar win-loss records, they have used different methods in assembling their rosters. When Gibbs returned to coaching in 2004 he rebuilt the roster through high-profile trades and free agent signings, procuring a core group of veterans while often trading away draft picks. The Vikings, who have won five in a row in Childress's second season in charge, cast aside troubled veterans Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper and loaded up on high draft picks in the past two drafts, replenishing depth and finding starters through the college ranks.
"They've definitely drafted well, there's no doubt about it," said Eric DeCosta, the Baltimore Ravens' director of college scouting. "They've found some good players and we really like what they did this past year. They've stretched for a few guys, but they have a great staff and they really helped their team with guys like [2006 first-round pick Chad] Greenway, [2007 pick cornerback Marcus] McCauley, [2006 pick cornerback Cedric] Griffin, [2007 pick wide receiver Sidney] Rice.
"They got a great value with the running back [2007 first-round pick Adrian Peterson] and the linemen they've drafted there form the identity of the team. They have a very physical style of play and that shows in the players they've brought in."
Minnesota buttressed its roster by accumulating nine picks in the first two rounds from 2005 to 2007. They jettisoned many veterans in the fallout from an alleged sex party aboard a boat involving a number of Vikings during the 2005 season, among them Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, and have enjoyed success with several free agents. Tailback Chester Taylor, guard Steve Hutchinson, defensive tackle Pat Williams, safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Antoine Winfield have played at a Pro Bowl level since being plucked off the free agent market and have helped make the Vikings formidable in the run offense and defense. Most every other starter came through the draft.
"The draft is how you build your football team, at least we look at it that way," Childress said. "It doesn't mean you don't augment with a free agent here and there, but in a perfect world I guess our choice would be to draft some guys, have them make it and have them be there from step one so that you're able to train them to be pros.