The Washington Redskins return to action Sunday, hosting the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. on Fox.
Washington looks to improve upon its 4-3-1 record and claim its first victory since Week 6. The Vikings, meanwhile, enter the game with a 5-3 record, but have lost three straight after opening the year on a hot streak.
The Redskins are three-point favorites to win.
Here are some key matchups to follow in this game:
Washington Coach Jay Gruden vs. Minnesota Coach Mike Zimmer
Former coworkers face off, renewing their friendly rivalry from their days in Cincinnati. Gruden, the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, and Zimmer, the defensive coordinator, used to engage in daily practice battles that Gruden described as “entertaining” and “competitive.” Gruden added: “You had to have a plan every day when you went to practice for your offense, otherwise they would embarrass you non-stop and he didn’t care. He would keep blitzing you and you’d better have an answer. We had some great competition. He made me better as a coordinator and made our offense better, quite frankly.” So, with each coach having great familiarity with the other’s philosophies, it’ll be interesting to see who has the edge this time around. In their first meeting as head coaches (2014), Zimmer’s Vikings edged Gruden’s Redskins 29-27 in a comeback victory. Can Gruden even the score this time around?
Washington LT Ty Nsekhe vs. Minnesota DE Everson Griffen
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins enter this game boasting one of the top passing attacks in the league. However, their production could take a hit without Trent Williams, Cousins’s top protector on the offensive line. Ty Nsekhe will try to step in and fill the void for the next four games, and he draws a tough challenge right off the bat. Griffen boasts six sacks and has helped anchor a pass defense that ranks among the league leaders.
Washington CB Josh Norman vs. Minnesota WR Stefon Diggs
Former Maryland star Stefon Diggs leads the Vikings in receiving production. He has 48 catches for 546 yards, two touchdowns and 29 first downs so far this season. Look for Josh Norman to matchup frequently with Diggs, working to render Sam Bradford’s top target useless for the day. Norman is eager to get back to work after a frustrating day against the Bengals in London.
Washington WR Jamison Crowder vs. Minnesota CB Captain Munnerlyn
The sophomore slump has not hit Jamison Crowder, who needs just nine more catches to top last year’s rookie output (a franchise record). Crowder has developed into even more of a go-to guy for Kirk Cousins with team highs in receiving yards (498) and touchdowns (four). Crowder will face off with Munnerlyn, an eighth-year pro who this season has 33 tackles and two pass breakups, but remains in search of his first interception. Munnerlyn and the Vikings pose a solid challenge to the Redskins’ passing game. Minnesota’s defense ranks 12th in the NFL, holding foes to 38.3 percent success rate on third downs.
Washington OLB Preston Smith vs. Minnesota LT T.J. Clemmings
Second-year linebacker Preston Smith remains in search of his breakout game, owning just 1.5 sacks through eight games — a far cry from the total that he and his coaches expected after he tallied five sacks in the final three games of 2015. Sunday he’ll face off with another second-year pro in Clemmings, a fourth-round pick out of Pitt. The Vikings have struggled to find consistency in the passing department, ranking 27th in the NFL with just 226 passing yards per game, while also surrendering 22 sacks (eighth most in the NFL).
Washington TE Jordan Reed vs. Minnesota S Andrew Sendejo
The Redskins badly need to regain the red-zone effectiveness that paved the way for last season’s success, and feeding Jordan Reed the ball in these situations is a good place to start. The Vikings, however, will try to do their best to take away the big tight end. Look for safety Andrew Sendejo (team-high two interceptions) to help out in coverage against Reed. But Reed has seen and been effective against his fair share of double-teams this season. If the Vikings do, however, succeed in limiting his production, that should open up opportunities for others, like Crowder, Pierre Garcon and Vernon Davis. Cousins has to capitalize.
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