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NFL Preview - Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (1-7)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's probably not fair to call Leslie Frazier crazy but if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, let's just say the embattled Minnesota Vikings mentor could be indicted for erratic behavior.
Frazier, already the author of a franchise-worst 3-13 season in 2011, is well on his way to lowering that bar even further as he leads a banged-up and disgruntled group of Vikings against the disappointing but still in the mix Washington Redskins on "Thursday Night Football."
The Vikings fell to a dismal 1-7 last Sunday, losing for the third time in the final minute when Dwayne Harris' 7-yard touchdown catch from Tony Romo with 35 seconds to play lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 27-23 win at AT&T Stadium.
Christian Ponder went 25-for-37 for 236 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while also adding a score on the ground for the Vikings, who have lost their past four games. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 25 times for 140 yards and a score, adding three catches for 37 yards.
"This is a very disappointing loss for our whole team," said Frazier. "Guys fought hard for four quarters, but just couldn't find a way to finish the game. Tough loss for our team."
Some of those guys who fought so hard pointed the finger of blame at Frazier and his rubber-stamp defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
After limiting the Cowboys to less than 50 yards on their previous four drives, the Minnesota defense went into what has become an all-too-common passivity-mode, something Romo picked apart while often facing only three pass rushers as he marched Dallas down the field for a 90-yard scoring drive in just two minutes.
"We were putting heat on him the whole day," defensive end Brian Robison, who had two sacks on the day, explained. "We had (three) sacks today. That's a pretty dang good day and then all of a sudden we get a drive, we're going to rush three guys and we don't get to him. You've got five guys to block three."
Robison went on to say the play-calling says "a lot of things" about the 1-7 team.
"It says obviously when we rush four, we're pretty dang good," he said. "We can be pretty dang good, especially when we rush four against five. I like the odds of that in our favor every week. I feel like when we're in a rhythm, and guys are dropping out, (it) kind of takes it out of that."
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams was a little more tactful but just as clear: "I think we could have been in better situations at the end of the game," he told reporters.
It was only a matter of time before players finally went public with their frustrations regarding Frazier, Alan Williams and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, a lightly-regarded group which seems to have lost certain segments of their locker room.
"You know I respect their opinions and I know how competitive they are and how much they want to win," Frazier said when talking about his whistleblowers. "I like for them to talk to their coaches myself about whatever concerns they may have and try to get those worked out. The frustration grows with each loss with everyone involved. That's human nature. We need to put some wins together starting this Thursday night."
Robison agreed to a point but wasn't about to apologize.
"It is human, but at the same time, I don't take back anything," the University of Texas product said. "I'm probably going to get griped at for it, but in my honest opinion I don't think I said anything out of line or necessarily threw anybody under the bus. I don't think I said anything I shouldn't have said. That's the thing we've always prided ourselves on is holding each other accountable."
Things don't figure to get much easier for the Vikings on a short week either. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, one of the team's few playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, suffered a broken foot on a brilliant 31-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter against the Cowboys when he was tackled around the ankles near the goal line.
"He has a fractured [left] foot, so that's pretty serious," Frazier said. "Could be close to a month (before he returns)."
Actually it will be four to six weeks and Rudolph joins a MASH unit that includes star safety Harrison Smith (turf toe), linebacker Desmond Bishop (torn ACL), right tackle Phil Loadholt (concussion), safety Jamarca Sanford (groin), left guard Charlie Johnson (elbow), defensive tackles Fred Evans (knee) and Letroy Guion (shoulder), h-back Rhett Ellison (ankle) and cornerbacks Chris Cook (hip) and Xavier Rhodes (leg).
Smith and Bishop have been gone for weeks and only Cook and Rhodes look on track to play Thursday among the rest of that group with Loadholt already ruled out, giving former Bears starter J'Marcus Webb a chance.
"Phil is a vital part of our offensive line, one of our top players. Very good right tackle for us," Frazier said. "But that's one of the reasons we signed J'Marcus, gives him a great opportunity. He'll go in and he'll play well, he's familiar with our system now. It's a great opportunity for him."
Despite a rocky first half of their own, the Redskins are only one game back in the loss column in the weak NFC East after outlasting San Diego, 30-24, in overtime at FedEx Field last Sunday when Darrel Young's third touchdown run of the day served as the game-winner.
With the Chargers trailing by three with under a minute remaining in regulation, Danny Woodhead dove toward the right pylon at the end of a 6-yard grab and was awarded a touchdown on the field.
However, video review showed Woodhead was knocked out just short of the goal line, leaving San Diego with 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 21 seconds remaining.
Washington's defense came up with a big stand, stuffing Woodhead for no gain on first down before back-to-back incompletions from Philip Rivers forced San Diego to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Nick Novak that sent the game to overtime.
The Redskins received the opening kickoff in the extra session and quickly went to work, as Alfred Morris broke free for 19 yards into San Diego territory before Robert Griffin III converted a 3rd-and-8 with a 12-yard toss to tight end Jordan Reed.
A personal foul penalty at the end of Pierre Garcon's 17-yard grab two plays later moved the Redskins to the 13-yard line before back-to-back Morris runs left Washington with 3rd-and-1 from the 4.
Young then rumbled into the end zone on Washington's next play to give the Redskins their second win in three tries.
"Coach (Mike Shanahan) said when we get down there (near the goal line) it's going to be the first run call this week," Young said of getting the ball in crunch time. "I appreciate him trusting me in a situation like that."
"The way we won the game, that can be a turning point for us," added Griffin.
Morris finished with 121 yards and a score on 25 carries, while Griffin completed 23-of-32 passes for 291 yards with an interception. Garcon hauled in seven passes for a game-high 172 yards in the triumph.
The Redskins lead the all-time series between the two teams by a slim 12-10 margin, which includes four playoff matchups. This will mark the fourth consecutive year that the teams have met with Minnesota winning two of the last three.
RG3, though, ran for a career-high 138 yards, including a 76-yard fourth- quarter touchdown, as Washington won 38-26 in 2012.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It's been a rocky road back for Griffin, who tore both his ACL and his LCL in Washington's playoff loss to Seattle last season. Consistency has been the problem. In Washington's three wins, the second-year star has completed over 64 percent of his passes and turned it over just twice. In the team's last two setbacks those numbers dip to under 50 percent passing with five giveaways.
Even on a short week this matchup bodes well for Griffin. Minnesota's vanilla schemes are very easy to decipher pre-snap and it's inability to get off the field on third down should be something RG3 can take advantage of especially after converting 12-of-17 third downs against the Chargers. On the season Washington is converting at a 44.5 percent pace, good for fourth in the NFL.
"The great quarterbacks are the guys that are consistent on third down," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. "That's what you've got to do. You've got to do that consistently."
The Vikings' antiquated defensive philosophy, which is far too dependent on simple cover-2 philosophy, has morphed with undisciplined gap play, injuries and an overall lack of talent to create a perfect storm of ineptitude on that side of the football. Minnesota is allowing an average of 31.5 points per game and has yet to hold an opponent below 23.
The Redskins are also bad defensively, ranking 30th in total defense (398.8 ypg) and 31st in points allowed (31.6 per game) but Ponder is not the type who can win a shootout.
His play in Dallas last week was considered a major improvement, yet Ponder still threw his sixth interception in five starts and lost the ball on a strip sack in the end zone that cost the Vikings seven points and essentially the game.
The Redskins haven't won back-to-back games all season but that figures to end here.
Ponder is winless (0-5) as a starter this season and it's more than obvious a number of key defensive players have already checked out on Frazier.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 30, Vikings 17
11/06 13:47:46 ET