FS Madieu Williams. He did nothing special to intercept Christian Ponder in the fourth quarter, save for sitting in his zone. Ponder helped with a lazy throw to the receiver. Because he never turned toward him with his feet or his shoulders, the ball sailed on him. Ponder was not under duress. But had Williams merely intercepted the ball then he’s not on this list. The 24-yard touchdown run that followed, racing across the field (and getting good blocks from Josh Wilson among others) made this a difference-making performance. Williams also finished with 12 tackles; that’s too much for a safety, but a few of those were in the box or near the line. In a cover-2 look in the red zone, Williams read Ponder well and helped cover (NO 19)… Williams did a good job with his eyes on the Harvin end around (that he initially fumbled). Williams took a couple steps in, but then shot back wide and strung out Harvin. He missed the tackle, but he slowed him and enabled Ryan Kerrigan to make a tackle (with Reed Doughty coming up hard) for a seven-yard loss.
LB Lorenzo Alexander. After watching him Sunday, I have one question: What took so long? OK, I know the answer. He’s now an inside linebacker and there were other backups behind Brian Orakpo. Sometimes it takes a game or two to see that a guy isn’t getting it done. So I’ll give credit to the coaches for trying something different and letting him rush. It sort of worked, no? Alexander rushes with a hunger to reach his destination. The fumble recovery falls in the category of right spot, right time as linebacker Perry Riley’s rush caused running back Adrian Peterson to brush into Christian Ponder’s arm, causing the ball to come free. But Alexander added energy on other plays. He lined in the middle and rushed around the left tackle for a pressure. He helped tackle Peterson after more pressure forced a checkdown. And my favorite was the pick-and-roll. At least that’s what it resembled. Alexander lined up about a yard over the right guard and shot to his outside shoulder as if he was going to do a stunt with linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. He sort of did as Alexander ran into the right tackle, freeing Kerrigan inside (though the guard picked him up. Alexander knocked the right tackle back and without losing quickness, turned and headed to Ponder where he and Stephen Bowen shared a sack. Those are the same instincts that make him a top special teams player. It helped them defensively – and should earn him more opportunities.
ILB Perry Riley. He did miss a tackle on Adrian Peterson’s 32-yard run, but he wasn’t alone. And for the most part he did an excellent job and finished with a game-high 13 tackles. On the second play of the game, he did an excellent job shedding his block to stop Peterson for three yards. On the third series, on a one-yard Peterson run, Riley filled the hole causing the back to try and go around the right end. Riley, unblocked thanks to the line, came with him down the line and helped string him out, allowing DeAngelo Hall to make the tackle. Riley’s blitz pressure caused the fumble that Alexander recovered. Riley’s pressure through the A gap forced a hurried Ponder throw a deep incompletion.
ST Niles Paul. This is for two special teams plays. His downed punt came at the 4-yard line, helping to set up Williams’ interception return for a touchdown. He also had the helmet-popping hit on the punt return. Paul is an excellent gunner and his presence was more than felt in this game, though it wasn’t his best game as a blocker at tight end.
LB Ryan Kerrigan. Some guys I measure with different expectations. Kerrigan is one of those players and he was just… too… quiet on Sunday. There were times when it seemed on his pass rushes that he was almost waiting for Ponder to be flushed to the outside. In fact, that is what he was doing. Ponder often drifts to his right when pressured (it’s how Kerrigan his one pressure in the first half, when others flushed Ponder). So it makes sense to do that. And there were a lot of plays when there were quick passes or a bootleg the other way. But Kerrigan still had too quiet of a game. He had a pass interference, but it wasn’t a difference-maker. However, even when Kerrigan wanted to get after the passer and wasn’t worried about him getting outside he didn’t apply much pressure. When they face more explosive offenses, they’ll need more from Kerrigan in this area.
NT Barry Cofield. He had a difficult matchup in center John Sullivan and it showed. Sullivan was able to control Cofield, with occasional help from a guard blocking down, most of the game when the Redskins were in their base package. And Cofield did not apply enough pressure on the pass rush, especially when facing Sullivan (Chris Baker did drive him back on one rush). His two best rushes came when facing right guard Brandon Fusco, who struggled vs. others, too. Sullivan is one of the best centers in the league – if not the best — but the Redskins had hoped Cofield would be one of the best nose tackles in the league. That wasn’t the case Sunday. Cofield has fared better.
…It’s hard to judge the Redskins by their numbers in this game and there’s a little bit of a back-and-forth struggle here. Minnesota scored 14 points and gained 212 of its 421 yards in the fourth quarter. But as we’ve seen, the Redskins struggle to play a complete game. Was it because they were sitting on a lead? There’s no doubt they were more interested in coverage as, on Ponder’s last 23 throws (excluding bootlegs and a bubble screen) they sent more than four rushers only five times. But the Vikings only used more than five blockers only six times in that span, so there were one-on-one matchups to win. However, they also forced Minnesota to dink-and-dunk its way down the field; then again, that’s all the Vikings ever do (the real problem is that Minnesota kept getting out of bounds or the strategy would have worked much better). They’re not a quick-strike offense. They now have 12 pass plays for 20 yards or more on the season with three coming in this game. There also was a 27-yard pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown.
Also, on the Vikings two fourth quarter scoring drives, totaling 18 plays, they faced third down only twice. So you can’t just dismiss what the Vikings did in in the final quarter. OK, the first drive came with the Redskins up 19, but the second one did not and it cut the lead to five with 3:36 remaining. If not for a bad blitz and Robert Griffin III’s heroics, we might be looking at this fourth quarter much differently.
…I really liked how the Redskins handled the situational aspects and that’s as big a reason as any for this win. Their red zone defense was excellent as was their play after a sudden change. After Griffin tossed an interception at the Redskins’ 35-yard line, they forced a short field goal. That series came after Sav Rocca’s shanked 33-yard punt gave Minnesota the ball at its own 47-yard line, giving it a similar feel as a turnover. Playing with short fields on consecutive drives, the Vikings needed to produce a touchdown. The Redskins stopped them and, obviously, deserve credit.
And by holding Minnesota to three field goals in the first quarter, it enabled the offense to continue with its game plan and not be forced to throw it around. That’s not their strength. While Griffin bailed out the defense late, the defense saved him in the beginning – and helped produce 14 points via turnovers.
…The Vikings ran 20 plays in the red zone and gained just 46 yards, with two touchdowns, four field goals and one interception. That’s a good day for Washington’s defense. (But seven red zone trips is a lot.)
…I liked how the defensive coaches used different players. Newly-signed linebacker Mario Addison had a couple good rushes, flushing Ponder on one occasion and slipping through a double team late in the game for a good rush. They used Alexander well. They put DeAngelo Hall at safety a few times and used both safeties up near the line in run situations.
…Harvin and Peterson have to be two of the hardest people to defend because you need to swarm both players. Or else. Both make good tacklers look bad. Peterson did this on the fifth play of the third quarter. It only resulted in a five-yard gain, but it was impressive because of his ability to make defenders miss. He took a pitch around the end and linebackers London Fletcher and Riley headed over in pursuit, with one lineman out front. Fletcher was attacking the outside shoulder of the lineman and Riley the inside. Stephen Bowen was about a yard to the right of Riley. Not much of an opening, but enough of one for Peterson to cut back to his left causing Fletcher to fall and the others to turn their head and probably wonder what just happened. And I have to say Chris Baker did a terrific job on the play, showing some athleticism. He was in pursuit to his left but when Peterson cut back, Baker did as well and helped make the tackle. Again, only five yards but it showed why you had to be so good against him every play.
…I like how Minnesota gets the ball to Percy Harvin, who finished with 133 yards receiving. He’s almost a hybrid running back/receiver. The danger for him is when he gets the ball in space and he can find holes, leaving defenders reaching for air. On one play the Vikings motioned him to just off the left side of the line, then threw to him as he cut across the formation after the snap. London Fletcher was inside, over the left guard. I don’t know what he could have done differently, yet he had no chance to stop Harvin on the play. Another time Harvin turned a short pass on the left side into a dangerous nine-yard gain as he cut back across the field. If not for a David Jones tackle as he was just about to turn the corner, it could have been a lot worse. Jones, incidentally, played in place of rookie corner Richard Crawford (who received one snap, but missed a tackle on the play).