Per my earlier meltdown, I'll be posting an abbreviated game preview of both team's offenses. Defensive breakdowns should follow on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings -- Quarterback Brad Johnson needs no introduction in Washington, as he is a former Redskin. He comes off a resurgent 2005 where he replaced a struggling Daunte Culpepper after 6 games and brought a dismal 2-4 team to a respectable 9-7 finish. Above all else he protected the ball well with an impressive 3:1 TD:Int ratio.
He'll be protected up front by a much improved offensive line that includes the largest, figuratively and literally, offseason acquisition for the Vikes: Steve Hutchinson. If you remember, the Vikings essentially stole Hutchinson from the Seahawks last year in a crafty free agency deal where they guaranteed his salary should he fail to be the highest paid player on the offensive line. This was no trouble at all for the Vikings (who also made Hutchinson the highest paid offensive guard in NFL history) as they had no one else to pay the big bucks on the line. The Seahawks, forced to match, would've had to guarantee all of Hutchinson's contract as they had recently rewarded Tackle Walter Jones with a higher contract. The Seahawks were unwilling to guarantee all of Hutchinson's contract, and now he's a Viking.
Look for the Vikings to try and force former Baltimore Ravens RB Chester Taylor behind Hutchinson on the left side. Taylor has yet established himself as a starting caliber RB: in four years Taylor has only accumulated a dismal 4 career rushing TDs. To contrast, Clinton Portis had 4 touchdowns after eight games.
The Receivers for Minnesota are mediocre. Travis Taylor is a competent starter but by no means a breakout player. He always seems one year away from breaking out, yet inevitably fizzles. Since 2002 (his best year with 869 yards receiving) his production has consistently decreased. Second WR Troy Williamson has a much higher upside than Taylor, but is unproven. He has just 24 career receptions, but will have his chance to shine on Monday against an injured Redskins secondary. Jimmy Kleinsasser is not a threat at Tight End.
All around this Vikings offense has a lot to prove against a proven defense. The offensive line is better than it was last year, and will need to be since the Vikings were the 25th ranked offense last year and gave up more sacks than everyone besides Houston. Still, give the Vikings credit for knowing where to invest rebuilding resources; all things follow from the offensive line, and if this unit improves dramatically then it will help both the ground and air game. Still, I think the offense is not a top 15 or top 10 threat in 2006 and lacks game breaking playmakers at all skill positions.
Your Washington Redskins -- Lots of parallels here as aging Quarterback Mark Brunell also comes off a big 2005. His 23 TD passes last year were good for a career best... at 36 years old. Brunell is also careful with the football, with an impressively low 10 interceptions last year. Throughout his career Brunell has proven a wise decision maker, which is good because Coach Joe Gibbs places an obsessive emphasis on turnover ratios.
And his numbers look to improve with the key offseason acquisitions made among our receiving unit. Man-crush Santana Moss had an amazing 1483 yards receiving last year. He'll be joined by position upgrades Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle-El. Lloyd had more receptions last year than David Patten, James Thrash, and Taylor Jacobs combined, and ARE brings play trickery as well as a needed boost as a return specialist. Defenses will find it hard to adjust to Moss by shifting double teams his way as there will actually be two additional receivers on the field. Throw in Chris Cooley and you've got an extremely potent receiving core that should make catches all over the field. This unit presents enormous mismatches that will no doubt be exploited by our biggest offseason acquisition: Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders.
Although it is doubtful that Clinton Portis will play this week, Ladell Betts is a more than capable backup and will be assisted by goal-line/short yardage runner TJ Duckett. Saunders likes to utilize Running Backs in the passing game and has been vocally ecstatic over Betts ability to catch the ball and turn up field.
Both RBs will be running behind an incredibly talented offensive line of pro bowl caliber players such as Jon Jansen, Randy Thomas, and Chris Samuels. Derrick Dockery dropped 25 pounds in the offseason and has legendary line Coach Joe Bugel singing his praises:
This is good news from a line that broke Redskins team rushing records and allowed a respectable 31 sacks last year. If they can remain healthy, the unit is poised for a huge year.
All in all I think the offensive assesment favors the Redskins. This is unsurprising, as they finished higher than the Vikes last year in total offense, rushing yards, and scoring. The Vikings were slightly better in the air, though the miniscule gap could be elimianted with the key offseason acquisitions of Lloyd, ARE, and Al Saunders. If Clinton Portis plays there is no question who dominates that battle, though Ladell Betts and TJ Duckett are better than Chester Taylor (for now, at least). The offseason pickup of Steve Hutchinson is good news for Viking's fans, but this is still a work-in-progress. Edge? Redskins.
Favorite skill position comparison? Jim Kleinsasser vs. Chris Cooley. In the words of the great Walter Sobchak: This is not a worthy adversary.