NFL Preview - Washington (3-5) at Minnesota (3-5) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Robert Griffin III is expected to be back under center on Sunday when the Washington Redskins take their modest two-game winning streak to Minnesota.
First-year Redskins coach Jay Gruden confirmed RG3, who suffered a dislocated left ankle in Week 2 against Jacksonville and hasn't played since, will make his return "if he shows he can handle the workload" in practice.
Griffin was a full practice participant on Wednesday for the first time since the injury and split first-team reps with Colt McCoy.
"We'll see ... it's all going to depend on how he does in (Thursday) and Friday," said Gruden. "And moving forward, how I feel he's coming back. From a physical standpoint he looks good, now it's a matter of mental and getting back into the football part of it."
McCoy's performance in Dallas on Monday night, in which he completed 25-of-30 passes for 299 yards to help the Redskins to an overtime upset of NFC East rival Cowboys, could also factor in the decision. With the Redskins having their bye after Sunday's game, Griffin could receive an additional two weeks of recovery time before returning for a home matchup against Tampa Bay on Nov. 16.
"If he looks good in that (mental) regard, then there's a chance he could play. And if not and he needs another week, he'll take another week," said Gruden.
McCoy has held his own since replacing an ineffective Kirk Cousins for the second half of Washington's Week 7 game against Tennessee. The former Cleveland Browns starter went 11-of-12 for 128 yards to rally the Redskins to a 19-17 win over the Titans, then played solidly in the Dallas game.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are also coming off an overtime win, outlasting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Central Florida when rookie linebacker Anthony Barr, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week, returned a fumble 27 yards for a touchdown in the extra frame to lift Minnesota to a 19-13 win.
After his team blew a 10-0 lead in the fourth quarter, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh made a 38-yard field goal as time expired in regulation to tie the game at 13.
On the first play of overtime, Barr stripped the football from Austin Seferian-Jenkins, scooped it up and raced 27 yards the other way for the game- winning score, only the fourth time an NFL game has ended that way in OT.
"It's really unfortunate because we were playing really hard and we were doing a great job," said Seferian-Jenkins. "It's unfortunate I fumbled the ball. I have to have better ball security."
Teddy Bridgewater completed 24-of-42 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings, who snapped a three-game skid. Jerick McKinnon carried the ball 16 times for 83 yards and Cordarrelle Patterson caught six passes for 86 yards.
"During the week, the practices, we were humming pretty good defensively," said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. "I said: 'If we can continue to do these things, then we have a chance to be a good defensive football team.' We're definitely not there yet, we've got a long way to go, but I think we've made pretty good strides since the beginning of the season."
If Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis wasn't busy himself on Sunday, he would probably be at TCF Bank Stadium acting like a proud papa. Lewis' coaching tree exploded before this season when both of his coordinators from his 2013 staff, Gruden and Zimmer, got head coaching jobs.
With Gruden and Zimmer, the Bengals made three consecutive trips to the playoffs with the offense ranking 10th, 12th and 19th in points scored, and the defense measuring fourth, sixth and ninth.
"It's probably going to be overhyped a little bit on me knowing him and him knowing me," Gruden said. "Hell, I don't know when he's going to call his blitzes and when he's going to call his zones."
Zimmer said he remains good friends with Gruden and praised the offensive- minded coach for his own innovative skills.
"I honestly don't like going against my friends because I know at the end of the day one of us is going to be upset," Zimmer said. "But it is what it is. I'm sure he'll have his team ready to play and hopefully I'll have my team ready to play."
The Vikings and Redskins have split their 18 previous meetings.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The shift from a read-and-react Tampa-2 base defense under former coach Leslie Frazier to the far more aggressive default setting of Zimmer has worked wonders for the defense in Minnesota.
Zimmer has significantly upgraded a group which ranked 31st total defense in 2013 and dead last in scoring defense. Midway through the season the Vikings are eighth in total defense, allowing 323.8 yards per game, fourth in passing defense at 212.1 ypg and second in sacks with 25.
He's also cultivated stars at all three levels. Everson Griffen, the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the month, has turned into one of the game's best pass rushers and is currently second in the conference with eight sacks. Griffen recorded an NFC-best six sacks in a four-game span during the month of October and also led all NFC defensive linemen with 20 total tackles in the month.
Barr, fresh off his game-winning FF-FR-TD trifecta in Tampa, is an athletic marvel who will only improve with experience and Harrison Smith has been the best safety in the NFC during the first half.
"The problem is (Zimmer) he gives you so many looks, especially in the blitz," Gruden said. "He's the blitz doctor. So we just got to be on top of what we do and protect the quarterback."
The lone issue for the Vikings has been late-game collapses, something that was a staple under Frazier and an issue Zimmer has yet to fix.
Whomever plays QB for Washington will be piloting a team with significant weapons, featuring a solid receiving trio in Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts as well as a matchup problem at tight end in Jordan Reed. Running back Alfred Morris is also an issue for any opposing defense although he is far more effective when RG3 is in the lineup and the read-option is in play.
"(Gruden) has got terrific personnel there in Washington," Zimmer said. "I think the tight ends are all good and obviously the receivers and running back. I'm sure that he would tell you that his personnel is very good as well."
The Vikings offense has struggled mightily thanks to injury and off-the-field issues. Minnesota planned to line up with QB Matt Cassel (broken foot), star running back Adrian Peterson (banishment), tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia), right guard Brandon Fusco (turn pec) and wide receiver Jerome Simpson (released due to drug issue) playing significant roles.
Instead they have had to rely on the rookie duo of Bridgewater and McKinnon, who both have significant talent but are going through the requisite growing pains behind a shoddy offensive line.
Minnesota is currently ranked 29th overall in offense at 312.0 ypg and will be facing a Jim Haslett-led defense that likes to bring he blitz. The Redskins are tied for ninth in the NFL with 21 sacks and 14 of those have come with more than four rushers, Overall the Washington D blitzes nearly a third of the time on early downs and 50 percent on third down.
"I think Teddy has been improving each and every week," Zimmer said. "A lot of teams are giving him a bunch a different looks, as I am sure the Redskins will as well. But he has got great composure, he has been great in the two-minute drill -- end of the game, end of the half situations.
"I think we are getting better at down situations for him. So it has been a work in progress the entire time. But I feel like we are starting to move in the correct direction now."
Making the move away from McCoy with the bye week looming seems like a strange tact to take for the Redskins because we all know what happened the last time RG3 rushed back from an injury.
The "blitz doctor" is well aware that Griffin will be rusty and you can bet he will be dialing up pressure from every which way while using the athletic Barr backing that up as an RG3 spy.
Figure on the Vikings escaping with a close win.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Vikings 20, Redskins 16