The Washington Commanders are currently in a good position to make the playoffs. At 4-4, the Commanders hold the last wild-card spot in the NFC, but the calendar just turned to November, and there is a lot of football left.
The next challenge for Washington occurs Sunday when the 6-1 Minnesota Vikings come to FedEx Field for an NFC showdown.
These are two of the hottest teams in the NFL, with the Vikings winning five games in a row and the Commanders have won their past three. The common link between these winning streaks is both teams are winning close games.
Who has the advantage on Sunday?
We’ve identified four keys to victory for the Commanders in Week 9.
Take away the running game from Cousins
Miami Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (43) tackles Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (4). Mandatory Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
This is easier said than done. Dalvin Cook is one of the best running backs in the NFL. He can change a game with one run or methodically wear a defense down. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is at his best when Cook is having success on the ground. While some quarterbacks can operate without a running game, Cousins is dependent upon the success of the rushing attack.
The Commanders have been good against the run, but some teams have found success. Washington is without its top two inside linebackers for Week 9 as Cole Holcomb and David Mayo are out. Jon Bostic will likely start inside while Jamin Davis remains outside.
If Washington can keep Cook at 75 yards or under, that bodes well for its chances to win the game.
Make someone other than Justin Jefferson beat you
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18). Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Again, easier said than done. Justin Jefferson is a top-five NFL wide receiver. He will line up outside and play plenty in the slot. Wherever he is, the Commanders can’t afford any communications issues among the secondary. Jefferson will line up opposite Rachad Wildgoose when he is in the slot. While Wildgoose has played well, that’s not ideal for the Commanders. Jefferson is a phenomenal player, and he’ll make his plays. Washington can’t afford to allow him to win deep or pick up big yards after the catch. Expect Jefferson to see plenty of double teams Sunday.
Another way to limit Jefferson is for Washington’s defensive tackles to keep pressure on Cousins’ face. As anyone knows from his time in D.C., Cousins doesn’t necessarily thrive under pressure, particularly in his face.
Lean on Antonio Gibson
Antonio Gibson #24 of the Washington Commanders looks to avoid a tackle by Adrian Amos #31. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
J.D. McKissic is out Sunday, so that means Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. will handle the snaps at running back. Gibson will pick up McKissic’s third-down role. Gibson has shown his ability to impact the passing game and has caught touchdowns in the last games. The Vikings are No. 29 in passing defense and No. 8 in run defense. You can still against the Vikings, but there are opportunities for quarterback Taylor Heinicke to attack the Minnesota defense close to the line of scrimmage with Gibson.
Feed Terry McLaurin
Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17). Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Good things happen when wide receiver Terry McLaurin is featured in Washington’s offense. Minnesota’s secondary isn’t a team strength, meaning there are opportunities for McLaurin to have a big game. Heinicke isn’t afraid to throw into tight windows with McLaurin because he trusts him to always win — and he usually does. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner did a good job getting McLaurin involved last week, including one 42-yard catch-and-run. Those are the types of chances McLaurin needs against the Vikings.