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Redskins vs. Vikings Bold Predictions

Redskins vs. Vikings Bold Predictions

This game is a classic gut check for the Washington Redskins. They have nothing tangible to gain from Sunday’s game against the Vikings. Minnesota, on the other hand, is trying to avoid a road loss that would knock the team out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Teams in the Redskins’ situation react differently. In 1979 the Chicago Bears played the St. Louis Cardinals in the season finale. The Bears needed a win and a Redskin loss later in the day to get a playoff spot while the Cards were, as usual, playing out the string. The Cardinals laid down like dogs, putting up no fight in going down to a 42-6 defeat. Chicago got its playoff spot after Dallas rallied to beat the Redskins.

Last year, though, it was an identical situation with the Arizona Cardinals facing the Vikings this time. This time the Cardinals did not quit; the fought to the end and shattered the hearts of those in Viking land with a stunning 18-17 win on the last play of the game.

So which team will the Redskins more closely resemble on Sunday? Will they show up wanting to make their small but indelible mark on this NFL season by knocking the Vikes out of the postseason? Or will they be more worried about tee times for next week?

The best guess is that the former scenario should prevail. Last week’s loss to Dallas was a setback in trying to build some positive momentum going into the 2005 season and they don’t want to go into the offseason with consecutive losses. On top of that, not everyone’s job is safe and anything less than a full effort will not be looked upon well by Gibbs and company.

But even if the spirit is willing, the collective body may not be cooperative. Clinton Portis has been placed on injured reserve with a sternum injury suffered in the Dallas game. Fred Smoot is doubtful and dime corner Ade Jimoh was also placed on IR.

If Smoot can’t play, the Redskins will be extremely shorthanded in the defensive backfield against a team with one of the best receiving corps in the NFL in Randy Moss, Nate Burleson, and Marcus Robinson. Walt Harris will start in Smoot’s position opposite Shawn Springs and undrafted rookies Garnell Wilds and Rufus Brown will come in for passing situations. With Daunte Culpepper, who might be a league MVP candidate if not for a guy named Manning, throwing the ball it could get ugly.

Against such a potential onslaught, Gibbs and company could design their offensive game plan in a couple of different ways. They could play keep away and try to grind it out with Ledell Betts in Portis’ place in the backfield carrying a heavy load and Patrick Ramsey throwing short passes to Chris Cooley and Laveranues Coles. Or he could open it up, let Ramsey go deep to Rod Gardner, Coles, and Taylor Jacobs.

Playing against the 29th-ranked Minnesota defense either could be a good option. I see a lot of the first with a little of the second. Expect 25 or so carries for Betts and several attempts at long passes by Ramsey.

How many points will that add up to? Not enough. The offensive line will need to have a dominant game for this to work. We’ve been waiting for the offensive line to have such a game all year and it’s not likely to happen in the 17th week of the season.

Vikings 24, Redskins 14

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Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

Despite one-year contract, Gruden unequivocal about Kirk Cousins' position

RICHMOND - Looking at the contracts for the two most important people associated with the Washington Redskins, a clear discrepancy arises. The head coach, Jay Gruden, is under contract until 2020. The quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is only under contract for 2017. 

Some speculation suggested that, given the diverging deals, at some point Gruden might look to develop another passer that's locked in with the Redskins for the long-term. Backup QB Colt McCoy is under contract for the next two seasons, and second-year passer Nate Sudfeld is under team control through the 2019 season. 

Gruden made clear that isn't the case. Crystal clear. 

"We're focused on Kirk," the head coach said. "He's our starter and he's going to get all the starter reps. Period."

Cousins should obviously be the focus. In the past two seasons he's twice broken the Washington single season passing yards record, and his rise has coincided with the Redskins first back to back winning seasons in 20 years. 

As for practice reps, Cousins will get the vast majority. McCoy will get work, and Sudfeld too, but this Redskins team is focused on winning this season. 2018 contracts are not on the coach's mind in July of 2017, nor should they be. 

"Colt [McCoy] will take advantage of his reps, I'm sure he will. And Nate [Sudfeld] will get a few sprinkled in there. We're trying to develop Nate also for the future. But, this is Kirk's team right now, and it's our job to get him ready for Philadelphia and really surround him and make him feel good about the people around him. Trying to get him used to [Josh] Doctson, get him used to [Terrelle] Pryor, we have some new weapons around him, so it's a matter of getting him ready. But Kirk will get all of them."

With a rebuilt defense and plenty of options offensively, the Redskins should compete for a playoff spot this year. Is there a scenario where the team sputters and spirals into a lost season? Maybe. And in that hypothetical scenario, perhaps at some point it makes sense to see what another passer can do. It's a long shot. 

For Redskins fans, know that Cousins is the unequivocal starter. Period. 

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Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

Focus will be on Redskins' tight end depth during Jordan Reed's absence

RICHMOND—The Redskins will be without Jordan Reed in training camp for an unknown period of time. Although his toe injury does not appear to be serious, others will have to fill the gap until he is able to return. And the Redskins just so happen to have one of the deepest tight end groups in the NFL and they added another one with NFL playing experience on Thursday.

Jay Gruden said that the Redskins needed to sign E.J. Bibbs, who has one NFL catch in his career, because Vernon Davis, the backup tight end, has “a little bit of a tweaked hamstring.” Davis, who caught 44 passes for 583 yards last year, seemed to me moving fine in practice after Gruden spoke to the media but he could need some reps off on occasion so they brought in Bibbs to fill in the gap. There is no point in pushing the 33-year-old Davis if it’s not necessary.

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The Redskins have even more options at tight end. Niles Paul is back and he appears to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for the last eight games in 2016. Paul is going into his seventh season and while he is mostly relied on for special teams play he does have a 500-yard season on his resume (2014).

During offseason practices fifth-round rookie Jeremy Sprinkle looked like he had a lot to learn as he goes from a run-based offense at Arkansas to the Redskins’ sophisticated pass-first scheme. He will need to find his comfort level before he takes any snaps in Reed’s place.

The forgotten veteran is Derek Carrier, who now appears to be fully healthy after he missed the first half of last season with a knee injury he suffered late in 2015. He had just two receptions for 10 yards last year in limited playing time on offense.

MORE REDSKINS: Live practice report, Day 1

Joining Bibbs in the long shot category is Manasseh Garner, a first-year player out of Pitt. While neither player seems to have a shot at the 53-man roster, the Redskins could carry one of the tight ends on the practice squad.

Depth is a good thing to have and the Redskins have done a good job assembling a backup plan at tight end. But you just can’t replace Reed, one of the best few tight ends in the NFL, without a significant drop off in production. The Redskins will let the backups compete and learn in training camp and will keep Reed either on the sideline or doing very light work until he is fully ready to go (and then some).

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.