Here's another key matchup as the Vikings prepare to play the Redskins in Washington on Saturday:
Vikings DE Jared Allen vs. Redskins OLT Willie Smith
Allen was upset last week when he was pulled at the end of the Vikings' blowout loss to the Saints, and some took it as his wanting to chase the league's single-season sack record of 21½, set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Allen has 17½ and has been having one of his finest seasons to date, despite the team losing 12 games. His motor runs hot all game, no matter the score, and he can and has outworked opponents with high effort, as opposed to a variety of fancy pass-rush maneuvers. That's not his game; exceptional pursuit is.
Smith was thrown into the fire after OLT Trent Williams was suspended the final four games of the season for performance-enhancing drugs. Although Smith's first game in the lineup featured some expected slipups, he rebounded nicely in the upset over the Giants. Although Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul worked over Smith a few times, the rookie held his ground for the duration of the game.
Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan weighed in on Smith's challenges this week.
"He can't get concerned with how we're helping him and stuff. We've got to help him from a standpoint by not putting him in that position too much — not allowing Jared to tee off, kind of like what I was getting at in the beginning, not allowing the defensive linemen last week to just tee off and rush the quarterback every time," Shanahan said. "When you have pass rushers like that, if they know you're going to throw it every single play, they're going to get after you and it puts your quarterback, your offensive line and everybody in a tough situation that's hard to be successful in.
"The main thing with Willie is to just keep battling. You know he's going to beat you some times. You hope that the quarterback can make a play (and) get rid of the ball when that does happen. If it doesn't, you just hope he can hold onto it and not make it a worse play. But the main thing for an offensive linemen is when they do get their sack to come back at them. Don't start changing your technique, stick with what you've been working at (and) keeping going because it's going to be a long game."