Vikes need strong pass rush in tough next 2 games

Vikes need strong pass rush in tough next 2 games

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings must play perhaps their best yet this season to emerge from the last six games with a playoff spot, let alone a winning record.

The defensive line will have a big part in it.

Minnesota visits Chicago on Sunday and Green Bay the week after, facing the NFC North co-leaders with 7-3 records. The Vikings are right behind at 6-4, and to catch them they're probably going to have to chase down their quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage at least a few times.

The Vikings have mostly been voicing the one-game-at-a-time line like a typical football team, but it's difficult to ignore the magnitude of this closing stretch.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who missed the last game because of a concussion but has been cleared for practice, has taken the second-most sacks in the league with 28. Aaron Rodgers of the Packers is first with 32.

As strong as both of these long-time rivals are in other areas, pass protection is one weakness the Vikings are equipped to exploit.

``That's a big deal for us, to be able to rush the passer. You want to be able to do it every week. It's something we target,'' coach Leslie Frazier said.

After tying for the NFL lead with 50 sacks last year, the Vikings have slipped a bit. They're tied for 11th in the league with 26. Jared Allen, who nearly broke the all-time single-season record in 2011 with 22 sacks, has seven, tied for 13th in the NFL. Brian Robison has 5 1/2.

With Jason Campbell subbing for Cutler at San Francisco on Monday, the Bears were blown out and gave up six sacks. But defensive coordinator Alan Williams downplayed any new holes the 49ers might have opened for them.

``I think that ballgame was kind of an anomaly in terms of what happened the other night. If you look at that and think that's what Chicago is, that's a huge mistake. It'll be a completely different team this Sunday,'' Williams said.

Allen has been bothered by minor groin and shoulder injuries, but he said the bye week helped him freshen up. That's what it's for.

``You just work through it. Nobody is 100 percent this time of year,'' Allen said.

In eight games against the Bears since he was traded to the Vikings in 2008, Allen has 13 sacks. But he has only enjoyed two victories, none of them at Soldier Field. Minnesota's win there in 2007 is the only one since 2000.

``There has to be a sense of urgency, and this game is as big as it gets this week,'' Allen said. ``Might as well be the Super Bowl for this week. Then we'll move on to next week.''

For Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota, four of their final six games are intra-division. So as difficult as the remaining schedule is, also including a trip to AFC-leading Houston, at least staying in the race won't require any extra help. The Vikings simply need to win most of these last contests, and they'll give themselves a chance to extend their season into January.

``Who do we want to be? Do we want to be a playoff team or not? You've got to go out there and win on the road and win tough games. We hold our own destiny. We create our own opportunities. And this is where we're at,'' linebacker Chad Greenway said.

NOTES: WR Percy Harvin didn't practice again Wednesday, and Frazier said he'd prefer that Harvin be on the field with the team at least once before being cleared to play the Bears. Harvin said he's still a little stiff in certain areas of his sprained left ankle, though his condition improved during the team's bye week. ``We ran through pretty much every machine I think they have in there,'' he said. ... LG Charlie Johnson didn't practice Wednesday, either, because of a toe injury that hadn't previously been revealed. ... Owner Zygi Wilf's son, Jonathan, was promoted to vice president of strategic planning and business initiatives. He'll work a lot with the new stadium development team. ... Jamarca Sanford will continue to rotate with Mistral Raymond at the FS position. ``He's playing well. He's playing physical. What people I don't think realize is how good of a leader Jamarca is, how well he communicates across the defense and how much the guys respect him as a player,'' Williams said.


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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

USA Today Sports

10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 


Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?


Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.


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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.



NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.