What to watch for when the Seahawks play the Minnesota Vikings

  • Fri Oct 9th, 2020 3:30pm
  • Sports

By Bob Condotta

The Seattle Times

The seemingly annual game against Minnesota also allows for the Seahawks to make some history Sunday night.

Beat Minnesota and Seattle will get to 5-0 for the first time in a team history that dates to 1976.

There won’t be a lot of secrets between these two teams, though, as this will be the fifth regular-season game the two have played since December 2015, as well as a playoff game at the end of the 2015 season and preseason games every year from 2016-19.

In fact, Seattle coach Pete Carroll is 6-0 against the Vikings — a team for which he spent five years as an assistant in the 1980s — in the regular season and playoffs with the Seahawks, all since 2012.

And then there’s Seattle’s attempt to improve its 30-7-1 record in prime time since Carroll became coach in 2010.

So, no shortage of story lines for this one.

Let’s look at a few keys to the game.

Matchup to watch

Seattle’s receivers vs. Minnesota’s cornerbacks

The weather could be a little stormy Sunday night, and Seattle may try to rely on its rushing more than in the first four games. Conversely, the Seahawks passing attack is so electric right now that even a little rain may not douse it too much.

And on paper, Seattle has a big edge in its receiving corps going against a remade Minnesota cornerback group that has also been battling injuries.

The Vikings last week started rookies Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney at the two corner spots, though regular starting left corner Mike Hughes may be back this week after missing two games. Regardless, the inexperience at corner is one reason this has been a most un-Mike Zimmer-like defense so far, with the Vikings allowing 1,167 passing yards, fourth-most in the NFL.

Attacking the corners makes sense to try to avoid the veteran safety duo of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris.

And as Pro Football Focus noted this week, Seattle has been able to find its receivers open on the outside as much as any team in the NFL so far — according to PFF, of Russell Wilson’s 136 passes this year, 79 have been thrown outside the numbers, the third-highest rate in the NFL.

Players to watch

Linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright

Each of Seattle’s veteran defensive mainstays appears to be playing as well as ever in their careers but especially against the run — Wagner has the fourth-highest grade against the run of any linebacker this week via PFF, while Wright is seventh, with each keying a Seattle defense allowing 1.5 yards per attempt less than a year ago.

But now comes Seattle’s toughest running challenge of the season in Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, who leads the NFL with 424 yards, averaging 5.7 per attempt, and also has rushed for 25 first downs, six more than anyone else in the NFL.

It takes a team to stop a rushing attack and the play of the line will be critical, too.

But Wright and Wagner will be the key to not letting Cook turn small gains into long ones. While Seattle had a few tackling issues last week, overall the Seahawks have been solid in that department — according to Pro Football Reference, Seattle has missed just 19 tackles on the season, tied for third-fewest in the NFL.

Coaching decision to watch

To blitz or not to blitz?

Seattle was one of the most blitz-heavy teams in the NFL the first three weeks, with 60 in the first three games, via Pro Football Reference, including 23 on 57 pass attempts against Dallas. Last week, the Seahawks blitzed just five times on 45 pass attempts by Miami.

One reason was the absence of Jamal Adams, who blitzed 31 times in the first three games. Another was a desire to play deeper coverage and drop more defenders back to eliminate big plays, which worked well against the Dolphins, who didn’t have a gain of longer than 26 yards and were held out of the end zone until the final two minutes.

Adams is again out, so that might mean sticking with less blitzing.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., though, said every week is different, and Minnesota opponents have been pressuring Kirk Cousins a little more this season than in past years — he’s been sacked 10 times in four games compared to 28 all of last season and has already thrown six interceptions, tying his total for all of last year. Cousins also likes to throw it deep — his average depth of target of 12.1 yards is highest in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

So, a little more pressure may be in order.

The X-Factor

The weather

So, as noted earlier, the forecast for Sunday is not too good.

And through the years, a narrative has developed that Wilson’s subpar games tend to come more often in bad weather — his worst passer rating a year ago came in the home loss in the rain to Baltimore (though maybe that had more to do with the Ravens defense. Same with an earlier home loss in the rain to the Saints).

But if the forecast of showers holds, maybe this is the day to really unleash Chris Carson against a Minnesota defense that allowed 134 or more yards rushing in each of its first three games. When he has gotten the ball, Carson has been as effective as ever — his 4.5 yards per carry average matches his career average. But his attempts per game are down to 13.3 from 18.5 last season.

Players who could surprise

Cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin/Tre Flowers/Quinton Dunbar

Griffin had a return-to-form game last week with another key interception and better play overall, giving up just two completions on seven targets. Flowers, again filling in for Dunbar, allowed 12 completions on 14 targets, but as of Friday the Seahawks are hoping Dunbar will return.

Regardless, the two corners — as well as nickel corner Ugo Amadi — will have their hands full against the Minnesota receiving duo of rookie Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, currently rated the top two receivers in the league by Pro Football Focus.

Jefferson has 348 receiving yards, eighth in the NFL, while Thielen is 20th with 284. Those two have combined to get 51 of Cousins’ 94 targets.

Key stat

86.7 and 41.2

Those are the red-zone percentages of Seattle’s offense and Minnesota’s defense, each among the best in the NFL.

Seattle has scored touchdowns on 13 of 15 drives inside the 20, best in the NFL, while the Vikings have allowed touchdowns on just seven of 17 drives inside the 20.

The way to keep an underdog in the game is settling for field goals, especially against a Minnesota offense that the one bad game against the Colts may obscure some — the Vikings have scored 30 or more in their other three games.

The final word

Prediction: Seahawks 34, Vikings 27

If the Seahawks score 30 or more points, it’ll be the first time in franchise history they have done so in five straight games. If they win and score 30 or more, they’ll be the fifth team in NFL history to do that in five straight games. No reason to think it can’t happen, with the Vikings allowing the 29th-most yards in the NFL and the 26th-most points.

There will be some nervous moments because that’s the way things figure to be with this defense this season. But the Seahawks will head happily into their bye.