5 Keys to Victory for the Seahawks against the Vikings …
Last Sunday, the Seahawks traveled to Detroit with hopes of shutting the Lions’ mouths and stealing a win. Unlike Daniel though, there wasn’t any deliverance from the Lions den for the Hawks, as Detroit snacked on them to the tune of a 28-24 defeat.
Now it is the Seahawks who return home desperate for a win, hosting a Vikings team with hopes of plundering Century Link Field. Contrary to those monks at Lindisfarne who were caught completely by surprise in 793 AD, the Seahawks have long watched the longships of these raiders slowly making their way westward. Will they succeed in looting a much needed Seahawks win … or will the Hawks give them a Viking Funeral on Sunday? Here are 5 areas of focus -- Keys to victory for the Seahawks …
Ace the AP Test …
Stopping the Vikings Offense has to start with having all eyes on #28. As the league’s leading rusher (775 yards), Adrian Peterson will be a true test for a Seahawks defense that prides itself on stopping the run.
Just to give you a quick comparison to how good the Vikings running attack has been, here are some fast stats …
Rushing Offense Comparison …
Vikings Rushing Yards – 1,066 (5th in the NFL)
Seahawks Rushing Yards – 1,055 (6th in the NFL)
Vikings Rushing Average – 4.7 Yds/Carry (tied for 5th Best in the NFL)
Seahawks Rushing Average – 4.3 Yds/Carry (tied for 9th Best in the NFL)
As you know, Peterson is one of the true elite running backs in the game … and perhaps one of the best backs that has ever played. As a power runner with size (6’1” 217 pounds), speed (he ran a 40 in 4.4 seconds at the combine), elusiveness, and power … he reminds me a lot of his compatriot on the other side – Marshawn Lynch. And what’s more remarkable about what Peterson is doing is the fact that he tore BOTH the Medial Collateral and Anterior Cruciate Ligaments in his left knee back on December 24th (what a Christmas present). Who could have predicted what he’s doing, given the fact that he he’s coming off reconstructive knee surgery? Though Peterson has been a bit dinged up with a nagging ankle injury, he’s a guy to definitely be feared.
Since 2007, he and Chris Johnson have lead the NFL in most games with 100 yards rushing. And not all those yards are uncontested, by the way. Adrian Peterson leads the league in Yards after Contact (404 yards), averaging 2.4 Yards after he’s hit. Marshawn Lynch has 303 yards after contact (#2 in the NFL), but has averaged 2.8 Yards after he’s been hit. So expect rock-‘em-sock-‘em robots on Sunday.
Seattle’s Front 4 – and Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane in particular – are going to have to show up big time on Sunday, as the Vikings have run Peterson 69 times right up the middle (45.69% of his 151 attempts). In fact, 86.75% of the time, those runs have been right up the gut (where he has been most effective). Peterson has averaged 5.37 yards/carry between the tackles … but only 3.6 yards/carry in those few plays (only 20 on the season) that have been down the sidelines. So, Peterson’s lateral quickness appears to be a bit suspect – which we might expect from a veteran RB (who’s taken quite a pounding over 6 years) coming back from knee surgery.
Just a quick look at Seattle’s rush defense …
Seahawks have allowed 679 Rushing Yards (7th Fewest in the NFL)
Seahawks allow 3.7 Yards/Rush (tied for 6th Best)
Seahawks have allowed only 3 Rushing TD’s (Top 9 in the NFL)
Though the Hawks might not be able to stop him completely, they’ve shown they can certainly shut down opposing backs especially at home.
Cowboys – 16 carries – 49 yards (0 TD)
Packers – 21 carries – 84 yards (1 TD – Cedric Benson)
Patriots – 26 carries – 87 yards (0 TD)
63 carries/220 yards = 3.49 yards/carry (6th Best in the League at Home) and only 1 TD.
In addition, it should also be mentioned that Peterson has been a far different back on the road vs. at home.
Adrian Peterson has averaged 150.0 Yds/Game at home. On the Road though, that number drops to105.3 Yds/Game. Peterson has had 6 Rushing TD at home … but has had NONE on the Road so far this year.
So for the Seahawks this Sunday, it’s going to be all about gap control and discipline at the point of attack. They simply cannot allow another repeat performance like the one they had against Frank Gore and the 49ers. And as the statistics show, if the Seahawks can get force Peterson in to becoming more of an East-West Runner than a North-South one … they have a very good chance of victory and of putting more of the pressure to win squarely on #7’s shoulders …
Give Christian and the O Something to Ponder …
To fully appreciate Christian Ponder and the Vikings passing attack, let’s take a look at some of the numbers and statistics from their first 8 games …
Passing Offense …
Vikings Passing Yards – 1,653 (22nd in NFL)
Seahawks Passing Yards – 1,369 (30th in NFL)
Passing TD’s … both Vikings and Seahawks have 10
INT’s … Vikings have 7 INT’s … Seahawks have 8.
So while Ponder and the Vikings have thrown for more yards than Russell Wilson … Wilson and the Seahawks have been basically just as effective as the Vikings have been in the passing game.
Week 1 – Home against Jacksonville (WIN 26-23)
Christian Ponder was 20 of 27 Passes (74.1% Comp) for 266 Yards … 0 TD … 0 INT
Jaguars Defense allows 251.3 Passing Yards/Game (10th Most in the league)
Jaguars Defense allows 135.7 Rushing Yards/Game (8th Most in the league)
Jaguars ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #31
Week 2 – At Indianapolis (LOSS 20-23)
Christian Ponder was 27 of 35 Passes (77.1% Comp) for 232 Yards … 2 TD … 0 INT
Colts Defense allows 213.0 Passing Yards/Game (7th Fewest in the league)
Colts Defense allows 137.4 Rushing Yards/Game (6th Most in the league)
Colts ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #15
Week 3 – Home against San Francisco (WIN 24-13)
Christian Ponder was 21 of 35 Passes (60% Comp) for 198 Yards … 2 TD … 0 INT
49ers Defense allows 184.0 Passing Yards/Game (2nd Fewest in the league)
49ers Defense allows 87.4 Rushing Yards/Game (7th Fewest in the league)
49ers ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #4
Week 4 – At Detroit (WIN 20-13)
Christian Ponder was 16 of 26 Passes (61.5% Comp) for 111 Yards … 0 TD … 0 INT
Lions Defense allows 214.1 Passing Yards/Game (9th Fewest in the league)
Lions Defense allows 107.6 Rushing Yards/Game (16th in the league)
Lions ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #17
Week 5 – Home against Tennessee (WIN 30-7)
Christian Ponder was 25 of 35 Passes (71.4% Comp) for 258 Yards … 2 TD … 2 INT
Titans Defense allows 282.0 Passing Yards/Game (4th Most in the league)
Titans Defense allows 139.2 Rushing Yards/Game (5th Most in the league)
Titans ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #27
Week 6 – At Washington (LOSS 26-38)
Christian Ponder was 35 of 52 Passes (67.3% Comp) for 327 Yards … 2 TD … 2 INT
Redskins Defense allows 314.2 Passing Yards/Game (Most in the league)
Redskins Defense allows 92.1 Rushing Yards/Game (10th Fewest in the league)
Redskins ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #19
Week 7 – Home against Arizona (WIN 21-14)
Christian Ponder was 8 of 17 Passes (47.1% Comp) for 43 Yards … 1 TD … 2 INT
Cardinals Defense allows 192.9 Passing Yards/Game (4th Fewest in the league)
Cardinals Defense allows 119.9 Rushing Yard/Game (12th Most in the league)
Cardinals ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #16
Week 8 – At Tampa Bay (LOSS 17-36)
Christian Ponder was 19 of 35 Passes (54.3% Comp) for 229 Yards … 1 TD … 1 INT
Buccaneers Defense allows 309.6 Passing Yards/Game (2nd Most in the league)
Buccaneers Defense allows 85.1 Rushing Yards/Game (6th Fewest in the league)
Buccaneers ESPN Power Ranking – (Week 9) … #21
Christian Ponder is a QB that started off the season very well … but has cooled as the Fall weather has set in.
Notice if you will that Christian Ponder threw 4 TD and 0 INT in September with a 68.3 Comp%.
In October though … he threw 6 TD passes … but also had 7 INT to go along with them, as he also watched his completion percentage dip to 62.6%.
Over the course of the last 3 games … the Vikings have been a far different team than the one that started off the season 4-1. They have allowed 10 sacks over the past 3 games (the offensive line allowed 9 sacks in their first 5 games). The 19 Sacks that Vikings line has allowed is among the 10 Worst in terms of Sacks Allowed. Coming in to this game, Christian Ponder has been hit 35 times (13th most in football), so teams have increasingly been able to generate pressure on Ponder recently … and when they do so, he makes mistakes.
The Seahawks need to apply pressure this week and to put Ponder on his backside a few times. But since Irvin’s and Clemons’ Week 3 dominance in the Packers game (which resulted in 8 first half sacks for the defense) … Seattle’s defense has averaged just 2.2 Sacks/Game. Seattle’s front 7 is going to have to do a much better job in this game of collapsing the pocket and of making Ponder scramble, because unlike Wilson he doesn’t create well on the run.
The Vikings passing attack is a far cry from the one they saw last week. Whereas Detroit’s Offense has 27 passing plays of 20 yards or more this season (in the top 10) … Minnesota comes in to this game having only 16 (tied with Seattle for the 2nd fewest in the NFL). Additionally, the Vikings average only 6.7 yards/pass (tied for 25th in the league. Seattle averages 7.0 yards/pass by the way). So, Minnesota isn’t nearly the vertical threat that the Lions were.
The one true weapon that the Seahawks DO have to contend with this week is …
In Norse mythology, Thor was the god of lightning and thunder. Looking at the numbers, I would say that Thor is most certainly an apt description for Percy Harvin, as he is most definitely been a god on the field. Harvin has been targeted 30% of the time (79 of Minnesota’s 262 opportunities) and has 60 receptions … 667 yards … and 3 TD to show for it. Of the Vikings 16 pass plays that have gone for 20 yards or more … Harvin has 8 of them. They’ll get Thor (Harvin) the ball from in the slot, flanked out wide, out of the backfield, and on screens as well. He’s also been a heck of a weapon in the return game as well, as he’s averaged 35.7 yards on kickoff returns and has taken one back for a TD this season. So needless to say, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and the rest of the secondary are going to have to don Mercury’s wings if they want to avoid getting zapped this Sunday. I’d look for a lot of safety over the top help from equally speedy Earl Thomas this week.
Outside of Percy Harvin though, I don’t see a Titus Young on this roster. WR Michael Jenkins (24 receptions) and TE Kyle Rudolph (27 receptions) have gotten the bulk of the remainder of the opportunities in the passing game. Rudolph leads the team with 5 touchdowns, most of those in the red zone. He’s more of a short to mid range threat. Adrian Peterson has also been targeted 28 times coming out of the backfield (10.68% of the time), so he’s also someone to keep an eye on as well. If the Seahawks are able to bottle up Harvin, then I believe they stand an excellent chance in this game, as I don’t see anyone else outside of he and Peterson who can really burn them. But as we learned from last game … that’s easier said than done …
Down and Out …
12 of 16 on 3rd Down – that’s what the Seahawks Defense allowed the Lions to do this last Sunday. It’s a stat that has many in the Seahawks community asking themselves whether or not this defense is as good as we all thought it was. So, are the Seahawks an elite defense? Are they even all that good?
Former Seahawks LB Dave Wyman doesn’t believe that statistic means a whole lot … nor buys in to the notion that that statistic defines a defense whatsoever. Earlier on this week, he wrote …
The fact is that the Seahawks defense has been good if not great on third down in each of their other three losses. Against Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco, Seattle's defense went 30 percent, 38 percent and 27 percent on third down, respectively. Their average third-down percentage in those three games (32 percent) would rank third-best in the NFL.
Additionally, that particular statistic is not terribly monumental in defining a defense's success. The aforementioned Dolphins rank 24th in points allowed (25 per game). Conversely, the Steelers are ranked second in total defense and their third-down percentage is the same as the Seahawks' – 44 percent.
Another reason not to fear the dreaded third down statistic: in the Seahawks' most dominating win of the season, a 27-7 trouncing of Dallas, their defense allowed the Cowboys to convert on third down 54 percent of the time.
So Wyman says Sunday was an aberration. Perhaps. As you take a look at the numbers from this season, you don’t find a situation like what happened against the Lions where the Hawks were so bad on 3rd Down. But this feels like something more to me.
Coming in to this game, the Seahawks have allowed Opponents to convert 42.31% of their 3rd Downs (that ranks 23rd in the league).
Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley was on with KJR 950’s Mitch Levy on Friday morning. He talked about the fact that since the Green Bay game, teams have increasingly looked to go away from long developing pass plays and now are looking to attack them using quick hitting pass plays and underneath routes. That’s why if you’re going to be playing zone defense … you’d better get there in a hurry. Both Dave Wyman and former Seahawks QB Brock Huard said the exact same thing about the Seahawks defense last week – not enough urgency on closing the distance between defender and receiver. Translation – guys simply have to run much faster to the target when they’re in zone coverage. Bradley agreed with that assessment completely, saying simply, “We’ve got to be more aggressive.” Otherwise, teams are going to dink and dunk them up and down the field endlessly … which is what we’ve been seeing.
Bradley admitted that against the Vikings on Sunday, the Seahawks will probably be utilizing much more tight man to man coverage against this Vikings team in order to try to eliminate those plays. Seeing as how Percy Harvin is this team’s one true deep threat, Seattle will probably be able to utilize more of its base defensive package, which in theory should help eliminate some of those holes in the middle of the field that we’ve been seeing. So at least as far as this game is concerned, you’ll probably see an improvement in those 3rd Down numbers -- if nothing else because the Vikings haven’t done very well on 3rd Down.
This season, the Vikings have converted only 35.29% of their 3rd Downs (23rd in NFL).
So scoring wise, I actually see the Vikings having issues getting in to the End Zone in this game. In the Red Zone this season, the Vikings offense has scored TD’s on 53.85% of their possessions (15th Best in the NFL). But in their 3 games that they have played on the road thus far, that percentage has dropped dramatically (36.36% -- 8th Worst in the NFL).
Conversely at Home, Seattle has allowed TD’s on only 25% of Opponents’ trips inside the Red Zone – 2nd Best in the NFL.
If the Seahawks can actually succeed in getting the Vikings offense off the field with any semblance of regularity, then I really like Seattle’s chances in this game, as they have allowed an average of only 14 Points/Game at home thus far (tied with Chicago for 3rd best in the NFL). It all starts on 3rd Down though …
Plunder the Plunderers …
Like the Vikings, the Seahawks will undoubtedly look to establish the run – and they should. A brief glance at the numbers shows you exactly why …
Seahawks Rushing Yards – 1,055 (6th in the NFL)
Seahawks Rushing Average – 4.3 Yds/Carry (tied for 9th Best in the NFL)
Vikings have allowed 861 Rushing Yards (19th in the NFL)
Vikings allow 3.9 Yards/Rush (tied for 9th Best)
Vikings have allowed 6 Rushing TD’s (in the Bottom 1/3 of the NFL)
As mentioned earlier, Marshawn Lynch comes in to this game 2nd in the NFL (right behind Adrian Peterson) in Yards Gained After Contact (303 yards). So given that and the fact that the Vikings haven’t exactly been the most stout against the run … Lynch should have a field day at home, right? Maybe … but it’s not going to be THAT easy for sure.
For all the problems that they have had recently, the Vikings have done a very good on the season at meeting and stopping opposing runners in the backfield. Vikings Defensive End Jared Allen – the lynchpin in this defense – comes in to this game having 10 Tackles for Loss (tied for 3rd overall). He might be the immovable object for the irresistible force that is Marshawn Lynch. LB Erin Henderson (6 Tackles for Loss), CB Antoine Winfield (5 Tackles for Loss), DE Brian Robison (4 Tackles for Loss), and DE Everson Griffin (4 Tackles for Loss) are other guys who have given opposing runners fits this season as well. Seattle comes in to this game having a team total of 23 tackles for loss … Minnesota on the other hand has 26. Russell Okung especially is going to have to have a good game, as he’ll have the joy of being matched up 1:1 on Allen this week. Circle that battle as one to watch in the trenches.
And Lynch and the rest of the Seattle Offense is really going to have to keep a good handle on the ball as well. The Vikings have 11 Forced Fumbles on the season (tied for 4th in the NFL). In comparison, the Seahawks have 9 Forced Fumbles (tied for 8th in the NFL) – so this Vikings team is good at separating offensive players from the ball.
That said, this is also a defense that has been somewhat suspect recently. After allowing only 1 rushing TD in their first 5 games … the Vikings have yielded 5 TD’s on the ground in their past 3 games.
On the Road, the Vikings have allowed TD’s on 55.56% of Opponents’ trips inside the Red Zone (15th in the NFL). But over their past 3 games, the Vikings have been even worse than that, allowing TD’s on 72.73% of Opponents’ trips inside the Red Zone (7th highest over that time frame).
The Vikings defense allowed an average of only 78.6 rushing yards/game in the first 5 games of the season. In their last 3 games however, that number has skyrocketed to an average of 157 rushing yards/game – only Baltimore and Buffalo have allowed more over that time frame.
I find it very hard to believe that those numbers could actually improve going in to a hostile environment like Century Link Field. So, I’d fully expect the Seahawks to be able to move the ball and for them to be able to plunder the plunderers ...
Catching Fire …
For the Seahawks to beat the Vikings on Sunday though, they’re going to need far more than Marshawn Lynch. They’re going to need a big day from the receivers on this team as well – for someone to catch fire and carry this team to victory. But with the wide receiver situation looking more like a M*A*S*H* Unit, that’s going to be a fairly tall order. Here is a brief look at some of the numbers on the season …
Seahawks Passing Yards – 1,369 (30th in NFL)
Vikings have allowed 1,793 Passing Yards (20th in the NFL)
Vikings have allowed 11 Passing TD’s this year (tied for 16th in the league)
With Braylon Edwards out for this game, Ben Obomanu lost for the year, and Doug Baldwin hobbled with a high ankle sprain, the Hawks are struggling to find enough warm bodies to put out there at wide receiver. Therefore as I said last week, I fully expect Darrell Bevel and the Seahawks coaching staff to go with more 2 and 3 Tight End sets this week. The Seattle Times’ Jerry Brewer even talked about the fact that the Seahawks will probably utilize those packages more on KJR 950 Mitch Levy’s Roundtable Show on Thursday. Rolling out those 2 and 3 TE sets could not only help generate more passing yards by creating mismatches in the defense … but also could help with the Running Game as well, providing similar goal line type packages that San Francisco utilized so effectively against Seattle, gashing them with Frank Gore right up the middle. So, Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, and even Evan Moore could potentially be big factors in this game. In fact in order to win this game, I’d actually argue that the Seahawks need a big day from Zach Miller as well as Sidney Rice.
On the surface though, that appears to be easier said than done, as the Vikings pass defense looks to be fairly stout ...
The Vikings have allowed only 17 Passes of 20 Yards+ (4th Best in the NFL)
In comparison, the Seahawks have allowed 20 Passes of 20 Yards+ (Tied for 11th Best in the NFL)
The Vikings have 43 Passes Defensed on the season (tied for 3rd in the NFL)
The Seahawks have 41 Passes Defensed on the season (tied for 8th in the NFL)
But other numbers suggest that there are weaknesses in the Vikings defense that the Seahawks can exploit. For all that Seahawk fans have faulted their defense for failing to create turnovers … the Vikings defense has actually been a bit worse, as they have only 4 interceptions on the season (Among the bottom 8 teams in that category. The Seahawks have 7 interceptions).
Why is that? Well, size in the secondary may possibly be an issue – and one that the Hawks could exploit. Sidney Rice (6’4” 202 pounds) is certainly a guy who could give his former team the poison pill on Sunday, as he has a huge size advantage over both of Minnesota’s starting CB’s Antoine Winfield (5’9” 180 pounds) and Josh Robinson (5’10” 199 pounds). Injuries to the receiving corps aside, that size mismatch is another reason why it might be wise to go with more 2 and 3 TE sets this week.
And for all the outcry over Seattle’s ineptitude on 3rd Down this past week, check out this statistic …
The Vikings have allowed opponents to convert 44.17% of their 3rd Downs (29th in the league). Only the Jets, Tennessee, and Buffalo have been worse.
The numbers also say that Minnesota is a vastly different defense outside the friendly confines of the Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.
On the season, the Vikings have 23 Sacks (tied for 3rd in the NFL). In comparison, the Seahawks have 21 Sacks (tied for 7th in NFL). But … there is a great disparity in the numbers home vs. away …
The Vikings Defense has 15 Sacks and 27 Passes Defensed at home this year … but has had only 8 Sacks and 16 Passes Defensed on the road. They have 7 Forced Fumbles at home … but only 2 Passes Defensed on the road.
For me though, the bottom line when it comes to evaluating a defense … is points. At the end of the day, how many points does the defense give up?
Well at home, the Vikings Defense has allowed an average of 18.6 Points/Game (10th Best in the league) … but in the 3 games they’re played on the road that’s been far a different story, as they’ve allowed an average of 24.7 Points/Game (17th Best).
With Russell Wilson coming off the best performance of his career just a week ago … and playing in front of the home crowd on Sunday … he and the offense might just be starting to catch fire. Will they ignite this weekend? The numbers suggest there will be plenty of dry tinder and spark in the powder keg that is Century Link Field.
Bold Prediction …
The Vegas Odds makers currently have Seattle as a 4 Point favorite in this contest. Looking at the numbers I’ve just laid out, the individual match-ups, and the fact that this game is being played in Seattle – I have to wholeheartedly agree.
The Seahawks are 13-7 at Home during the Pete Carroll era.
Conversely, the Vikings are 5-9 in Road Games under Leslie Frazier since he assumed head coaching duties on November 22, 2010.
At the end of the day, I see the Seahawks sending these raiders from the north back to their fjords with their longships in tatters.