I found it valuable to do this analysis last week ahead of the Seahawks matchup with the Steelers, so let’s do it again for yet another season-changing game against the Minnesota Vikings (8-3). The Vikings are a very different team than Pittsburgh, and represent a new type of test for the Seahawks.
For those who did not see the article last week, each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The charts that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories. What you want to look for is where there is a big disparity between the height of one bar and another. Keep in mind that since these are rankings, lower numbers are better, so tall bars are bad.
Seahawks Offense vs Vikings Defense
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Seahawks offensive weaknesses vs Vikings defensive strengths
Seattle ranks dead last in sack rate allowed and are 25th in red zone efficiency. Both of those are misleading. The Seahawks have cut their sack rate to 4.7% over the last four games, which is roughly a quarter of where it had been. They have not allowed more than 2 sacks in over a month. On the flip side, the Vikings are a middling pass rush that has fared even worse of late, ranking 21st in sack rate over their last three games. Oddly, the Vikings sack rate is lower at home (4.8%) than on the road (7.5%). It would not appear that Vikings pass rush will play a large role in this game.
The Seahawks weakness in the red zone is becoming a strength. They have converted an NFL best 80% of their red zone opportunities over the last three games.
Minnesota is a fantastic red zone defense. As we will see later, they are basically equivalent to the Seahawks in that regard. This will be the best red zone defense the Seahawks have faced in the second half of the season. Pittsburgh, Arizona and San Francisco all rank 19th or worse in that category. Seattle has arguably lose most of their games this year due to red zone inefficiency, so this will be a pivotal battle in the game.
Seattle ranks poorly in pass yards per game and the Vikings are strong there, but the Seahawks are not a volume pass offense, so yards per attempt is a better barometer, and the advantage flips there to Seattle.
The other one that catches my eye is the Vikings solid play on third down. Seattle is a middle of the road third down team, but has been white hot lately, converting 15 of their last 27 attempts. Considering that third down conversion rate differential has correctly predicted every Seahawks game this year, and historically has been a better predictor than turnover margin, this will be right up there with red zone for keys to the game for Seattle.
The Vikings are second in the NFL in scoring defense for a reason. Holding teams down on third down and in the red zone is great formula for holding down scoring. Seattle has been playing nearly flawless football in those situations of late. It should be a great chess match.
Vikings defensive weaknesses vs Seahawks offensive strengths
Seattle brings the 2nd ranked run offense in this game, and 4th ranked team in yards per carry. The Vikings counter with the 20th ranked rush defense that is also 24th in opponent yards per carry. Five teams have rushed for 100+ yards against Minnesota, including three of the past four. They are 2-3 in games when that happens, and one of the wins was an overtime affair at home versus the Rams.
They have faced three top ten rush offenses, and the only one that rushed for less than 120 yards was the Kansas City Chiefs, and that was the game after Jamaal Charles was lost to injury. Seattle has to feel really good about their chances to establish a rushing attack.
The tough part for Minnesota is that the Seahawks also bring the 2nd ranked yards per pass attempt offense to town. Those big pass plays are setup by a strong running game in most weeks. Overall, the Seahawks have the 4th ranked offense in yards per play and the Vikings defense is 12th.
Seattle should be able to move the ball on the Vikings. It really does seem like it will come down to whether Seattle is settling for field goals or getting touchdowns.
Vikings Offense vs Seahawks Defense
They have rushed for 140+ yards in five of their last six games, including 191 in their last game against a very good Falcons rush defense and 263 yards against a better-than-average Raiders run defense. Seahawks fans will remember when Peterson came into Seattle a few years ago against a 2012 defense that wound up ranked #1 in the NFL, and hung 243 yards and a 9.0 yards per carry average on them.
Peterson is unlike any other back in the league. Seattle is basically a top five rush defense, but they will need to play their best game of the season to contain Peterson.
Vikings offensive weaknesses vs Seahawks defensive strengths
Their sack rate really jumps out. While Seattle is showing clear improvement in this category, the Vikings are falling further down the ranks. Their sack rate over the past three games is worse than their season average, and more than double what the Seahawks sack rate has been during that time.
This is a flawed pass rush team with a quarterback who does not have the escapability of Russell Wilson or the quick trigger of Andy Dalton. This should be a game where the Seahawks pass rush makes an impact.
Situational football will also make life difficult for the Vikings. Seattle is strong in the red zone and on 3rd downs. The Vikings offense is not. This is yet another indication that the key matchup will be the Seahawks ability to convert in the red zone. The Vikings offense should not be able to compete if Seattle is putting touchdowns on the board. Easier said than done.
Seahawks kicking vs Vikings returning
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Watch out for the Vikings return game. They are strong on kickoff and punt returns. They are also great in kick coverage. One of the ways Minnesota is 8-3 is what appears to be a very strong special teams unit. The Seahawks group started off ranked first in the NFL, and have fallen off. Tyler Lockett had some good returns against the Steelers. This does not look like a game where Seattle should expect a lot out of their return game.