Evaluating teams based solely on their statistical merits will always fall short. Numbers can offer clues about where a team has strengths or weaknesses, but those then have to be married to watching the team play to either verify or revise. This Vikings team is largely what their numbers indicate, with a few key exceptions. The blazing Seahawks offense will face its toughest test since Carolina, and the inconsistent defense will play the most one-dimensional offense they have faced this season. The plan to win this game is becoming more clear.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the Vikings are almost completely dependent on Adrian Peterson to get their offense moving. Seattle has struggled against a number of high-powered passing attacks this year, but their ability to defend the run is every bit as critical.
In the five games the Seahawks have allowed more than 100 yards rushing, they are 1-4. The Vikings are 1-3 in games where they rush for less than 115 yards.
Peterson is a beast. He will be difficult to contain even if the Seahawks spend the whole day with eight players in the box. Clay Matthews and the Packers did a great job against Peterson in their 30-13 win, holding him to 45 yards on 13 carries. Some of that was due to a Vikings team that shot themselves in the foot with penalties.
This Vikings offense is not well suited to overcoming negative plays or penalties on early downs. The Packers showed their experience in playing Peterson, though, throughout the game. Matthews stood out in his ability to shoot through gaps and attack Peterson before he picked up steam. Their two interior defenders, Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji, were stout and sometimes disruptive.
The play of Brandon Mebane, Ahtyba Rubin and Jordan Hill is more important in this game than in any other this season. Minnesota wants to run up the middle. Seattle linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are going to have to get off blocks and make sound tackles. Kam Chancellor is going to have to help. The whole team will need to rally to the ball better than they have been.
Peterson has six fumbles, most in the NFL for a running back, all at home
Peterson is unlike any other back in football. It would be impossible to put too much emphasis on him in the defensive game plan. Stopping him makes it highly unlikely that the Vikings can score more than 10-13 points.
Apply Richard Sherman wisely, take risks elsewhere
Stefon Diggs is a promising rookie receiver, and clearly Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target. He is far from a dominant #1 receiver that would typically demand Richard Sherman’s attention, but taking him away by applying Sherman there would make a dysfunctional Vikings passing attack that much more prone to mistakes and turnovers.
Distribution of Vikings Receptions
Taking Diggs out of the equation would be like making a right-handed basketball player go left
Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph make up 40% of the Vikings receptions this year. Putting Sherman on Diggs and then focusing other coverage on Rudolph would leave the Vikings passing game pretty much helpless. Mike Wallace is a non-factor. Jarius Wright is a more impactful player in this Vikings offense than Wallace. Wright is a common third down target who makes timely plays.
Seattle will need to be ready for a healthy dose of receiver bubble screens and running back screens. The Vikings try to make life easy on Bridgewater, and the Seahawks looked terrible defending inside screens last week which will make it that much more enticing to Minnesota coaches.
Need Wagner and Chancellor to step up
Neither Wagner nor Chancellor have had their best year tackling. Wagner had a nice game last week that he can hopefully build on. These two guys will have as much to do with this game as anyone on the field.
Both will be involved in bringing down Peterson. Chancellor could also play a key role in defending Rudolph. Seattle has given up yards to tight ends this year. Much of that has come from blown zone assignments. When Chancellor has been asked to defend tight ends in the past in man-to-man, Seattle has been strong against them.
Vikings run defense stronger than their rank
Minnesota is 20th in opponent rushing yards and 24th in opponent yards per carry. Those are pretty concerning numbers when going up against the 2nd ranked rush offense in football if you are a Vikings fan.
They are not nearly as bad as those numbers would indicate. It is clear when watching them play how stout tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd are. Eddie Lacy had a 100 yard rushing day against the Vikings in their win, but he and backfield mate James Starks were stuffed many times. Part of how Lacy wound up with his solid rushing total was a 27 yard gain. That has been a pattern with the Vikings.
The Vikings have surrendered 22 explosive rushing plays (12+) yards, which ranks near the middle of the NFL. Seattle is 3rd in the NFL in creating explosive rushing plays.
Minnesota fans will tell you their poor rushing numbers on defense are tainted by the 230 yards they gave up in week one to San Francisco. That is part of it. The more troublesome aspect are these explosive rushing plays. The Vikings have surrendered more than 115 yards on the ground in three of the past four games. They gave up big running plays in each of those games.
Tevin Coleman had two just last week, fumbling after a 46 yard run in the first quarter. St. Louis had six, with Tavon Austin accounting for four of them. Tyler Lockett is not Tavon Austin, but do not be surprised to see if the Seahawks test the Vikings on reverses or end arounds.
What this all means for Seattle is that Thomas Rawls may not have a lot to show for some of his runs, but his proven ability to create explosive plays should combine nicely with the Vikings penchant for surrendering them. Be patient. Stick with it.
There are no clear weaknesses on this Vikings defense. They are solid at every level, and play really nice, assignment-correct football. The spaces to make plays are tight, and their team speed allows them to close quickly to limit yards after the catch.
Green Bay attempted to stretch the width of the field with some easy wide receiver screens and quick outs, but the Vikings were all over those plays. Seattle likes to use those to get a few quick yards here and there. It is hard to see them having much success with those against Minnesota.
A more interesting option would be to test the corners down the field. The Vikings are one of the more penalized defensive backfields in the league. They rank 5th in defensive holding calls and 8th in defensive pass interference calls in the NFL, per NFLPenalties.com. Their game against the Packers was 9-6 with a couple minutes left in the first half until the Vikings committed a bad interference call that bailed Green Bay out of bad field position, and was turned into an eventual touchdown.
Lockett and Paul Richardson, if healthy, could present some challenges for Minnesota. Kevin Smith could be a factor there as well.
Clever in the red zone
The recent strong play of the Seahawks in the red zone will be tested against a very disciplined Vikings red zone defense. They make offenses fit the ball into very tight spaces and receivers will have to brace for some hits after the catch.
Some of the same route concepts that worked against the Steelers have worked against the Vikings. The seams can be exposed by players like Doug Baldwin and Lockett.
Russell Wilson will need to make smart decisions, and be willing to throw the ball away. Points will be at a premium, so turnovers in the red zone are a surefire way to put your team in peril.
Wilson running could be a factor
The Vikings have not really faced a quarterback capable of hurting them with his legs since Colin Kaepernick in week one. They gave up 41 yards on 7 carries to Kaepernick. Minnesota has the team speed to make the read option a tough play to succeed on, but after a season of playing the likes of Jay Cutler, Matt Stafford, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers, Seattle needs to test their ability to defend the dual threat that Wilson provides.