Like Seahawks, Vikings built around the running game and a physical defense

Pete Carroll's philosophy of running the ball and playing stout defense to control the clock will be matched Sunday against fellow defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings. Are the NFC North-leading Vikings better at this style football than the Seahawks?

The Seahawks may see a lot of themselves when they begin filmwork on this week's opponent, the NFC North division leading Minnesota Vikings.

That's because the Vikings, like the Seahawks, are built primarily around the running game and defense but also possess the flexibility to adjust to different opponents.

After erupting for 39 points in a shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, some believe the Seahawks have suddenly morphed into a more offensive-based attack with quarterback Russell Wilson the focal point rather than either a Marshawn Lynch or Thomas Rawls-led running game.

Wrong.

Frankly, the Seahawks had little choice but to open up the offense to keep up with Pittsburgh's high-flying attack. With the Steelers' secondary proving quite vulnerable and the offensive line doing a fantastic job against a formidable front seven, the Seahawks showed the ability to adjust to a more aggressive passing attack when needed. But don't expect Pete Carroll to suddenly abandon his tried and true strategy of running the ball and playing physical defense in an effort to control the clock and manage turnovers.

This core strategy - and ability to adjust when necessary - is exactly what has helped longtime defensive coordinator turned head coach Mike Zimmer help the Minnesota Vikings vault past the Green Bay Packers atop the division.

"One of the things about football is being able to adjust to a lot of different things," Zimmer said Monday. "Not every week is the same. Sometimes, it's the opponent you're playing. Sometimes, it's injuries. Sometimes it's the weather. There's a lot of different things that go into those plans.

"But I do feel like any time you have a 'north' in your division - NFC North or AFC North - this is a pretty good ingredient going forward when the weather starts getting colder and things like that. And it's a little bit about a mindset too. Since I've walked in here, it's about preaching toughness and discipline and accountability and being a smart team and that's kind of who we are right now."

Like the Seahawks, the Vikings are built around the running game, which, of course, features the incomparable Adrian Peterson.

The 30-year old Peterson currently leads the NFL with 1,164 rushing yards, putting him on pace for 1,693 yards for the year - the most he's had since a magical 2012 campaign in which he broke the 2,000 yard barrier with 2,097 yards on ground. If he continues this pace, he's likely to win the NFL's rushing title for the third time in his career.

Peterson was dominant as the focal point of Norv Turner's offense a week ago against an Atlanta Falcons squad that had entered the game ranked as the NFL's stoutest against the run. That didn't stop Peterson from rushing for 158 yards and a tying a season-high with two touchdowns.

With Peterson starring, second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hasn't generated much praise but a closer look at the tape shows that he, like Wilson, has the poise and accuracy in the pocket to star when called upon. Bridgewater's statistics say he's pedestrian. After all, he's only thrown for 2,280 yards and just eight touchdowns (against seven interceptions) over the first 11 games. Much of this, however, is by design. It's telling that the Vikings are 7-0 in the games in which he's thrown for fewer than 200 yards.

Meanwhile, defensively these Vikings have the talent to conquer, currently ranking second in the NFL in scoring, allowing just 17.6 points per game.

Like the Seahawks, the Vikings are built around young playmakers, with former first round picks Anthony Barr (outside linebacker), Xavier Rhodes (cornerback) and Harrison Smith (strong safety) each legitimate Pro Bowl talents. Minnesota's top pass-rusher is former USC Trojans Everson Griffen (team-leading 7.5 sacks) with rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks chipping in four sacks as a frequent blitz threat up the middle.

Complementing the rangy 6-1, 218 pound Rhodes at cornerback is veteran Terence Newman, who currently leads Minnesota with three interceptions after following Zimmer from Cincinnati. The Vikings have quick nickel corner in Captain Munnerlyn, who also has terrific ball skills.

The one area in which Minnesota stands in direct contrast to Seattle is in discipline. The Seahawks, as most fans know all too well, are one of the league's most penalized teams, with 97 flags thrown for violations of some kind or another over the first 11 games of the season. The Vikings meanwhile have been penalized 20 times fewer, only two more than the NY Jets, which currently are the least-penalized team in the NFL.

Taking all things into consideration, expect a much different type of ball game Sunday in Minnesota than the one we saw last week in Seattle with the running game and defense taking center stage and the quarterbacks back to playing more of a complementary role.   

Don't be surprised, in fact, if both teams combined struggle to score the 39 points the Seahawks exploded for last week.


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