Seahawks-Vikings: Raiders of the Lost Guard

During the Middle Ages, Viking raiders wreaked havoc throughout Europe, sacking many a monastery and carting off their treasures. Like those Norsemen of old, this Minnesota team successfully navigated the treacherous waters of NFL free agency, pillaging the hallowed sanctuary of Qwest field and making off with the best left guard in football.

The Seahawks, fresh off their cardiac test last Sunday, face their former compatriot and his new band of horned barbarians. This weekend the Minnesota Vikings sail into Seattle after a bye week, hoping to continue their larceny. Can these invaders from the Midwest enter an arena where the Seahawks have gone 24-3 since the 2002 season and steal a win?

Vikings “O” vs. Seahawks “D”

Batten Down the Hatches…

Despite the fact that NFL offenses have 11 men, nearly every Hawk fan’s wary eye will be on number on 76 this Sunday. So why exactly was Steve Hutchinson such a coveted prize for the Vikings? In 2005, Minnesota ’s offensive line resembled a colander, as they allowed opposing defenders to hammer Viking quarterbacks 54 times (ranking them 31 st in the NFL in sacks allowed.) After allowing that many leaks they were quite frankly desperate to keep their warship afloat. So, exactly how valuable of a plug is Steve Hutchinson? Consider these numbers by both the Hawks and Vikings through their first 5 games last year versus this year …

Vikings through their first 5 games…

2005

24 sacks allowed

2006

7 sacks allowed (5 th best in NFL)

Seahawks through their first 5 games …

2005

10 sacks allowed

2006

17 sacks allowed

Chuck Darby, Russell Davis and Marcus Tubbs will most definitely have their hands full, as facing Hutchinson is the equivalent of wrestling Beowulf’s Grendel.

The End of the Spear?…

For a team that has struggled to find the end zone, such protection is critical. The chief god of Norse mythology was Odin, a god of war and death, who threw a spear named Gungnir that never missed its targets. While it could be argued that Viking quarterback Brad Johnson has been Odin-like in his accuracy (completing 63.2% of his passes, 8 th in the NFL), he has been anything but deadly thus far (only 4 passing touchdowns, ranking among the NFL’s bottom feeders.) Seattle, meanwhile, comes into this game having shown opposing receivers more territory than a real estate agency. ( 239.2 yards/game, 28 th in NFL) Since that’s the case, expect Johnson to throw Gungnir early and often. The Seahawks must continue their sack attack (16 sacks this year, 7 th in the NFL) in order to turn this Odin’s Gungnir into a shattered toothpick.

First year head coach Brad Childress (a former Andy Reid disciple) has installed an evolved version of the West Coast Offense. Fans won’t be mistaking Minnesota wide receivers Troy Williamson (18 catches, 256 yards) and Travis Taylor (18 receptions, 243 yards, 1 TD) for Jerry Rice and John however. As the Rams proved last Sunday, the Seahawk secondary has been especially vulnerable right down the seam. Look for the Vikings to fire Williamson and Taylor along with tight end Jermaine Wiggins (17 receptions, 143 yards) into Seattle ’s intermediate zones. The Hawks rank 24th currently in 3rd down conversions allowed (40.3%) and more alarmingly, 31 st in Red Zone Defense. The Vikings, though, have been equally futile on offense, turning only 31.5% (27 th in the NFL) of 3rd downs into 1st downs. The Vikings offense as a group has collectively fallen on their swords, ranking 31 st in both first downs (78) and Red Zone Offense this season. Marcus Trufant, Ken Hamlin, and crew simply cannot allow the kind of chinks in the armor that has allowed the Hawks secondary to get skewered deep.

Derailing the Nordic Track…

While Vikings running back Chester Taylor is a better than the numbers suggest, the Viking running attack has been about as lethal as a Model T in the Indianapolis 500. Though Taylor did manage 113 yards on just 24 carries (4.7 yards/carry) against the Carolina Panthers, their run defense has been far more porous than the one that ranked 4 th best in the league last year. The Vikings offense has managed just 20 first downs on the ground this season (#32 in the NFL) and has found the end zone only once. For a team that has struggled running the ball as badly as the Vikings have, facing a defense that has stopped traffic like a road construction crew in their home stadium does not bode well for a productive day. Here is how the Hawks defense has fared against the starting backs they have faced thus far …

Running Back

Number of Carries

Yards Gained

Yards/Rush

Touchdowns scored

Kevin Jones

14 carries

35 yards

2.5

0

Edgerrin James

18 carries

64 yards

3.5

0

Tiki Barber

14 carries

64 yards

4.6

0

Thomas Jones

24 carries

98 yards

4.1

2

Steven Jackson

20 carries

56 yards

2.8

1

Despite the mauling they received in Chicago, the Seahawks come into this game allowing a mere 75.6 yards/game (6 th in the NFL.)

Still, Minnesota ’s running attack could potentially provide some punch. The Vikings answer to Mack Strong is fullback Tony Richardson. Richardson is a decorated war veteran, having earned 2 trips to the Pro Bowl blocking for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. Both Chester Taylor (17 receptions) and Richardson are capable receivers out of the backfield and could potentially play a factor.

Vikings “D” vs. Seahawks “O”

Ducking the War Hammer…

In Norse mythology, Thor (the son of Odin) was the god of thunder and one of the most powerful of the gods. Among the items Thor wielded, was a mighty magical hammer that thundered whenever it struck any who dared oppose him. The Vikings defense has certainly been a war hammer to opposing offenses, having sent thunderclaps throughout the NFL.

The Hawks offense must struggle against any PTSD feelings they may have, as they once again face a team that runs the dreaded Tampa 2 defense. The Vikings come into this game having allowed only 3 passing touchdowns and 81 first downs all year, ranking them among the top 5 in the NFL in both categories. Holmgren had this to say when asked about the Vikings defense this week …

“Their defense looks very good to me. It starts up front with them. I think their front is strong and fast. I think they’re good. In that defense, I’ve said it before, ‘you draft and eventually try and get people, linebackers in particular, that can really run and are a little bit smaller.”

The Seahawks left guards struggled when they were forced to face two of the NFL’s elite defensive tackles in Shaun Rogers and Tommie Harris. This week the hammer in the middle comes in the form of defensive tackle Kevin Williams (16 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss), against whom Chris Spencer and the interior of the Hawks line must don their armor. Outside linebacker EJ Henderson (24 tackles, 1 INT), middle linebacker Napoleon Harris (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 tackles/loss, 1 INT), former Cowboy star free safety Darren Sharper (15 tackles, 1 INT) and cornerback Antoine Winfield (39 tackles, 1 INT)lead a band of berserk warriors that will look to crush Seattle ’s revived optimism.

As previously mentioned, Seattle allowed all of 27 sacks last season, ranking them 5 th best in the NFL. This year the Hawks offensive line has already surrendered 17 sacks. Expect the Vikings to bring their battle axes and blitz them relentlessly, just as they did against Chicago in Week 3. Prior to the Cardinals last week, it was the Vikings who had given the Bears (8 th in Passing Yards, 3 rd in Passing TD’s) their toughest test.

Prior to the Rams game, Matt Hasselbeck had been rivaling old Saint Nick for gift giving, having thrown 7 interceptions on the young season. Hasselbeck must lose his spirit of giving and execute if his brigade is to prevail against these horned brigands. Though Seattle ’s offensive machine has yet to fully hit its stride, it has been surprisingly efficient, ranking 4 th in the NFL in 3 rd down conversions (42.5%) and 6 th in Red Zone Offense. Look for Jerramy Stevens, playing in his first game since the Super Bowl, to potentially be the Seahawks Grond against the Vikings iron wall. The Hawks will need Stevens, Deion Branch, and Darrell Jackson to bring their battering rams against a Vikings defense that ranks 6 th best in 3 rd down percentage allowed (29.4%) and 10 th in Red Zone Defense. Look for them to run a lot of three-receiver, two-back sets.

In the Midnight Hour … I Want Mo, Mo, Mo…

Coach Holmgren said this week that he wants try to establish the run in this game. With Alexander still on the shelf though, that may be quite a tall order. Against a Rams defense that had allowed 120.6 yards/game (20 th in the NFL) and 6 touchdowns on the ground coming into last Sunday, Maurice Morris managed just 74 yards on 24 carries (3.2 yards/carry). Coach Holmgren is going to have to have one whale of a game plan against these Scandinavian stalwarts if the Hawks are going to run the football.The Vikings enter today’s contest having been even stingier against the run than the Hawks defense. They are currently ranked 4 th in best in yards allowed (74.4 ypg) and yards per rush (3.2 avg.) Morris is going to have to run like his hair is on fire and his hands are coated with superglue if he’s going to have a productive day against this group.

My Take…

The Vikings come into Seattle hoping for Valhalla … what they’ll get is Nastrand (the worst region of hell in Norse mythology.) Knowing they’ll face a sea of blue-faced fans who will have their vocal talons on full blast, the Vikings offense has spent all week practicing silent snaps. Minnesota has committed 43 penalties this year, ranking them among the top 5 worst offenders. This is a team that will make mistakes … as the 12 th man will play a huge factor. The Vikings rank a mere 31 st in touchdowns scored --- and won’t find many this weekend.

Don’t look for either team to get their running game going, which means this game comes down to a battle of arms. Seattle wins that contest. Though this will be a hard fought struggle, e xpect a Viking funeral and a pyre by the sea.

Seahawks by 10.


Todd Webb writes for Seahawks.NET whenever he can be torn away from his beloved Seattle Mariners. Feel free to send any comments, questions or "I, Claudius" episodes on DVD here.


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