Few teams in the NFL have the all-or-nothing Jeckyl-Hyde mentality of the Vikings' opponent Sunday – the Seattle Seahawks. When they hired USC head coach Pete Carroll to run the show, it seemed clear that there was going to be a youth movement afoot, but few could have predicted how different the team would look in November from what was planned at the end of last season.
The Seahawks made one of the biggest early splashes in free agency when they outbid Miami to land Green Bay backup QB Matt Flynn. Then in April's draft Seattle surprised many by taking Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. Considering they still had 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson on the roster, it seemed as though everything was upside down, as T-Jack went from being the starter to being the No. 3 quarterback on the roster (known in Minnesota as Rosenfels Syndrome). Not only did the Seahawks shuffle Jackson off to Buffalo, after a spirited training camp battle the rookie got the starting job over the veteran free agent investment.
Wilson hasn't set the NFL on fire, but he has been able to make plays both with his arms and his legs. He is gaining valuable experience and is loved by the home fans, and why not? In three home games this year, the Seahawks are 3-0, posting wins over Dallas, Green Bay and New England. Wilson doesn't take too many chances, but he doesn't put his team in compromising positions too often. Fortunately for him, he has Marshawn Lynch as his security blanket behind him.
Lynch has been the team's most valuable player on offense, carrying 20 times a game and posting 85 or more yards in all but one game this season. He is the centerpiece of the Seattle offense, so the top priority for the Vikings defense is going to be to contain Lynch and force the Seahawks to pass.
Seattle's pass offense has been far from effective. They have averaged just 171 yards a game passing and have a collection of solid receivers, but no superstar talents. Former Viking Sidney Rice is the team's leading receiver with 28 catches for 367 yards and third-year man Golden Tate has been the team's big-play receiver, catching three touchdowns on just 20 receptions. The Seahawks receiver corps is a group effort that includes Doug Baldwin (11 receptions) and Braylon Edwards (eight receptions). They clearly don't have a go-to threat among the receivers and tight end Zach Miller (14-201-1) didn't score his first touchdown of the season until last week. Without a clear-cut receiving threat, the Seahawks have been forced to sustain drives to score points, which is something the Vikings defense will have to shut down early.
The Seahawks have a young offensive line that could be together for a long time to come if they remain healthy. Guard Paul McQuistin (seventh year) is the only lineman with more than five years experience and they have been able to do a solid job of run blocking and pass protection. Their battle with the Vikings front four will be critical to Seattle being able to control the clock and effectively string together long drives.
The calling card for the Seahawks this season has been a defense capable of dominating games. In the controversial win over the Packers, the Seahawks overwhelmed Aaron Rodgers with eight sacks and have 21 on the season. There will be a lot of pressure on Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil because 11.5 of the sacks recorded by the Seahawks have come from right defensive ends Chris Clemons (seven sacks) and rookie Bruce Irvin (4.5 sacks). On the left side, Red Bryant has established himself as a solid run-stuffing DE that sets the edge and makes it difficult for plays to get outside, which forces runners back into the middle where Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane are waiting for them. The Seahawks have held opponents to fewer than 85 yards a game and just three touchdowns. Considering no team runs more up the middle than the Vikings, this battle will be a critical one that the Vikings will have to dominate if they plan to hand Seattle its first home loss.
The linebacker corps is similar to the Vikings in that it has one veteran player (eighth-year pro Leroy Hill) as the dominant player and two young players (rookie MLB Bobby Wagner and second-year pro K.J. Wright). As a group, they are extremely athletic, but young players are prone to making mistakes and missteps, which will put a lot of the onus on the secondary to make sure short completions and Adrian Peterson runs don't turn into big plays.
The secondary is full of ball-hawk playmakers. Second-year cornerback Richard Sherman has become a vocal mouthpiece of the team, changing his Twitter handle to Optimus Prime prior to his meeting with Calvin "Megatron" Johnson last week. He has three interceptions – one more than cornerback Brandon Browner and safety Earl Thomas. The Seahawks take a lot of chances and it is a risk-reward style that can lead to critical mistakes or the game-changing plays that turn losses into wins.
When looking at Seattle, one aspect that can't be overlooked is the 12th man. While many teams have a home-field advantage, few, if any, have fans that can be louder or more disruptive than Seattle. They create a deafening atmosphere for opposing offenses and their contribution to the Seahawks' success is evident in their record – 3-0 at home, 1-4 on the road.
The Vikings are still a bit numb from their unexpected loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week but don't have time to dwell on any of that. The second half of the season is going to be brutal and include five road games. They need to set the tone for the third quarter of the season and, while Seattle may not be viewed as a must-win game for the Vikings, the odds are stacked against them and nothing can create a positive atmosphere more than getting a critical road win. All but one of Seattle's games have been decided by seven points or fewer, so this will be a game that the Vikings will have to control, especially late, if they can be expected to leave the Great Northwest handing Seattle its first home loss of the season.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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