Last week when Minnesota played Atlanta, they were facing the defensive scheme of new head coach Dan Quinn, who was the architect of the Legion of Boom as Seattle’s defensive coordinator.
As the Vikings offensive line has been watching film on Seattle and, prior to that, Atlanta, they were seeing a lot of the same formations and the same basic fronts.
“They run the same scheme,” guard Mike Harris said. “The biggest difference I see is that Seattle has personnel specifically for the scheme (Quinn) ran there and the guys in Atlanta are still learning it. These guys we’re facing this week are used to running that system and the success they’ve had is pretty obvious. You don’t get to two straight Super Bowls just by luck.”
The Seahawks have tailored their defense in recent years to fit the scheme Quinn was running, much in the same way the Vikings have morphed their defense to fit the style that Mike Zimmer brought with him from Cincinnati. When teams were trying to scout the Vikings early, they spent some time watching Bengals film to see the strengths of Zimmer’s defense when it’s filled with players familiar with the ins and outs of the system.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil said he was a little surprised to see how alike the two systems are. But, as he sees it, the primary difference the line will see is a rotation of players well-versed in the Quinn defense and innately aware of what the other players on the defense are going to do, something the Falcons defenders are still learning on the job.
“There are a lot of similarities, so you could say there might be some advantage to playing them in back to back weeks,” Kalil said. “The thing about Seattle is that they’ve got great personnel units and they rotate them in and out and are always bringing somebody fresh at you. You can’t get worn down because they keep bringing different guys in and out and you know they’re going to be fresh coming at you.”
What makes Seattle’s defense so impressive is that it rarely has to take chances with blitzes. It’s not like the Seahawks don’t bring blitz pressure. They do, but it’s usually well-timed and not that often.
They’re able to get pressure on the quarterback without having to sell out on the blitz. By doing so, they’re able to create turnover opportunities for linebackers and a secondary with a propensity for making the big plays that change games.
“They rely a lot on their four down linemen to get pressure,” Harris said. “They don’t bring a lot of blitzes because they can get the job done with just the front four, which opens up a lot of things for the back end of the defense. They’re going to try to drop guys into coverage. It’s going to be a test for all of us on offense.”
The Seahawks have been so successful over the last few years because everyone has bought into the system and, much like the Vikings defense has displayed consistency more this season, the results are there more often than not.
As with most good defenses, it all starts up front and Seattle is good enough that they don’t need to try to hide their intentions. They show you what they’re going to do and, more often than not, dare you to stop it.
“They’ll do some stuff up front – moving guys around and running some stunts,” Kalil said. “But you pretty much expect them to come with their front four more than blitzes. They don’t try to disguise too much. What you see is what you get.”
With the run-first offense the Vikings bring to the table, the line is expecting a lot of players at or near the line of scrimmage, not so much to chase down Teddy Bridgewater, but to flood the running lanes for Peterson and force him outside, where the speed and athleticism of the back seven can do damage.
But the Vikings aren’t going to change their style to combat what the Seahawks do on defense.
“I know they’re going to try to stop the run and drop safeties into the box,” Harris said. “We’re not going to change up what we do too much to counter them. We do what we do regardless of who we’re playing against. They know Adrian is going to be coming after them. It’s our job to open up lanes for him to run. It will be a challenge, but it’s one we’re looking forward to.”
Seattle may appear to be a team on the brink of falling off the radar at 6-5. The Seahawks are three games behind Arizona with a loss in hand to the Cardinals and didn’t have a record over .500 all season until they outdueled Pittsburgh last weekend.
Despite that, they still have a swagger and the Vikings are approaching them not as a 6-5 team, but as a team on a mission to get back to a third straight Super Bowl.
“This will be one of our biggest challenges of the year, if not the biggest challenge,” Kalil said. “We look at it that, to be a champion, you have to beat a champion. They’re the two-time NFC champs, so if we want to get into that conversation, we have to play well against a team that has that history of winning and history of success.”
Seattle has a track record of success, based largely on the performance week in and week out on defense. They like to impose their will on opposing offenses. The Vikings offensive line has enjoyed success this season by being the more physical group on the field.
Something will have to give between the two because both of them have made a living dominating the line of scrimmage and only one of them can win the battle Sunday, which makes it both challenging and exciting for a Vikings team looking to dethrone the champs at TCF Bank Stadium.
“They’re physical and we are too,” Harris said. “Our plan is to execute and out-physical them because I think that’s our strength on offense. We keep running at you and try to wear you down. They pride themselves on stopping the run, so it will be two teams using their strengths against each other. That’s how it should be in a big game.”