With the 2015 season on the line for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks, every matchup on the field takes on a larger importance. With Seattle looking to return to a third straight Super Bowl and the Vikings striving to knock them out much in the same way they ended Green Bay’s vice grip on the NFC North, there isn’t a matchup on the field that won’t have implications.
But, considering the implications of keeping Seattle off the scoreboard, the game-long battle between Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin will be this week’s wild card matchup to watch.
Munnerlyn didn’t have a great game in their first meeting, which has been unusual given his strong 2015 season. Baldwin, who has been the primary receiver of Russell Wilson the last two seasons, lines up most plays in the slot, which will reunite him and Munnerlyn on the majority of plays the Seahawks will run Sunday.
“He’s a great slot receiver and I’ve been proclaiming that I’m the best slot corner in the league,” Munnerlyn said with a smile. “I definitely know it’s going to be a tough matchup, but, at the same time, I’m ready for this matchup and I’m excited about it.”
While Baldwin has never had his name mentioned in the same breath as the game’s elite receivers like Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown or Dez Bryant, a case could be made that Baldwin is getting closer to inclusion in that elite fraternity.
He led the Seahawks with 78 receptions for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns, but those numbers only tell half the story. In his final eight games of the season, he caught 47 passes for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns, which if extrapolated over a full season (94-1,448-24) would have him in the “elite” conversation.
“He’s the real deal,” Munnerlyn said. “I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for what he does for their offense. When Lynch went down, there were some people who thought their offense would fold up. Instead, Russell Wilson took his game to another level and Baldwin was the primary guy in making big plays that won them a lot of ballgames.”
While Baldwin was able to make big plays against the Vikings when he played the Vikings in December, catching five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns, it was a rarity for the kind of season Munnerlyn has put together.
He has generally stuck to receivers and, when the opportunity has presented itself, he has been a playmaker capable of turning defense into offense and put the team in a position to win.
It wasn’t always that way. He struggled adapting to Mike Zimmer’s defensive philosophy early on and, by his own admission, wasn’t a standout in his first season with the Vikings in 2014. But once he gave in the Zimmer’s vision, it all came clear and the results have followed.
“My biggest problem last year was that too often I depended on things I had learned earlier in my career and I was pretty set in my ways,” Munnerlyn said. “I kind of resisted some of the things that Coach Zimmer was teaching us and I had one of the worst years of my career. Once I embraced what he was teaching, it was like a light went on. I got it and things turned around to the point that I think I’ve had one of the best seasons of my career this year.”
With the 2015 season on the line, every head-to-head battle will be important deciding who moves on and who goes home. But, of all of them that will play out, perhaps none will be more impactful than Baldwin going up against Munnerlyn in the wild card matchup to watch.