Stop the Minnesota Vikings from running the ball.
This is what the Seattle Seahawks need to do on Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis to win the game. As much as one might want to make the argument that Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a good young quarterback (he is) and that the Seahawks are prone recently to giving up big plays in the passing game (they are), stopping Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is the key to victory for Seattle. The fact is when Minnesota rushes for 140 yards or more, they win. When they run for less than 100 yards, they lose.
In seven of the Vikings eight wins, they have run for more than 140 yards. Peterson is coming off a year he hardly played due to suspension because of a domestic assault issue. He is also 30 years old. While no one wishes the assault matter had taken place, Peterson sitting out a year has allowed him to be fresh this season. He leads the league in rushing with 1,164 yards with an average run of 4.9 yards and has scored eight touchdowns (Peterson also has 23 catches for 183 yards, but receiving is not his strength). He is uncommonly talented.
The Seahawks rank seventh in yards allowed per rushing attempt (3.8), fifth in rushing yards allowed per game (92.0), but rank 21st in rushing touchdowns allowed (9). In the last couple of years, Seattle dominated in every phase of the game defensively. This year the secondary has surprisingly struggled, but the front four has still been very good against the run. The issue is that if and when Peterson breaks through the first line, the tackling by the linebackers and safeties has been poor. Peterson is a player who must be tackled solidly and usually by more than one person.
As Seattle safety Earl Thomas told Seahawks.com, “(We have to) wrap and squeeze. We’ve got to understand leverage tackling, understand our situation on the field and we’ve got to use each other out there.”
This week’s game is a big adjustment in responsibility compared to last Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh ran the ball 14 times, and only eight of those were by a running back. The Steelers threw the ball 59 times, but passed for only one touchdown pass and were intercepted four times (two of those by backup Landry Jones, however). If the Vikings throw 59 times something seriously odd has happened. The Vikings do throw efficiently, however. Bridgewater has created good chemistry with rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and the Vikings have a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph, in fact, is coming off back-to-back games with six catches or more. Seahawks fans know too well how opposing tight ends have hurt them this season, so the matchup with Rudolph will be one to watch.
When the Seahawks have the ball, expect a lot of runs. True, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is coming off two great games, but Seattle needs to run the ball well to win against Minnesota. Running back Thomas Rawls had a good effort against a stingy Steelers run-defense with 81 yards, while the week before he ran for over 200 yards against the San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings rank 21st in yards allowed per game and opposing running backs average 4.3 yards a rush. Minnesota has a good defense overall, however, so if Rawls and Wilson are having issues chewing up yards running, Seattle may be in for a long day.
Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse both scored multiple touchdowns against the Steelers last week, but one should not expect that to happen against the Vikings. Wilson will need to react to the season-ending injury to tight end Jimmy Graham, though. Rawls most likely will be even more involved in the passing game this week. Tight end Luke Willson should be a deep-middle threat. And receiver Tyler Lockett should have some open space underneath. It also would not be surprising to see the Seahawks throw often early to set up the run for the rest of the game.
One important note is that the Vikings will be missing star nose guard Linval Joseph. Joseph is ranked second amongst nose guards in stopping the run, according to Pro Football Focus. He is 6’4” and 330 pounds, so that is a big man missing from the Vikings line this Sunday. That should help the Seahawks run game even more.
Still, it is difficult to beat a good team on the road in the National Football League. The Vikings are a good team. The Seahawks look like they could lose a close one this Sunday.
Whoever wins will be in a much better playoff position, however. The teams currently hold playoff spots in the NFC. The Vikings lead the NFC North, but a loss to the Seahawks would push them back into a Wild Card spot. A loss for the Seahawks could push them back out of the playoffs, at least for a week. A win for Seattle means they would trail the Vikings by a game in the Wild Card standings but gives them a chance of earning a home playoff game if the Vikings and Seahawks wind up with identical records at season’s end.
Seahawks who need to play well to win: linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Kam Chancellor, defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin, Willson, Rawls and the entire offensive line.
The Seahawks have now held a lead in 59 straight games. That is an NFL record.
The Seahawks have held a fourth quarter lead in every game this season.
Russell Wilson currently has the second-highest quarterback rating ever at 99.5. Aaron Rodgers has the highest at a ridiculous 105.1.