3TFO: Vikings @ Seahawks, Week 11
It has been a tale of two seasons for last year’s NFC Wild Card teams. After dropping four straight games, the Vikings finally secured their second win of the season last Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Seahawks bounced back from a near-loss to the then-winless Buccaneers with a forceful win over the Falcons.
The Vikings, arguably, have their toughest test of the season going to Seattle, where the Seahawks have not lost since 2011. Seattle has forced 30 turnovers and have won by an average of 17.6 points per game during their 12-game win streak. As we know with the NFL, however, any team can win any given week. Here are three key matchups to focus on during the game.
Which Jared Allen Will Show Up?
Jared Allen has been a force at defensive end for nearly a decade now, but this year he has not played consistently at that same high level. Allen has been nearly unblockable during some games. He has tallied at least six QB disruptions in a game three times and has earned an overall grade of +3.3 or higher twice. What should concern the Vikings is how he has been virtually nonexistent in other games. He has already graded at -3.3 or lower in three games, more than his last two seasons combined. Overall, his 7.9 Pass Rushing Productivity ranks in the bottom third for 4-3 defensive ends. Allen needs to have a big game to help out the Vikings’ struggling secondary.
It remains to be seen whom Allen will be facing this week. Normal starter Russell Okung has been out since Week 2 and is eligible to return from injured reserve this week. If Okung is at full health, his return could strengthen a weak offensive line. After a poor start to last season, he finished the year with 15-straight positive-graded games. Okung’s 97.3 Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) ranked third among tackles and he ended the season with the tenth-highest overall grade at left tackle. If he is not yet ready to return, Paul McQuistan will likely get another start at left tackle. McQuistan, who started every game at guard last season, has not adjusted well to the move. McQuistan’s -23.2 overall grade ranks 75th out of 76 qualifying tackles and his PBE ranks in the bottom five. Depending on who gets the nod for the Seahawks, Allen could have a difficult matchup or a very favorable one.
Seahawks’ Receivers Versus Vikings’ Secondary
Golden Tate is emerging as the top threat for Russell Wilson. Tate has caught 69.5% of passes thrown his way and has three touchdowns over the last three weeks. He has shown his big-play ability with 365 yards after the catch and by forcing a league-high 13 missed tackles. Doug Baldwin has not been targeted consistently but has made the most of his opportunities. After teammate Sidney Rice suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8, Baldwin has picked up the slack with 11 receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown in two games. Another player who could be a factor on Sunday is Percy Harvin, who hopes to make his season debut against his former team. Although we do not know realistically what impact he may have, the Vikings know first-hand how dangerous Harvin can be when he is healthy. Harvin averaged 150 all-purpose yards per game in his nine appearances last year.
It is no secret that the Vikings are having problems in pass defense, and injuries have not helped. They were not much better against the Redskins last week, but came up with timely stops when needed in the second half. Josh Robinson is one player who has been responsible for their defensive woes. Robinson has allowed more receiving yards in coverage than any other cornerback in the league. He has played better the last couple weeks, however, which could be a result of lining up almost solely as an outside cornerback instead of in the slot. Considering that the Vikings are one of two teams without a positively-graded defensive back with at least 50 snaps in coverage, Robinson is hardly the only guilty party. Chris Cook has been on the field for just over half of the Vikings’ defensive snaps, but has still managed to give up a team-high four touchdowns. The secondary needs to limit missed tackles and the big plays it allows.
Giving Adrian Peterson the Ball
Adrian Peterson is, understandably, not matching the productivity of his remarkable season last year. However, the Vikings’ quarterback merry-go-round and porous defense have overshadowed the very good season he has quietly put together. Peterson leads the league in rushing touchdowns and yards after contact, and is on pace for over 1,000 yards after contact for the third time in six years. His 82.2 Elusive Rating, which also leads the league, is actually higher than last season. His ability to break off big runs is the one area he has had a drop-off. After an absurd 40 runs of 15-plus yards last season, he has nine such runs in as many games this year. Peterson had 182 rushing yards in their meeting last season. The Vikings will need to get him going early and often while utilizing play-action passes effectively.
Seattle boasts one of the best pass defenses—both pass rush and coverage—in the league. Over the course of their home-win streak they have forced 18 interceptions and have allowed a 100-plus QB rating only once. With a shutdown cornerback like Richard Sherman and play-making safety Earl Thomas, it will be important for the Vikings to not have to play catch-up like they have so many times already this season. For the Seahawks, the goal should be simple: get ahead early to limit Peterson’s touches and force Christian Ponder to make plays against two of the league’s best defensive players.
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