3TFO: Vikings @ Seahawks, Week 9
It’s been nearly three years since these two franchises last faced off in what ended up as a 35-9 route by the Vikings that was over before halftime. Much has changed since then: both have brought in new head coaches, used early draft picks to replace aging, former Green Bay Packer quarterbacks, and both have managed to revamp perennially weak secondaries into respectable units.
Let’s delve a bit deeper into this matchup with a focus on some of the new faces for each team.
Gettin’ Some Action
Just last week, our number crunchers here at PFF unveiled a brand-new signature stat section: Play Action Passing. I felt like a kid at Christmas and couldn’t wait to rip off the wrapping paper and start playing with the new toy. Lo and behold, I was handed the perfect opportunity. The Seahawks and Vikings are two of the league’s more run-heavy offenses and feature two of the most powerful runners in Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. The offensive lines have contributed as well and sport two of our Top 5-graded run blocking centers in Max Unger and John Sullivan. So what does that all add up to? Lots of play action passes.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson executes play action on 31.7% of his pass attempts and Vikings QB Christian Ponder is not far behind at 28.4%. Those are the highest percentages among NFL quarterbacks behind Robert Griffin III (37.4%). So is all that ball faking effective? Our stats suggest so. Ponder’s QB rating jumps from 81.7 to 96.0 on play action. Wilson seems to take more chances off of play action, as evidenced by his four interceptions (and lower QB rating), but also by his yards per attempt average which jumps significantly from 6.2 to 9.1. Both QBs are using ball fakes to make bigger plays and gain more yardage.
In their last meeting, Sidney Rice was wearing purple and hauled in six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries derailed his next two seasons, but through eight games this year, Rice has regained the production that earned him the big free agent contract with the Seahawks back in 2010. He’s been a steady contributor and has added particularly big days against Dallas and Carolina and the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots. It’s that kind of work that has earned him a spot on our Mid-Season All-NFC West Team.
With Rice lining up on both sides of the Seattles offense and running anywhere up to a dozen routes from the slot each game he is likely to face off with the entire corps of Minnesota cornerbacks. With the loss of Chris Cook to injured reserve the Vikings no longer have a corner with the physical stature to matchup with Rice down the field; new acquisition A.J. Jefferson is the Vikings biggest corner now but he still gives away 3″ of height to the Seahawks’ top wideout. Rice runs his most routes from the right side of the Seahawks offense which will see him matched up with either rookie Josh Robinson or Antoine Winfield, depending upon whether the Vikings are in their nickel defense. Robinson is still gaining confidence — while he hasn’t given up many big plays (only one TD), QBs have been targeting his soft coverage (no passes defensed) with inside breaking routes (slants and ins) to gain first downs.
Kyle Rudolph vs. Chris Clemons
In the era of oversized wide receivers acting as tight ends, it’s refreshing to see some old-school work out of that position; healthy doses of tough run blocking followed by some pedestrian, yet effective, pass catching. The Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph has fit the bill. He hasn’t been scaring any one as a vertical receiving threat — his 1.03 Yards Per Route Run is near the bottom of the league for TEs — but Rudolph starts to get dangerous when the Vikings head into the red zone where he can use his 6-foot-6 frame to his advantage. He has five TDs on the season which is good for third among all TE’s.
The most impressive part of Rudolph’s game is his run blocking. While the Vikings prefer to run Peterson inside the tackles, when they do bump it outside, it’s usually Rudolph blocking down and sealing off the edge. With his size, he’s able to hold his own against defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers. After a rough start to the season, he’s put together a string of impressive run-blocking performances lately.
Seattle DE, Chris Clemons has had his share of trouble against the run, (ranked 61st among 4-3 DEs) and TEs like Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowsi have managed to beat him a time or two with that same type of hook block. Pass rushing has always been Clemons’ strong suite anyway, and with a +19.3 grade (ranked second among 4-3 DEs) the Seahawks don’t mind shortcomings against the run.
His dominance has waned over the last two weeks, however, (no sacks and five pressures) and the Seattle may want to consider reducing his heavy workload. Clemons has been on the field for 91% of the team’s defensive snaps — one of the highest percentages among defensive linemen — while fellow-starter Red Bryant has played on only 68%.
Follow Bryan on Twitter: @PFF_BryanHall