As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with Seattle at CenturyLink Field, we asked Nick Eaton, who covers the Seahawks for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
1) The Seahawks’ offense goes through Marshawn Lynch.
Yes, Vikings back Adrian Peterson leads the NFL in rushing right now with 775 yards. But Lynch isn’t far behind. The bruising back has 757 yards. And he’s part of a Seattle attack that is ground-oriented to its core. In eight games this season, the Seahawks have averaged 31 rushing attempts and 26 passes. Lynch, meanwhile, is coming off a 12-carry, 105-yard outburst in last Sunday’s loss in Detroit.
That included his longest run of the season, a 77-yard TD sprint during which he hit a hole on the right side of the field and was never touched on the way to the house.
“That was weird to see,” Eaton said. “Because he rarely gets out into the open field and is just able to sprint free. He’s always just busting through, always getting those power bursts. Five yards here, 5 yards there. And I think the most underappreciated thing about him is how headstrong he is. He keeps going and going and barreling through whether he’s getting big yards or not. He never lets up.”
That’s a scary thought for a Vikings defense that has struggled the past three weeks against the run.
2) The Seattle defense is solid on every level.
Up front, end Chris Clemons is a menace. He has seven sacks this season and 29 since joining the Seahawks in 2010. In the linebacking corps, K.J. Wright has a team-best 63 tackles. And that secondary? Corners Richard Sherman (6-foot-3, 195) and Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) are big and physical and apply a regular dose of press coverage to receivers. Plus, safeties Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232) and Earl Thomas (5-10, 202) can deliver some shots as well.
The Seahawks rank fifth in the NFL in yards allowed (312). They allow an average of 85 yards per game on the ground. They’ve also held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 6.4 yards per attempt with a 78.6 rating.
“They’ve been solid against the run and they have been really successful against deep passes,” Eaton said. “You can see how their corners can intimidate opponents at times. Every now and then you see those dropped passes where it’s obvious that receivers are rattled from all the contact and all the hits earlier in the game."
3) Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson can be sneaky dangerous.
Heading into the draft, Wilson faced questions about his height – he’s 5-11 – and whether he’d be able to see over defenses and create proper throwing lanes. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll looked past that and saw a guy who was consistently smart, efficient, driven and poised.
Yes, Seattle signed Matt Flynn to a huge contract in the offseason with the belief that he’d be their quarterback of the future. But Flynn is dealing with an elbow injury and Wilson won the starting job outright anyway with an training impressive camp and preseason.
The rookie out of Wisconsin via N.C. State hasn’t set the world on fire in his first eight starts. He has a .614 completion percentage and has thrown for just 1,466 yards with 10 TDs and eight picks. Overall, Seattle ranks 31st in passing offense (171.1 ypg).
But Wilson has shown he has a presence that his teammates respect.
“His demeanor is so even keel,” Eaton said. “And he has such a level head. It’s been impressive to see the way he came in here and just owned the position from the get-go.”
Oh, and the rookie quarterback has shown he has that clutch gene. He led late game-winning touchdown drives against Green Bay and New England. In last week’s loss to Detroit, he engineered a 12-play, 87-yard march that put the Seahawks ahead 24-21 with 5:27 left. And in the season opener against Arizona, a 20-16 Seattle loss, Wilson took the Seahawks from their own 20 to the Cardinals 4 before three incompletions in the end zone finished the game.
“From what he’s shown, he has an obvious ability to deliver in big moments,” Eaton said. “And you have to figure as young as he is he’s going to keep getting better.”
Former Viking Sidney Rice remains Wilson’s most potent target. Rice has 28 catches for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s been their most consistent receiver so far,” Eaton said.
4) The Seahawks defense isn’t impenetrable.
With a three-point lead in the final minutes Sunday, Seattle was picked apart by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who led a methodical 16-play, 80-yard TD march. Stafford completed 10 of 15 passes on the drive, dismantling the Seahawks with a dizzying array of short passes. The game-winner was a 1-yard pass to Titus Young. That was the sixth completion on the drive for less than 8 yards.
And that may be a bit of an Achilles’ heel for a defense that has been solid just about everywhere else.
“At times, it seems those short passes and those dump offs have given the Seahawks substantial trouble,” Eaton said. “It’s hard to figure why that is. But you saw it with the Lions, all those short-little gains. They found that weakness and exploited it with a bunch of quick-hitters.”