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Who stands in the way of the Seahawks in the NFC: A preview of the Vikings

Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I will write a comprehensive preview of each team that has a legitimate shot to make a playoff push out of the NFC in the upcoming season. The purpose of these pieces is to analyze how the Seattle Seahawks have performed against each opponent and how they stack up heading into 2016.

Recent History

The Seahawks and Vikings have clashed quite a bit over the last four years. Fortunately for Seattle, they have come out on top every time. In four matchups since 2012, the Seahawks have scored almost 30 points per contest while giving up only 14 points on average.

In 2012, despite an abysmal showing from their run defense, the Seahawks managed to pull out a 30-20 victory. The following year featured a blowout in the midst of an MVP push from Russell Wilson, who posted a passer rating of 151.4 in the game. One of my favorite throws of Russell’s career occurred in the second quarter of that contest:

With the clock winding down towards halftime, a huge Percy Harvin kick return had set Seattle up inside Minnesota territory. After driving to the 19-yard line and spiking the ball, Wilson takes the snap out of the gun, quickly slides to his right and throws a dart into the right corner of the end zone. The ball sails over two Vikings right into the hands of one Douglas Baldwin for a touchdown with 10 seconds left. Beautiful.

While they didn’t face off in 2014, the purple and the blue played each other twice last season, both times in the North Star State. The first matchup came in Week 14. The Vikings never really had a chance in this one. Other than a kick return by Cordarrelle Patterson, in which he showboated when down 38-0 (perfect timing), Minnesota couldn’t get anywhere near paydirt.

Last Matchup

The next matchup between the teams was a tad different. Down 9-0 in one of the coldest playoff games ever recorded, a clutch touchdown drive and subsequent fumble recovery put the Seahawks on top 10-9, midway through the fourth quarter.

After trading three-and-outs, Minnesota drove deep into Seattle territory. After holding up on the ground on back-to-back-to-back plays, Seattle forced Minnesota to kick a field goal, which Blair Walsh promptly missed wide left, essentially ending the game.

It’s easy to think that the Seahawks got lucky in the contest, but I beg to differ. I could definitely go extremely in depth on this, but that’s not what this article is about. I wrote about the subject in January, immediately following the playoff victory. Earning wins in the NFL is tough and the better team won. It’s as simple as that.

Despite the fact that Seattle and Minnesota don’t face each other in the regular season, there is a strong chance they could meet at some point in January, as they did last year. Because of this, let’s take a look at how the Seahawks stack up against the Vikings.

Strengths

Minnesota’s greatest strength is their balance on defense. With playmakers at every level, they are primed and ready to rumble with most offenses. Mike Zimmer’s transition to the helm of the Purple People Eaters has gone better than many expected, as he has created an elite defense in two short years.

Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen have solidified the run defense and provided pocket pushing presence. A slew of young linebackers controls the middle of the field against tailbacks and tight ends alike. An up-and-coming secondary, containing the likes of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, looks to establish itself as one of the NFL’s premier units.

Weaknesses

The Minnesota offense just isn’t that scary. There aren’t very many awe-inspiring weapons for Norv to Turn(er) to. First rounder Laquon Treadwell could eventually turn into an elite talent, but potential is just potential until he actually yields tangible results. Stefon Diggs turned in a solid rookie year, but isn’t a number one receiver by any means. Kyle Rudolph had a down year, only gaining 495 yards.

Despite a subpar-at-best offensive line, the Vikings have had success on the ground, fielding the 8th ranked rushing attack in terms of DVOA. That, of course, seems to be less a product of the whole offense working well together and more due to the hulking figure that stands in the backfield and destroys all who dare stand in his path.

Who to Stop

Adrian Peterson:

The one piece of Minnesota’s attack that makes opponents’ hair stand on end: #28. Peterson is the greatest running back of the modern era, miles ahead of anybody not named Marshawn Lynch. At the age of 31, All Day shows no signs of slowing down after gaining 1,707 yards from scrimmage in 2015. Harnessing the most devastating combination of brute power and straight-line speed imaginable, Peterson is always a home-run threat. This run against the Chargers showcases the different facets of his skill set:

After immediately breaking an ankle tackle in the backfield, Peterson sees there’s nothing happening up the middle and bounces the run outside. He showcases a brutal stiff-arm before turning upfield, breaking another tackle, and weaving his way to the promised land.

The fact that Peterson is a step slower at 31 and is still probably the best running back in the league speaks volumes about how generationally talented and well-rounded a player he is.

Peterson fortunately had no success against the Seahawks in 2015. In two games, the All Pro half back totaled 31 attempts for 63 yards. Think about that. That’s barely over two yards per carry. Seattle will have to continue their elite run-stuffing ways to stifle the Peterson-led rushing attack if the two clubs meet in January 2017.

Harrison Smith:

There are certain players in the league that are just so damn good at everything they do that it’s infuriating to watch. Smith is one of those players. Whatever he is asked to do, he excels. While he might not be at the level of Earl Thomas or Tyrann Mathieu, Smith is one of the elite safeties of today’s NFL.

Showing an ability to play both in centerfield and as a box safety, Smith can do it all. He even brings the heat when blitzing on occasion. Watch this ridiculous interception he pulls in against the Dolphins:

Ryan Tannehill has no idea that Smith is blitzing off of the left edge. When Tannehill finishes the play action fake and looks up, the Heartbreak Kid is right in his face. The quarterback attempts to dump the ball off to Jarvis Landry in the flat but it never clears Smith, who bats it down and somehow manages to make the spectacular interception.

Smith’s flexibility to play all over the field is something that the Seahawks must account for at all times, if they meet in the postseason.

Anthony Barr:

I never expected Barr to be this good so quickly. Labeled as a raw pass-rusher coming out of UCLA a couple years ago, he has become one of the best off-line linebackers in the NFL. His absurd athleticism has translated well when manning the strong-side linebacker spot for the Vikings.

His pass-rushing ability was well documented when he entered the NFL, but Barr has had surprising success getting to the quarterback from his new position. He uses his long arms to hold off blockers in the run game while hunting down tail backs behind the line of scrimmage.

The most unforeseen aspect of Barr’s current game is his coverage ability. Despite only one pick in 2015, Barr harnesses his natural athleticism to stay in the waist pocket of any player he covers. And even if he loses his receiver for a split second, madness like this goes down:

On the first play of overtime against the Buccaneers in 2014, tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins catches a quick pass and turns upfield. Barr closes quickly, punches the ball out from behind and promptly scoops the ball up to waltz into the end zone. Game over.

Coupling Barr’s technical excellence and athleticism with a knack for making huge plays leads to him being arguably the most dangerous defender on the Vikings. Just think about how dominant the Seahawks have been when Bobby Wagner is fully healthy. Yeah. Let’s try to neutralize Anthony Barr if we face him in January, alright?

Wild Card

Teddy Bridgewater:

This isn’t to say that my main man Teddy isn’t a solid quarterback. He has been very good, in fact. If you don’t believe me, check out Derrik Klassen’s article detailing how good he really is.

Bridgewater is my wild card for this game because he hasn’t made a significant impact against Seattle yet in his career. He didn’t lead his offense into the end zone once in the 120 minutes the Seahawks and the Vikings played in 2015. Not once.

If Teddy takes the next step in his development, which he definitely has the capability of doing, then he would make this matchup a hell of a lot more even. Laquon Treadwell will be a nice piece moving forward to develop alongside Minnesota’s franchise quarterback.

Seattle’s defense is built to succeed against Minnesota’s offensive weapons. But it’s hard to defend great quarterback play. If the Seahawks come a’knocking in the playoffs, there is no knowing whether or not Bridgewater will elevate his game and succeed against such a stingy defense.

And that makes him the greatest X Factor of all.

Who Needs to Step Up

Jarran Reed:

The catalyst that has propelled Seattle to victory in the last few matchups against Minnesota has been their ability to hold up in the trenches and contain Adrian Peterson. For the Seahawks to get a January victory against the Vikes, they will have to continue this dominance on the ground.

Enter Reed. The best run-stuffer in the draft according to one John Schneider. Reed, who has the potential to be the steal of the draft, will slot in for the departed Brandon Mebane on the defensive line. Reed must hold up at the point of attack to limit Peterson’s influence in the game’s outcome.

We all know that Reed is capable of doing so. I’m excited to see the matchup if and when it happens.

Whoever Plays Fullback:

There are currently four players on the roster looking to factor into the competition at fullback: Tani Tupou, Brandon Cottom, Tre Madden, and Brandin Bryant. Whoever wins the job will likely be the one who shows the most positional versatility and ability to do whatever is asked of them at a moment’s notice.

That is all besides the point. Whoever plays fullback will have their hands full if the Seahawks are to face the Vikings in the postseason. Anthony Barr’s skillset is detailed above. Eric Kendricks is another beast in the middle of the field. They both have a knack for closing running lanes as soon as they open up. The inevitable choice at fullback needs to be able to engage these hyenas before they can sniff out the ball carrier. None of the options for the role have much to any NFL experience, so whoever makes the cut will need to elevate themselves to a level of play worthy of January.

Paul Richardson/Tyler Lockett:

Seattle’s friendly neighborhood speed demons need to feast in this game. Doug Baldwin is going to get his. This is known. Lockett and Richardson must stretch the field in this game. If Harrison Smith isn’t challenged enough, he’ll just settle in and wreak havoc for the Seahawks offense. If Seattle’s two resident burners can take the top off of the Minnesota defense, then it opens up the run game and underneath throws, which Baldwin has shown that he can turn into paydirt pretty easily.

Minnesota’s corners, reminiscent of the Legion of Boom, are pretty big guys. Neither Xavier Rhodes or Trae Waynes are shorter than 6’1”. While Waynes is quite fast, he hasn’t shown the ability to stick with high level receivers. We know that Lockett is a high level receiver. We also know that Richardson has the potential to be a high level receiver.

If these two can find success getting off the line against Vikings defensive backs and can reach daylight over the top, which will in turn occupy Harrison Smith, the Seahawks have a great chance of defeating a team that they’ve enjoyed beating multiple times over the last few years.