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Seahawks-Vikings: The Friday Rundown, Week 14

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Seattle Seahawks v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks picked up a tremendous amount of ground in the playoff race over the last few weeks, knocking off fellow contenders in the Panthers and Packers along the way. Now, they take on their biggest rival for the top wildcard spot in the Minnesota Vikings, at home.

Week 13 saw the Seahawks swat aside the 49ers in an easy 43-16 victory, highlighted by Bobby Wagner doing everything. The Vikings, meanwhile, are coming off a tight loss in New England, which saw the NFL’s most unlikely rivalry unfold.

Let’s get into the preview:

Offensive and Defensive Primers

Minnesota pulled off the coordinator coup off the offseason, bringing in the highly sought after John DeFilippo to pair with Kirk Cousins in a revamped offense. It hasn’t gone exactly as planned for the Vikings, however, as a clash in philosophies and a dreadful offensive line has hamstrung DeFilippo and the offense to an extent.

DeFilippo got his start in the West Coast offense, calling himself a grandchild of the philosophy this offseason following his hire. Like all great playcallers, his style has developed over time to reflect the stops on his path, and he’s clearly been influenced from his time with the Eagles. Being part of a brilliant and talented offensive coaching staff in Philadelphia has led him to include more spread concepts and matchup based playcalls into his offense, blending with his background in the West Coast system.

Mike Zimmer and Minnesota’s defense are similar to Pete Carroll and Seattle’s defense in that their brilliance comes in its simplicity. Zimmer’s defense is cover-2 heavy (about 75% of the time), occasionally mixing in single-high looks. Though Zimmer has utilized 4-3 personnel since leaving Bill Parcells and the Cowboys in 2006, the trademark of his defense includes bringing pressure through six defenders, with a double A-gap blitz (more on that later).

Numbers that Matter

4: The Seahawks are the only team in the NFL to have more running plays than passing plays through 13 weeks. Though it goes against conventional wisdom, getting back to one of Carroll’s core tenets has worked for a team currently ranking 10th in DVOA on offense. As one would expect from a team that leans so heavily on the running game, Seattle runs on first down often. Only the Texans have more first down runs than the Seahawks in 2018 (219 to 206), though Seattle has the fewest first down pass attempts in the NFL (126).

As Brian Schottenheimer put it in the offseason, they want to be able to run the ball when the defense knows they’re going to run it, so the Seahawks’ tendency on first downs won’t go away on Monday night. However, they’ll be coming up against one of the league’s best run defenses on first downs: Through 13 weeks, the Vikings are allowing four yards per carry on first down, which ranks eighth in the league.

Seattle’s commitment to the run on early downs has put them into unfavorable spots before, and against one of the NFL’s best defenses, it won’t be so easy for Russell Wilson to throw them out of it.

5.6: Cousins delivered one of the most demoralizing moments of the Seahawks’ season in 2017, standing tall in the pocket and delivering a gorgeous downfield throw as Washington was marching to victory at CenturyLink Field.

That throw does a wonderful job summarizing what makes Cousins so frustrating to defend: He’s not bothered by the rush or defenders around him, he’ll stand tall in the pocket and deliver an accurate strike while being hit. Cousins’ savvy pocket movement has been crucial this season, as he’s been stuck behind a dreadful offensive line. His time to throw has dropped to 2.67 seconds this season, and Minnesota’s line—which ranks 31st in run blocking—is eighth in adjusted sack rate. The Vikings’ line has been the Achilles’ heel for a team that was expected to contend with the Rams for home field advantage in the NFC, but Cousins and his sack rate of just 5.6% are doing their best to mitigate the leaky line in front of him.

Though he’s been criticized often in 2018—unfounded criticism rooted in his contract—Cousins has been the driving force for Minnesota’s offense.

132.1: As I mentioned off the top, the defining look for Zimmer’s defense is two linebackers sugaring the A-gaps, projecting exactly what they intend to do. Few things in the NFL are more exciting than Zimmer calling a blitz, bringing the Vikings’ Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks down over the A-gaps.

The Vikings aren’t a high volume blitzing team, but when they do bring extra defenders, they’re incredibly effective. In 2017, Minnesota blitzed (five or more rushers) on 24.4% of plays, which was exactly middle of the pack. However their DVOA on blitzes was a sparkling -31.6%, trailing only the Ravens in the NFL. Again this season, the Vikings rank outside the top-10 in blitz percentage but again, do so with tremendous effectiveness. When blitzing in 2018, Minnesota has the second best pass defense in the NFL, allowing an opposing passer rating of just 63.3.

One of the league’s most lethal blitzing teams will meet their match in prime-time, coming up against a quarterback who thrives against pressure. Wilson is the league’s best passer against the blitz in 2018, with a scintillating rating of 132.1. When Zimmer and the Vikings dial up a blitz against Seattle, sugaring the A-gaps, get ready for Wilson to make them pay.

Matchups to Watch

Justin Coleman versus Adam Thielen: Seemingly every week in 2018, Coleman is faced with another defining matchup, whether it’s combating the tricky tight splits of Sean McVay’s offense, or winning a 1-on-1 against the impossibly slippery Golden Tate. Much has been made of Coleman’s up and down contract year, but he’s provided the Seahawks with tremendous value out of the slot.

Week 14 will deliver Coleman perhaps his most difficult task yet, as he comes up against Adam Thielen and his vice grip hands...

... and take no prisoners approach after the catch.

Only four receivers in the NFL have produced more yardage out of the slot than Thielen this season, who has collected 622 of his 1166 receiving yards from inside. Thielen’s wildly consistent season will now be tested against a defense that is yet to allow a touchdown to a slot receiver in 2018, and has allowed the second fewest yards to inside receivers. Shutting down Thielen only takes care of half the problem with matching up against Minnesota, though.

Tre Flowers versus Stefon Diggs: The other half of the Vikings’ incredible wide receiver tandem is Diggs, one of the three best route runners in the NFL and as cold-blooded as they come. Diggs and Thielen have powered Minnesota’s offense in 2018, as wide receivers have accounted for 86.96% of the Vikings’ passing touchdowns (first in the NFL), 72.58% of their receiving yards (fifth) and 66.57% of their receptions (third). Limited in practice with a lingering knee problem, Diggs is expected to play in Week 14, as he did last week.

Diggs’ ability to play the football at the very last moment presents problems for cornerbacks, particularly those who are slow to find the football themselves—as we saw in the preseason.

Luckily for Seattle (which feels odd to write), it will be Tre Flowers, not Griffin, tasked with covering Diggs on Monday night. Diggs plays predominantly on the offense’s left (where six of his seven scores have come), drawing the right cornerback. Diggs’ incredibly refined game could be an absolute nightmare matchup for the raw Flowers, however, his length has saved him on more than one occasion as a rookie.

Playing Minnesota is a case of picking your poison: Only twice this season has one of Diggs or Thielen failed to break the century mark in yards—and only once when both were active. Flowers’ rookie season has been extremely promising, and if he can stick with a devastatingly good route runner in Diggs on Monday night, optimism should only grow around his long-term prospects.

Opponent to Know:

Brian O’Neill, RT: The former college tight end was supposed to have a redshirt rookie season in 2018, instead, injuries have forced O’Neill to start seven games. Despite playing his final three seasons at Pitt on the offensive line, O’Neill entered the NFL incredibly raw, and has unsurprisingly struggled.

In the Vikings’ loss to the Patriots last week, O’Neill seemed to turn a corner. The rookie was Minnesota’s highest graded linemen per Pro Football Focus, and didn’t allow a pressure, hurry, hit or sack. The former Piesman Trophy winner is an 84th percentile athlete who should have no problem combating Frank Clark’s first step and speed around the corner. However, he lacks an anchor and still has a terrible habit of dropping his head and lunging—the power of Dion Jordan (or Quinton Jefferson) could end up giving him trouble.

The Seahawks’ recent run of great form has come against two fellow contenders, but they last faced a defense currently ranking in the top-10 in DVOA in Week 9 (Chargers). Week 14 will see them be tested against a Vikings team which currently ranks eighth. They’ll constantly put Seattle in second- and third-and-long situations, and it’ll be up to Wilson to deliver another huge win for the Seahawks.