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Seahawks-Vikings: 3 key matchups to watch in Week 13

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive season, the Vikings will come into CenturyLink Field for a prime-time game, and for the second consecutive season, it is one that comes with playoff implications. Minnesota, 8-3, are just a game back of the Seahawks, with both teams occupying wildcard spots while sitting second in their respective divisions. Though both the Vikings and Seattle could very well take their divisions still, there is potentially large playoff ramifications on the line.

The Seahawks and Minnesota have similarities across their rosters, and it should produce an excellent game on Monday Night Football; when the two NFC contenders kickoff, these will be the matchups to watch:

Germain Ifedi vs Danielle Hunter

Seattle will continue its trek through a schedule of fearsome pass rushers in Week 13, as both Duane Brown and Ifedi will find themselves in tough matchups, against Everson Griffen and Hunter. Brown should be able to hold his own against Griffen, but the Ifedi-Hunter battle will be the one to watch. In his fifth season, Hunter remains perennially underrated in a league deep in pass rush talent; he is also perhaps the best bargain in the NFL, a premier edge rusher making an average of $14.4M per year. Hunter excels in both phases, and has two traits that standout as potential issues for Ifedi: He has a strong get off, and lands a powerful strike. Ifedi is not always fast to get his hands up, and if he struggles with that against the Vikings, Hunter will thrive.

Through 11 games in 2019, Hunter leads the NFL in pressures with 71, nine more than the next closest pass rusher. In a rotation of defensive linemen, Hunter is getting pressure on 15.8 percent of his rushes, which ranks sixth in the NFL among defenders with 200+ rushes. He has translated those pressures into production, too, with 8.5 sacks and 32 QB hits on the season. While Ifedi has not been as strong as 2018—though the entire line has taken a step back—he has remained a fine presence on the edge. In pass protection, he is allowing a blown block on just 2.8 percent of snaps—up half a percent from ‘18, but still lower than his career average of 3.1 percent.

Against a Philadelphia front with talent inside and out, George Fant featured on over a third of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps, and it is likely they do something similar in this matchup. Brown matches up well with Griffen and can win one-on-one on the left. Bringing in Fant to help on Hunter—and getting chips from backs and tight ends when he is not—will help to slow down a great pass rusher, and assist Ifedi in a difficult matchup.

Jacob Hollister vs Eric Kendricks

The 2019 season has seen an incredible turnaround for the Vikings’ Kendricks, after a particularly trying 2018. The fifth-year linebacker looks primed for his first All-Pro selection, a year after being rendered a liability, particularly exposed as such in Minnesota’s loss to the Rams. Now, he is excelling rushing the passer (fourth in pressures among LBs), in coverage, and defending the run, looking like the best defensive player on a stacked unit. Kendricks’ strong play in coverage will be tested by Hollister, who has provided Seattle with an excellent spark since entering the starting lineup.

Among linebackers, Kendricks is allowing the second-lowest catch rate when targeted, at 61.2 percent, and has an outstanding 12 breakups in coverage. However, there is opportunity for Hollister to find success against Minnesota’s linebacker. The Seahawks have continuously targeted Hollister on play-action roll outs, with Hollister breaking into the flat.

In Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s zone coverage-heavy defense, Kendricks usually drops into the middle of the field, in a hook/curl zone, before he is forced to cover the flats when the boundary cornerbacks carry a receiver downfield. The separation Hollister will have on Kendricks prior to the catch will be important; it will just take one slip of the tackle and Seattle’s tight end will have an opportunity to add to his impressive yards after the catch total (58 percent of Hollister’s receiving yards in 2019 have come after the catch). The effectiveness the Seahawks have had targeting Hollister on this type of passing play leads one to believe a big gain is inevitable; with a favorable schematic matchup, it could come Monday night against a Minnesota defense that’s surrendered one touchdown to tight ends all season.

Shaquill Griffin vs Stefon Diggs

The Vikings’ electrifying wide receiver duo of Diggs and Adam Thielen was one of the stiffer tests Griffin and Tre Flowers faced in 2018; though it was a relatively quiet night for the pair a year ago, Seattle will be even better off in 2019. Thielen continues to have issues with a hamstring injury, but with Diggs running the majority of his routes on the right this season, the biggest change in this matchup is Griffin’s improvement from ‘18 to ‘19. Diggs is one of the best route runners in the NFL, capable of creating separation in a phone booth; a year ago, that is just the type of receiver who Griffin would struggle with, as he faced issues with double moves and sticking with wideouts at the top of routes. In 2019, it is a different story, as Griffin has played to his high level athleticism.

Though Diggs has had a less productive year than we have become accustomed to—and a season not without drama—he has been as efficient as ever. Among receivers in the NFC, Diggs ranks second in yards per route run, and sixth in DYAR among all wideouts. He will have a difficult matchup in Griffin, whose enjoying an All-Pro caliber season, allowing a completion percentage of 53.4 when targeted, at six yards per target, with 14 pass breakups. Just as importantly, Quandre Diggs’ presence will help to takeaway the big play, after not allowing a single catch in Week 12.

The Vikings’ Diggs is an exceptional deep threat, ranking first in receptions, yards and touchdowns on passes of 20+ yards. Against the Seahawks last season, Diggs got behind Tre Flowers for a long 48-yard reception. However, Griffin’s far better equipped to handle the slippery Diggs in 2019, and Seattle’s Diggs will aid him in preventing an explosive play. Potentially without Thielen and Diggs facing a tremendous talent at cornerback, the Vikings could be short-handed against the Seahawks.

Seattle have been outstanding on the road in 2019, but have fallen to two quality opponents at CenturyLink Field. Minnesota will be a third strong foe to visit the Seahawks, and Seattle must turn their form around at home to take a huge stride in the battle for playoff seeding.