The Seattle Seahawks’ final Sunday Night Football appearance of the season (pending any flex scheduling) is a home matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Seattle has never started a season 5-0 in franchise history, so this is a potential milestone moment for a team that is seemingly destined to be contending for a Super Bowl this season. As for the Vikings, they did start 0-3 before beating the Houston Texans, and with an expanded postseason (and starting in 2021, an expanded regular season) there’s certainly a greater chance for 0-3 teams to at least make the #7 seed.
Minnesota has yet to beat the Seahawks in the Russell Wilson era, but they certainly have had chances in each of the past three meetings. I think you know which one they were closest to winning, and our thoughts on the placekicker involved are mutual.
Anyway, Daily Norseman is genuinely my favorite SB Nation NFL site to read outside of Field Gulls. If you want the skinny on Seattle’s next opponent, Christopher Gates has you covered. I avoided all “Let Dalvin Cook” puns and focus on the defense, their passing offense, and the future of the franchise if this season ends up as a disappointing failure to make the postseason.
1.) When the Seahawks were looking for a new pass rusher, fans certainly had interest in getting Yannick Ngakoue at the right price, but he went to Minnesota instead. How has he performed thus far?
People were a bit down on Ngakoue after he played limited snaps in the season opener after the Vikings acquired him from Jacksonville, but in the past three games, he’s registered four sacks, including two of DeShaun Watson in last week’s win over Houston. He’s really been just about the only Vikings’ player that’s been able to get after the quarterback this season with Danielle Hunter being hurt and Everson Griffen being gone. He has over half of the team’s sack total thus far, and it really is a shame that it’s looking less and less likely to see what he and Hunter look like together this season given the news that we continue getting about Hunter’s injury. But Ngakoue seems to be worth the price that the Vikings paid for him thus far, though it still remains to be seen whether or not they’ll be able to lock him into anything long-term. If they can, then it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t worth the price of a second-round pick.
2.) Looking at the defense as a whole, it’s 13th in DVOA although it doesn’t feel like it. There were a lot of changes in the offseason at secondary and there have been injuries to Anthony Barr (out for the season) and Danielle Hunter (on IR indefinitely). WHat have been the strengths and weaknesses of this new-look unit?
You’re right. . .it certainly doesn’t seem like the Vikings are 13th in DVOA in terms of defense, given the way they’ve given up yardage through the air. We’ve already talked about Ngakoue as one of the bright spots, but the strength of the Vikings’ defense is probably the safeties that they have backing up their young cornerbacks. Harrison Smith continues to be one of the best safeties in the National Football League in his ninth season, and Anthony Harris has still been solid, though he hasn’t quite performed up to expectations. Despite Barr’s injury, the linebackers have also been a bright spot, specifically Eric Kendricks, who is to Minnesota’s defense what Bobby Wagner is to Seattle. This makes it that much more worrisome that Kendricks hasn’t practiced yet this week (as of Thursday). As far as weaknesses, we’ve mentioned the cornerbacks, who are all very young and very unproven. The Vikings have two of their 2020 draft choices playing huge roles at corner in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler, and they certainly have their work cut out for them on Sunday against the likes of Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.
3.) Kirk Cousins has six touchdowns and six interceptions and is on pace for the worst sack rate of his career. How much of his struggles have been on the offensive line and how much of it has been him just making inaccurate throws and questionable decisions?
I think that the continued struggles of the offensive line, particularly at the guard spots, has quite a bit to do with Cousins’ issues. While the tackles have been fairly good and center Garrett Bradbury has taken a step forward this year, the guard play has been just abysmal and the result of most of the pressure and sacks that Cousins has faced. There have been other issues as well, such as Gary Kubiak’s play calling not necessarily being the greatest thus far and the mind-boggling decision to not use Justin Jefferson a lot more over the first couple of weeks. When things are going well for the Vikings’ offense and Cousins has time, he’s still got the ability to move the offense down the field and generate points. Maybe now Kubiak has shaken off some of the rust and we can see more from the Minnesota offense of what we’ve gotten over the past two weeks.
4.) I imagine Seahawks fans are concerned about dealing with Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph in the passing game, but rookie Justin Jefferson has 11 catches for 278 yards and a touchdown over the past two games. Do you see his upside as being Stefon Diggs’ long-term replacement as the #1 wide receiver, or perhaps something even greater?
Jefferson was the most productive receiver in college football in 2019, and I think a lot of Vikings’ fans are confused as to why he wasn’t used much differently over the past couple of weeks. Maybe it’s Mike Zimmer’s reluctance to play rookies or maybe the situations weren’t calling for it, but after what he’s done the past couple of weeks it’s a real head-scratcher. Going into this season, Thielen was obviously viewed as the #1 receiver in the Vikings’ offense with the departure of Stefon Diggs, but Jefferson is quickly on his way to taking over that mantle. If he’s not careful, he might take over that spot by the end of this season, if not significantly sooner. As long as the rest of Cousins’ targets are going to continue to struggle, we’re probably going to see a lot more from Jefferson over the course of this season.
5.) Mike Zimmer isn’t a name you immediately think of as being in the hot seat considering he’s led the team to an NFC Championship Game with Case Keenum at quarterback, and boasts a road playoff win in New Orleans just last year. It’ll be a long haul just to make the playoffs at this point with a 1-3 start, so if the Vikings end up out of the playoff picture, do you believe that Zimmer’s job is in jeopardy?
I have always thought that the only way that Zimmer and/or Rick Spielman lose their jobs is if the Vikings completely bottom out and go 3-13 or something like that. With the contract extensions that Zimmer, Spielman, and Cousins all received this offseason, their fates are all pretty well tied together, and I think this team has too much talent on it to bottom out completely, particularly on offense. The defense is a work in progress after losing all of the experience that they did this offseason (Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander) and now the injuries to Barr and Hunter on top of that. I know that this team is likely going to have their struggles this season, but unless they completely fall apart, I don’t think the Wilf family is going to pull the trigger on firing the current regime. I thought there was a possibility of such a thing had the Vikings hit the bye at 0-6, but that’s not going to happen now, and I think the turnover is going to give the Wilf family the reasoning they need to chalk 2020 up as a “lost” year and continue the rebuilding process going forward.
Thanks again to Christopher for answering my questions. I did the same over at Daily Norseman and you can check that out.