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Seahawks vs. Vikings: A Closer Look

The latest analytic prediction for the Seahawks' next game.

Kevin C. Cox

A Retrospect

After the Falcons scored in the third quarter, I did something I never thought I would be capable of doing. I hoped an opponent of the Seahawks would score. It was only for a brief moment, but it was real. Why? So that my score prediction would be correct of course! I now understand what some fantasy players must feel.

Flirtation with treason notwithstanding, that game was very fun (if you are a Seahawks fan). Others have said it, and probably more eloquently, but the Seahawks' last game was a truly dominant performance.

The Seahawks gained a bucket-load of yards, held Atlanta's offense in check, and if that wasn't enough, the Hawks dominated the special teams as well. I'm tempted to write something along the lines of, "don't expect this kind of domination again," but the Seahawks haven't even reached their apotheosis. If healthy, this team may be able to dominate even above average competition. That's phenomenal.

As always, this piece will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 10), mostly from football outsiders. You can read more here.

Also, thanks to Cuenca Guy for helping me make my recap and stats more understandable. More explanation at the end.

On to the recap!

Where my predictions were right!

  • The Offense would break out.
  • Osi Umenyiora would not have an impactful game.
  • Marshawn Lynch would have a great game.
  • Russell Wilson would have his best game of the season.
  • Zach Miller, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate would have nice games.
  • The punting game would be great.
  • The offensive line would not implode.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Atlanta's receivers would have nice games.
  • The Atlanta run game would have average success.
  • The point differential would be around 10 points.

Somewhere in between.

  • Matt Ryan would have a nice game but turn the ball over around twice. (This is somewhat of a hedge. I apologize, and will try and not make this mistake again.)

At a Glance

This is a matchup of former playoff teams that likely looked much more compelling last year than now. At 2-7 Minnesota hasn't looked as strong as last season and now their coach has Vegas excited.

The Vikings have a strange situation. They weren't great before Frazier arrived, but the biggest mistake the last few years has been Christian Ponder - a guy Frazier didn't draft. In a way, his strategy seems similar to Pete Carroll's.

Frazier spent a couple years building talent and experimenting with QB's until they found one that worked - never investing too much draft capital at the position along the way. Picking up a couple of veterans that had seen success (Josh Freeman, Matt Cassel) and working with a young talented QB sounds awful like the Hawks. The biggest difference between the Seattle and Minnesota is that the Hawks' front office excelled at finding value in unexpected places and filling out the rest of the roster. Minnesota seems to have struggled with that last part (although not as badly as some of the other down trodden teams).

The Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings' Offense

A rudimentary way to view any offense is to break it into two facets: rushing offense and passing offense. Last year the Minnesota Vikings' offense was noticeably one dimensional. Their pass offense DVOA ranked 22nd and their rush offense DVOA ranked 6th. That discrepancy in production might have led to more opportunities for Adrian Peterson's historic season, but we should also acknowledge that Adrian Peterson is athletically brilliant in a way we haven't seen in years. However, even with AP, their offense last year was ranked 15th in DVOA - perfectly average.

Perfectly average can actually be just fine. The problem with Minnesota's offense however, is that they were relying on a historic season. We can still note that Peterson is likely the best running back in the league, but last year he wasn't just the best running back in the league, he was the best player in the league.

Now that Peterson is simply the best running back, Minnesota's offense ranks 23rd in offensive DVOA. Not surprisingly, their offense has dropped rankings in both areas. They rank 28th in passing offense DVOA, and 12th in rushing offense DVOA. That 28th ranked passing offense sticks out like a sore thumb and the lion's share of the blame has been leveled (appropriately) on the QB carrousel.

A three headed beast is not always Cerberus. In this case, Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, and Matt Cassel aren't likely to instill too much fear to their opponents. The have QB ratings of 77.6, 52.6, and 91.9, respectively.

I tend to think that Josh Freeman is the most promising starter next year, Matt Cassel is the best starter this year, and Christian Ponder is the best backup. The Vikings organization appears to disagree with me however, because all indications suggest Ponder will be starting this Sunday. As a Hawks fan, that makes me delighted. (Of course, my considerations are made in a vacuum. It could be that Ponder is best for the Vikings' personnel.)

The Minnesota Vikings' Defense

Last week, I predicted that the Seattle offense would break out. This was predicated in part, on the low rankings in DVOA Atlanta possessed. The other contributing factor to my prediction was Atlanta's lack of an elite defensive strength. That is, they didn't have any one unit that could significantly influence the game. I believe Atlanta had hoped their secondary would be above average with a mix of veterans and talented youth, but that clearly hasn't worked.

In the Vikings' defense, I see many of the same qualities of Atlanta's. They have many intriguing pieces; Chad Greenway is a tackling machine (when healthy); Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes are just oozing talent; and there are other talented players on the defense - Jamarca Sanford, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, etc.

Of those players, Greenway, and Sanford are likely a large contributing behind the 16th ranked rush defense by DVOA, but I wouldn't ignore the defensive line either (14th in defensive adjusted line yards). In their 10 contests so far, they've allowed an average of 4.0 yards per carry. Overall, their rushing defense has been starkly average (is that an oxymoron?).

In contrast, the other aspect of the Vikings' defense has been far worse than average. Their pass defense DVOA ranks a lowly 26th. I pointed out that the Vikings have talent in the secondary (Sanford, Cook, and Rhodes), but that talent hasn't manifested as performance just yet. While Sanford is strong against the run, he hasn't held up as well against the pass, and while Rhodes may turn into the next Richard Sherman, he's not playing enough now to make an enormous impact. Furthermore, Chris Cook has shown flashes of good play, but he's been injured much of this year. Additionally, his counterparts - Josh Robinson and Andrew Sendejo- have played very poorly.

Taken together, the players in the defense don't seem to have a particularly elite edge. Frankly, I wonder how effective the Vikings' defensive coordinator has been. There seems to be too much talent for this defense to perform this poorly.

The Seattle Seahawks

My favorite team! It's always fun updating stats after a good week.(Remember to check out Kenneth's piece about advanced stats!) Time for the brief. The Seahawks rank 2nd in overall DVOA. Their offense has moved up to 8th from 13th in DVOA. The constituent elements of the offense have both moved up the rankings as well. The pass offense DVOA moved up to 10th and the rushing offense DVOA moved up to 4th. Defensively, the Seahawks have held steady. The pass defense remains the best, ranking 1st in DVOA, and the rush defense has seen a slight increase ranking 14th.

If anyone is surprised that the rush defense didn't rise more after last week, remember that Atlanta was the 24th ranked rush offense before last week. DVOA is schedule adjusted which means that Atlanta playing poorly is expected. Even if the Hawks looked impressive in their effort, their success could be statistically explained by Atlanta's previous poor play. That means that the Hawks' would have to dominate Adrian Peterson this week to see a large rise in the rankings.

The most interesting thing about this week to me are the possible returns from injury. The data football outsiders have collected so far have mostly been without Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini, and Percy Harvin (not to mention Max Unger occasionally). I've talked before about how impactful Percy Harvin can be, but good lord - to get both tackles back as well. This offense could be in for a huge increase in efficiency. I can't explain how excited I am to see this offense at full strength.

The Matchups

The Vikings' Offense vs the Seahawks' Defense

As readers may recall, the Seahawks played the Vikings last year. I should send a word of caution that looking to a past game (especially after a long time lapse) isn't a definitive way to assess future outcomes, but it can still be illustrative. In last year's game Adrian Peterson completely obliterated the Hawks' rush defense, finishing with 182 yards on a paltry 17 carries (over 10 yards per carry!).Despite that kind of help, Christian Ponder didn't quite live up to the same level of efficiency - finishing with 63 yards on 22 passes (yikes!). At this point in the Vikings season Percy Harvin was still playing, but he was injured during game and was clearly hampered. That would be his final game of the season.

Much of that same team returns to Seattle this Sunday. The biggest difference in personnel that I notice is Greg Jennings as a replacement for Percy Harvin. Jennings over Harvin may be a downgrade at the season level, but both Jennings and their other starting wide receiver - Jerome Simpson - have had nice seasons so far. I'm not ready to say they're elite, but if you prorate their current stats now, they would compare favorably to the Seahawks receivers last year. Most importantly, the passes the Vikings receivers are catching are coming from the stunted Cerberus mentioned earlier, so you can't suggest they're inadequate.

In the past, the Seahawks defense has played well against questionable quarterbacking and I don't think Sunday will be any different. I don't think Ponder will reach Mark Sanchez or John Skelton levels of play, but I tend to think Ponder is closer to those two than Peyton Manning. Simply put, the 28th ranked pass offense is likely going to have a hard time playing against the 1st ranked pass defense.

I'm not sure I would suggest that Ponder will have a worse game than he did last year - that would be hard - but I will suggest a couple of turnovers, a paltry amount of yards, a couple sacks, and a whole load of pressure. Consequently, neither Greg Jennings nor Jerome Simpson should have great outings. Of the pass catchers left, that leaves John Carlson as the biggest threat. Fortunately for Hawks' fans, I don't think he'll be a problem either. Frankly, I wonder if Adrian Peterson may be the most dangerous pass catcher for the Vikings on Sunday.

Of course, if I had a choice, I would hope that Adrian Peterson is catching passes instead of running the ball on Sunday. Instead, Seattle fans will likely see quite a few carries. Because Minnesota ranks 12th in rushing offense and Seattle ranks 14th in rushing defense, I'm inclined to predict that Adrian Peterson will have an average to above average day - about 25 carries 120 yards.

The Seahawks' Offense vs the Vikings Defense

Before I begin on this section I'm going to provide you with some assumptions I'm making. First, Russell Okung, and Breno Giacomini will be starting and provide upgrades over Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie. Second, Percy Harvin will play, but he won't be featured. He may run a screen or two, return a kickoff or two, but he won't make an immediate impact - or at least not a large one.

With those assumptions in mind, I'll start at the line. A cursory glance at the sack numbers would suggest that the Vikings' defense has deteriorated immensely. A cursory glance however, doesn't always provide good information - that's true here as well. The Vikings haven't sacked their opponents as much, but their adjusted sack rate has remained static between last year and the present (6.4%). If there has been a drop off, Jared Allen would be the most conspicuous, but I would contend that he's still dangerous.

Dangerous as he may be, I'm skeptical Allen or his counterparts will be able to put much pressure on Wilson. Their numbers are better than Atlanta's but not enormously and Atlanta couldn't put any serious pressure on Wilson. Additionally, with the return of the Hawks' two best tackles, I would expect Russell to have a comfortable amount of time in the pocket.

Last week we all saw what Russell Wilson can do when he has time in the pocket and I would expect more of the same this week. I'll shift my prediction slightly and say that Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate should all have nice games. The Vikings pass defense is just too enigmatic for me to say otherwise.

I'm fairly confident that the receivers perform well this game, but my only concern actually lies with Marshawn Lynch. Let me put it this way, if he goes nuts on the ground, then the receivers may not have many opportunities to catch the ball. I don't think Lynch will mute the receivers, but I do think he'll have a game of similar quality to Atlanta's. The word out of Minnesota is that Greenway and Henderson haven't been performing as well as they could and that always means a good game for Lynch.

With Marshawn performing as he always does, Russell having time to survey, and the receivers finding open swaths of field, I'll go ahead and predict a good offensive day for Seattle. I think Hawks' fans will have to wait to see Percy Harvin fully integrated, but this offense was good without him last year. Like last week, I just don't have enough evidence to suggest the Seahawks will struggle on offense.

Special Teams

That last paragraph would generally be where I would end the match up analysis. It's not that I don't think special teams play isn't important, it's just that I feel I can describe advantages in the narrative or x factors sections more efficiently.

The problem with that form, of course, is that Cordarrelle Patterson deserves mention. While I would normally just mention that Minnesota ranks 1st in kick return DVOA, that doesn't describe how dominant he has been this season. Minnesota's kick return DVOA is over two times larger than the second place team (Denver). That is absurd. Not only that, but Cordarrelle Patterson leads the league in return yards, and return average. That's awesome.

Not awesome, is the team that has to cover him. The Seahawks will be taking that duty, and they're around the middle of the pack by football outsiders' numbers. That suggests to me that Patterson is going to give Minnesota some great field position if he can get his hands on the ball. I would guess he is going to bring the ball out of the end zone and make the Hawks pay a few times. I'll stop short there and not predict a return for touchdown, however.

Punting is a little bit more even as the Hawks have one of the best coverage units by football outsiders. That may make punting more appealing, but I personally hope they don't. Minnesota has the same numbers as Seattle when it comes punt returns, and if I was a coach, I would try and kick away from Tate. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to kick away from Patterson.

X Factors

Adrian Peterson. He is certainly still capable of running for 200 yards on few carries. That said, I think that kind of production is unlikely.

The Seahawks offensive line. Some readers might be surprised to see this unit here, but my assumptions about the line weren't based on previous research. I just always assume players coming back from injury will perform at around their average level of production. That assumption could be wrong though, and we could see another implosion if players aren't fully recovered.

Cordarrelle Patterson. I'm not going to make the gambler's fallacy and say that Cordarelle Patterson is due for the end zone, but I wouldn't be surprised if he won the game for the Vikings like Leon Washington has done in the past for the Seahawks. Still, I would bet on this not happening.

The Narrative

Like last week, Seattle's offense should move the ball well and score plenty. The offense should look pretty scary with both the run game and the passing game performing efficiently. On defense, Seattle should contain Minnesota's passing game, regardless of the quarterback. The corners will be stifling and the QB pressure should be amped up by playing at home. The only danger will be Adrian Peterson, but he won't be able to carry the offense himself. Minnesota will enjoy superior field position, but ultimately it won't be of significant impact on the game.

Prediction: Seahawks win 34-13


Recap Stats

Cuenca Guy's suggestion made me realize that I should say what these stats are about in every piece. So, this section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average. Further, if YOU, the reader, include predictions in this format, I'll include them as "The Field." See if you can beat my average!

Where my predictions were right!

  • The Offense would break out. - 9 - I called that one, just not enough!
  • Osi Umenyiora would not have an impactful game. - 9 - I feel a little sad that I thought he should be a Seattle target now.
  • Marshawn Lynch would have a great game. - 9 - And he did. Though, he really should receive the ball near the goal line more. C'est la vie.
  • Russell Wilson would have his best game of the season. - 8 - If it wasn't his best, it was near the top.
  • Zach Miller, Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate would have nice games. - 6.67 - I generally consider Zach's contributions to the run game as an extra offensive lineman. I meant this as more for his receiving production which didn't exist. Still, 2 out of 3 isn't bad.
  • The punting game would be great. - 7 - I'm taking off a bit because of Tate's mistake, but he's great overall.
  • The offensive line would not implode. - 8 - I'm not sure how much it helped, but Alvin Bailey played! Still, I wouldn't have guessed Atlanta would do much regardless of who the Hawks' played.

Where my predictions were wrong.

  • Atlanta's receivers would have nice games. - 3 - Harry Douglas was the only one who came close with 49 yards. Wow.
  • The Atlanta run game would have average success. - 4 - The Falcons averaged 4.0 yards per carry which is average, but they only ran for 64 yards.
  • The point differential would be around 10 points. - 2.25 - This was from my score prediction. I clearly underestimated the Seahawks.

Somewhere in between.

  • Matt Ryan would have a nice game but turn the ball over around twice. (This is somewhat of a hedge. I apologize, and will try and not make this mistake again.) - 3.67 - A stupid hedge by me. I was bound to come up around 5 either way.

This Week's Average: 6.326...

Total Average: 5.592...

*Update: Scores have been changed to reflect reader prediction and ratings.

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