It's highly likely that each of the teams Seattle will face in the playoffs -- until the Super Bowl -- will be a repeat of a prior matchup from the season. If the Seahawks win this week against the Vikings (Week 13), they'll face Carolina (Week 6) in the Divisional Round; if they win there, it's one of Green Bay (Week 2), Arizona (Weeks 10 and 17), or Washington (not yet played this year), with the Beltway Insiders being least likely of the three to get through.
This space has been a great place for looking at advanced stats and comparing each team with the advancing Seahawks team through the second half of the season, but it's hard to get excited about doing another post on a Minnesota Vikings squad that hasn't changed significantly in the five weeks since the Seahawks last saw (and mopped the floor with) them.
In the interests of, well, interest, let's take a different approach for the post-season and look at four plays that worked well in each of the previous match-ups. These are plays that worked well by design, that took advantage of superiority in Seattle's team to score, force a turnover, make a stop, or put up a big play.
1st Quarter, 12:07 left, 3rd and 3, MIN 37, MIN ball
Result: Teddy Bridgewater sacked by Frank Clark for -3 yards
Minnesota opened this game with two runs, then found out the Seahawks still have solid coverage short and are fearsome in the pass rush. The Vikings come out with a spread set, two receivers on the left side, one receiver plus Kyle Rudolph (tight end) on the other. Adrian Peterson shows next to Bridgewater -- the possibility of a shotgun run -- and the Seahawks obligingly fill the box, leaving Earl Thomas just 12 yards downfield.
Seattle has 4 on the line in a cover-1 with man coverage, Frank Clark lined up in the left A gap, and briefly threatens linebacker penetration. Peterson motions right from the shotgun before the snap, and KJ Wright follows him. On the snap, Wright takes Rudolph (82) and Kam Chancellor briefly doubles Stefon Diggs (14) with Richard Sherman before releasing to watch Peterson coming into the flat.
At this point, the Minnesota play is toast. If Bridgewater delivers to Peterson immediately, he'll probably make a catch but there's no possibility for yards, as Chancellor is almost sure to wrap him up immediately. Teddy sees the break by Kam and wisely looks to his second read -- Diggs, who has stepped inside of Sherman but is now in the sights of Wright.
The three have closed off the right side of the field, and Earl Thomas is looking to break over and help Sherman kill any chance at the deep seam for Rudolph.
The red circles show roughly the coverage area for each player at that moment. The only option here would be Rudolph relatively deep, but with Thomas breaking in (he's standing in the middle of the Vikings logo), the pass would need to be perfect. At the moment, though, Bridgewater is looking to Peterson, and his pocket is already in danger.
Before Teddy can work over to the other side of the field, the pocket is disrupted. In spite of the Vikes having 5 blockers, Michael Bennett rips through the line and gets a touch on Bridgewater's shoulder. Without any options to the right, Teddy steps up when he feels the pressure, runs into the back of the blocker that Clark has pushed backwards. Clark makes an easy sack that could have been finished by any of Bennett, Bobby Wagner, or Bruce Irvin.
Why This Play? It's during the Vikings' first possession, Seattle has just turned the ball over, and it's a drive killer. This is Minnesota's first pass attempt, and it's a total flop created by a good pre-snap read, perfect coverage, and up-front pressure. It shut down the potential Vikings mismatches (tight end or running back in the flat) and forced a young quarterback to choose between taking a sack and throwing a potentially dangerous pass; there's no win there for Teddy Bridgewater. It also highlights how Seattle should be successful if it blasts through the right side of this offensive line.
2nd Quarter, 1:08 left, 1st and 10, MIN 20, SEA ball
Result: Russell Wilson pass deep middle to Doug Baldwin for 20 yards, Touchdown
I could watch this play all day, it's so pretty.
Seattle opens empty with Luke Willson lined up on the left end and two stacks of receivers. Minnesota has a zone look with one man deep. Tyler Lockett crosses right-to-left pre-snap, and the Vikings are suddenly massively imbalanced: there are 4 potential receiving threats left and only 2 defenders playing them short outside.
Baldwin releases straight out, pulling the nearest linebacker. Willson steps into the flat, drawing one of the four pass rushers. And Jermaine Kearse creates an immediate short target by engaging at the end of the line before ducking inside the linebackers at the 18. Minnesota now faces a major problem: Willson throws a block before releasing left, Lockett and Kevin Smith are forcing cornerback coverage on the outside, and Kearse is an obvious target right in front of three Minnesota players. Of these 4, Wilson could hit 2 of them for at least a short gain.
Behind all this, Baldwin crosses the field. Minnesota's linebackers have been good in coverage and at controlling the middle of the field this season, and while it initially looks like they've got Baldwin, his cross is perfect. The corner on the far right sees his break at the 12 yard line, but it's too late: Wilson delivers a perfect strike into Baldwin's hands, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
The one issue: Justin Britt is getting pushed back into the pocket. Russ hangs in and steps into his throw, but if he doesn't release the ball there, he'll have to scramble. Minnesota's defensive line is no Rams front, but it's still pretty strong. The return of Linval Joseph will make this kind of precision operation critical.
Why This Play? It's a perfect illustration of the way Seattle can cause coverage gaps using a releasing tight end and some short routes. It shows how the Seahawks can use their receivers and tight ends to make space, as well as Russell Wilson's accuracy and pocket presence. Doug Baldwin doesn't need to get open by outrunning opponents, he needs some manipulation of the defense and a space to run to. This also moved the score to 21-0 and knocked Minnesota's chances of winning close to 0.
3rd Quarter, 13:15 left, 3rd and 14, MIN 17, MIN ball
Result: Teddy Bridgewater pass incomplete short left to Jerrick McKinnon
This is a classic tight end target set, with Kyle Rudolph lined up right, two receivers wide to his side, and one wide the other way. McKinnon is in the backfield, but everybody's thinking pass: the Seahawks are playing what looks like a cover-4 with 5 guys 8-15 yards off the line, looking to hold any passes in front of them and short of the sticks.
Obviously a 3rd-and-14 is a pretty bad situation for the offense, but Seattle plays this one perfectly and completely shuts it down. It would even be relatively successful for Minnesota to pick up a half dozen yards on this play, yet the Vikings never even had a chance at that.
Minnesota motions into a receiver stack on the right, and as Bridgewater starts his drop, the corners stay behind their guys, backpedaling slightly. The Vikings want the receiver in the middle of the field; Earl Thomas sniffs this out immediately and simply steps into the space, which Teddy sees. The receiver left is doubled, the receivers right are each doubled, and the tight end is left with only an out route far short of a first down. Seattle drops one safety deep center, plus Sherman on the strong side, while everyone else settles in near the sticks.
Bridgewater sees nothing to his receivers to his right, then progresses left. But there's nothing there either. Instead, what starts out looking like a decent pocket is wrecked by Michael Bennett's stunt around the right end. He stutters at the line, then makes the loop. By the time Teddy is done with his progression, Bennett is on top of him, and Bridgewater's only option is to try to drop the ball to McKinnon in the flat. It falls short, which is probably better for McKinnon's health.
Why This Play? This was the drive-killer for the Vikings' first possession of the second half. It illustrates how Seattle plays well in "safe" conditions. This is a long third down, and they use their advantage, giving receivers beyond 10 yards nothing to work with but offering a (very) short ball. But what's striking is how the defensive movement even takes most of those yards away. Based on the positions and movement of the DBs when Bridgewater was looking right, his best play would have gone for about 4 yards.
3rd Quarter, 3:16 left, 2nd and 8, SEA 26, SEA ball
Result: Thomas Rawls left end for 7 yards.
Yes, a second-down run, and not even for a first down. Looks like vanilla, especially late in a blowout, but this was one of the team's last "real" plays run. And it'll be of interest to know how the Seahawks can be successful running against the Vikings this weekend.
Seattle comes out in 2-1 personnel out of the shotgun, with both receivers wide left. Rawls is lined up to Wilson's right, and on the snap he crosses from right to left in a standard quarterback option look. Minnesota spies Wilson, who gives to Rawls.
Very early in the play, the Seahawks establish the blocking line, with the receivers breaking slightly toward the sidelines.
Rawls actually runs a half yard behind the handoff point before turning in to the gap made by JR Sweezy and Russell Okung. It briefly looks like he'll be wrapped up by Tom Johnson (92), but Rawls is able to continue outside (rather than forced to break straight upfield), which gets him clear of the tackle and puts him behind tight end Cooper Helfet. Helfet's block releases close to the 29, and it's his man (Robert Blanton, 36) who ultimately drops Rawls 3 yards later.
What's impressive is the communication before the snap. Sweezy identifies Sharrif Floyd (73), who is clearly lined up to challenge the center's right (snapping) shoulder, and claims him for his own. His cut block effectively forces Floyd out of the way, freeing the center to make his block upfield and engage the linebacker. That all happens before Rawls even gets the ball. Meanwhile Wilson freezes the back side, a residual of all that read-option earlier in the game. Rawls has plenty of room to beat a much slower lineman en route to a solid gain.
As usual, the receivers do their job, taking the corners completely out of the play on the left side.
Why This Play? The Vikings are known for their relatively strong front, but in this play they're forced to pursue. A run around the edge gets Seattle into a softer part of the Minnesota defense and takes advantage of Helfet's size and blocking ability. OL run blocking this year hasn't been elegant, but it's effective when the team designs for the defensive front.
Watching the tape, on the ground, Seattle used a few Wilson runs to maintain the threat of the read option, then simply ground out yards, often using 1-1 or 2-1 from the shotgun. Thomas Rawls looked particularly shifty that day, making 5-yard gains when most other backs would have gone down after 1, but Christine Michael and whatever Marshawn Lynch brings make should be solid options and provide similar numbers if the offensive line opens gaps the way it did in Week 13.
Through the air, Seattle was most effective when it made quick passes to outside receivers or targeted running backs and tight ends 3-6 yards upfield. The Vikings could contain short gains for the most part, but the Seahawks had little trouble moving down the field; and when Minnesota went all-in to stop the shorter plays, Seattle broke out the deep weapons.
On defense, the team came ready to contain the running game -- Adrian Peterson didn't do anyhing at the start of the game, but he could never get going and wasn't useful later on -- and shut down the mid-level passing game by pressuring Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater wasn't able to adjust plays out of these situations and often had to dump off to his last read for a short gain (or an incompletion), even playing from behind. He had no answers for any long-yardage downs. There simply wasn't much to work with, a situation Seattle will want to replicate on Sunday.