The Seahawks have been playing for the past month or so, and are on a 3-game win streak with narrow victories over the Packers and Panthers before blowing out the hapless 49ers last weekend at home.
Century Link field, home of the 12th man, is also a tough venue for opposing teams to venture and come away with a win. Russell Wilson, like Tom Brady, has never lost to the Vikings. So Wilson has a winning percentage around .750 in home games, and in December, and on Monday night.
The Vikings in three matchups is due to his average QB rating against the Vikings 142.0, with 8 TDs and no interceptions.
And yet, despite the Vikings not having played their best recently, and playing a good Seahawks team with one of the best QBs in the league on the road in prime time, I suspect this is a game the Vikings will win.
The Vikings are like that. But it's about the match-up. Let's have a look.
Vikings Defense Vs. Seahawks Offense
Russell Wilson, for all the fanfare and current 115.5 passer rating on the season (career high), he still only averages 226 passing yards a game. He's only had one game this year where he's thrown for over 300 yards. Tyler Lockett is getting 18% of his targets. But the main thing is 29 seconds – 8.9% of his attempts and 5 interceptions.
But one of the reasons Wilson has not had a lot of passing yards is because the Seahawks have not had a decent offensive line in many years, and this year is no different. Worse, they just lost their best pass-blocking guard in DJ Fluker during the 49ers game last weekend, and he is unlikely to play against the Vikings on Monday. Russell Wilson, despite his Tarkenton-esque scrambling ability, has been sacked 37 times through 12 games – about 3 times a game.
Wilson does not pass for a lot of yards because the Seahawks run the ball a lot more than any team in the league. The Seahawks lead the league in both rushing and rushing yards, despite being a top 10 rusher. They go with a committee approach by Chris Carson with just over 700 rushing yards and a 4.5 yard / attempt average.
In general, the Seahawks have rushed their offensive line, which has Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks only 28th in the league. Instead they have relied on the elusiveness and breakaway ability of their running backs. That suggests the Vikings wants to tackle a strong rushing game from the Seahawks.
So, for the Vikings to defend the Seahawks, they want to stop the run and prevent Russell Wilson from passing for TDs. And this is where they match-up well. The Vikings have allowed the least passing TDs in the league this year, and are best in average rushing yards per attempt. The Vikings defense is the top-ranked in tackling in the league this season by PFF. In terms of advantage in the running game, PFF gives the Vikings defensive front the biggest advantage of any team playing this week.
In terms of situational football, the Vikings also have the best defense on 3rd and 2nd best in the red zone this season. Moreover, they have been trending in the right direction in red zone. The Seahawks are ranked 19th on 3rd and 8th in the red zone this season, and have averaged 3.3 red zone attempts per game (14th in the league).
The other thing in terms of the Vikings – Seahawks match-up is turnovers. Looking at Seattle's Wins and Losses this year, they have only one game when they've tied or lost the turnover battle. Turnover has always been an important factor in Wins in the NFL, but for the Seahawks this season even more so. They've got to win – not just tie – in the turnover battle to win the game.
This is where the Vikings need to be careful with the ball. Both teams are similar in the game, but the Seahawks have the fewest giveaways in the league, averaging 0.8 per game, with only 4 turnovers in the past 10 games, and six games with no turnovers. The Vikings by contrast have averaged 1.5 turnovers per game.
Overall the Seahawks average turnover margin per game is +0.9 – tied for 2nd best in the league. The Vikings turnover margin is +0.1 per game.
Wilson has just two interceptions and the Seahawks have lost just two fumbles – Wilson has just two interceptions and the Seahawks are just two fumbles. Seattle has averaged 1.1 turnovers per game for several years now – a pretty low number – but having only 9 turnovers in 12 games and only 4 in the last 10 games – is not likely to continue.
The Vikings just doing their part against a Seattle defense that has not made a living on takeaways – with only one in the whole month of November.
Viking's Offense. Seattle Defense
Seattle has a dominant defense for many years, but the loss of most of the key players in the Legion of Boom has brought them down from a top 3 defense to a top 10 one. But they have given up 408 yards a game on average since their bye-week. And while the Seahawks have allowed an average of 3.3 red zone attempts per game, that has been worsening in recent games – allowing 4.3 attempts per game over the past three games.
In general, the Seahawks have come to a stop-and-break defense to keep them in games. Vikings Defense over the past three games against the Patriots, Packers and Bears.
In terms of match-ups, the Vikings offense is helped by the fact that the Seahawks' pass rush is not that good overall – ranked 27th overall by PFF. That, combined with match-up advantages of Diggs and Thielen against the Seahawks secondary (which they did not have against the Patriots) and the passing game looks very advantageous for the Vikings.
In the run game, the Seahawks are ranked 13th overall against the run. The Vikings, however, are ranked only 28th in the league. The Vikings do not run the ball anymore – but the Vikings do not run the ball against the Seahawks – despite the match-up advantages in the passing game.
The big man on the Seahawks is Bobby Wagner – the best linebacker in the league this season. He can do it all. But beyond that there are many match-up advantages for the Seahawks defensively.
A weak Seahawks offensive line, made weaker by the loss of DJ Fluker, should allow the Vikings to pressure Russell Wilson with just four. I would not be surprised if Mike Zimmer employed a spy on Wilson as well. That should make life difficult for Wilson in the passing game.
Against the run, the Vikings remain a top defense against the run, and are not likely to loose the battle in the trenches. What remains is to tackle well (and they are ranked the best tackling defense in the league by PFF) to help stymie the Seahawks' top rushing attack.
Offensively, the Seahawks are so weak in the trenches, and they do not have the top corners to match-up against Diggs and Thielen. That augers well for the Vikings passing game. But do not be surprised if the Vikings go with a balanced attack and stay with the run more than in the past (which is not hard to do). I expect at least 20 – 25 rush attempts by the Vikings on Monday night, and some good success against a Seahawk's defense that's allowed 5.1 yards per attempt.
That leaves turnovers. Russell Wilson's magic. If the Vikings can eliminate any revenue advantage for the Seahawks, I expect their advantages on offense and defensive.
So, the Seahawks appear to have the momentum and home field advantage, Seattle at home, and come back with Seattle at the playoff pecking order.