Times staff reporter Bob Condotta breaks down Sunday’s NFC wild-card game in Minneapolis.
Weathering the cold
Much has been made all week of the forecast calling for temperatures around zero. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, though, said the area of the game where the weather could most impact things might be somewhat overlooked — the kicking game.
Kicked footballs might not fly as far which could lead to different decisions on field goals (and maybe even extra points) as well as more opportunities in the return game. Each team has a dynamic returner — Seattle with Tyler Lockett and Cordarrelle Patterson for the Vikings.
“We’ll see what’s going on with the ball flight and all that,” Carroll said. “That might be the most obvious change. Looking at a lot of games that we looked at, you can see that there’s a difference. So we need to see what the difference is, and what the winds are, and the direction and all that. We’ll take all that into account.”
Running without the Beast
The Seahawks had been hoping, if not expecting, that Marshawn Lynch would return to play for the first time since Nov. 15, and possibly step right back into his usual role as the team’s primary running back.
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Instead, Lynch was declared out Friday night, meaning the Seahawks again will have to put together a running game with Christine Michael, Bryce Brown and Fred Jackson. Seattle rushed for 173 yards against the Vikings on Dec.6 in the last full game Thomas Rawls played — he had 101 yards on 19 carries.
The Seahawks’ running attack in that game was also buffeted by one of the most active running games of Russell Wilson’s season — nine carries for 51 yards, the most carries and yards he had during Seattle’s final seven games.
The Vikings also figure to be more difficult to run against than in Seattle’s 38-7 win in Minnesota on Dec. 6. The Vikings played the game with four defensive starters essentially missing the entire game, including safety Harrison Smith and nose tackle Linval Joseph, both key parts of the team’s run defense. The return of Joseph, in particular, could be particularly pivotal. Joseph sat out last week because of a foot injury. But if healthy he will be a tough matchup for the interior of the Seattle offensive line, which has had its issues with good tackles this season.
Can Seahawks repeat job vs. Peterson?
The biggest key to Seattle’s rout of Minnesota last month was holding running back Adrian Peterson to 18 yards on eight carries — the third-lowest yardage total of his career. The Seahawks expect the Vikings to be more committed to getting Peterson the ball this time and don’t expect to stop him as easily. But they say the recipe for limiting Peterson’s yards remains the same.
“We just played our assignments,’’ Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “Everybody played the right gaps, was disciplined. That’s the biggest thing with that team. One person could get out of their gap, and Adrian Peterson will make you pay. But when everybody stays in their gaps, it’s hard to run against us.’’
Indeed, Seattle finished the season No. 1 in the NFL against the run at 81.5 yards per game. The Seahawks hope to again put the clamps on Peterson, who enters the game nursing a sore lower back, and force an less-than-imposing Vikings passing attack to win the game.