The Seahawks' rebuilt secondary takes on the NFL's most prolific pass catcher. Rookie Jordan Simmons fills in for D.J. Fluker. Why Seattle's "rope-a-dope" defense could work well against the Vikings.
Here’s a look at the Seahawks’ Monday night game against the Minnesota Vikings, which will kick off at 5:15 p.m. at CenturyLinkField.
The Seahawks, winners of three in a row and seven of 10 to move into the number five spot in the NFC playoff picture now host the team that entered the weekend at number six. As such, this game statistically has more meaning for the Vikings than the Seahawks, whose playoff odds remain good as long as they win at least two more games the rest of the way. But don’t expect Pete Carroll to be thinking that way. A win over the Vikings would make Seattle almost a certainty to get to the postseason and give the Seahawks that much more of the good feeling Carroll has said he has increasingly felt in the locker room this season.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Seattle cornerback Justin Coleman against Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen.
Thielen, whose 98 receptions led the NFL entering the weekend, has lined up in the slot on 58.1 percent of snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has been exceedingly productive from that spot with 616 of his 1,166 yards, seven of his nine touchdowns and 34 first downs — the latter tied for the most among all slot receivers. Coleman, who plays almost exclusively at slot cornerback, hasn’t turned in the kind of big plays this season as he did last year when he had two pick sixes. He shouldn’t lack for opportunities to make plays Monday.
PLAYER TO WATCH
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Right tackle Germain Ifedi.
Ifedi’s shown steady progress in his third season in the NFL and second at right tackle — he’s Seattle’s second-highest graded offensive lineman this season behind only Duane Brown, according to Pro Football Focus. One key has been cutting down penalties. He still leads the Seahawks with nine, but that’s far off the 21 of last season. Ifedi will have one of his toughest tasks of this season when he goes up against Minnesota defensive end Danielle Hunter, whose 11.5 sacks entered the weekend tied for fourth in the NFL. Hunter typically lines up on the left side, meaning he’ll most often go up against Ifedi. The two have known each other for a while, facing off in college when Hunter was at LSU and Ifedi at Texas A&M.
Red zone defense.
The Seahawks have given up their fair share of yards of late — 359 or more in each of the last five games (which is exactly the average an NFL team has gained in a game this season) and 452 or more in three of the last four. But Seattle has often been able to limit the damage once teams get inside the 20, allowing TDs on just five of the last 13 drives by opponents inside the 20, and four of 11 the last two weeks. Seattle ranks 10th in the NFL for the season, allowing 21 TDs on 40 possessions inside the 20. That formula — which coach Pete Carroll this week called “rope a dope,’’ a reference to Muhammad Ali’s famous strategy to let George Foreman punch himself out in a 1974 heavyweight title fight — could work again against the Vikings. Minnesota is just 23d in red zone offense, scoring TDs on 19 of 36 possessions inside the 20.
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
Right guard Jordan Simmons.
D.J. Fluker is out with a hamstring injury suffered last week against the 49ers and will be replaced by second-year player Simmons, who made his first — and so far only — NFL start on Nov. 11 against the Rams in Los Angeles. Simmons earned raves in that game for being part of a Seattle offensive front that led the Seahawks to 273 rushing yards, a season high and most for Seattle since 2014 — doing so against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. So Simmons has been tested. But he gets another tough test against the Vikings, whose tackles include former Seahawk Sheldon Richardson and who are seventh in the NFL against the run, part of a defense that ranks sixth overall. The Vikings also are renowned for bringing pressure up the middle, particularly on third down, and communication — a key for the Seahawks’ offensive line this season — will be especially critical against Minnesota.
Those are the per-game rushing averages for the Seahawks and Vikings, which rank first and 30th in the NFL respectively, indicative of the vastly differing personalities of the offenses of each team. Consider further that no team has passed it more often this season as a percentage of plays than Minnesota (67.31) while no team has passed it less than Seattle (48.86). But each team may diverge some from those trends Monday. The Vikings have talked all week of wanting to run it more, and especially to get second-year running back Dalvin Cook — who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry — more touches. And given that Seattle comes into the game still ranked tied for last in rushing yards allowed per carry at 5.1, it makes sense for the Vikings to try to “establish the run.’’ Seattle, conversely, will have to go against a Minnesota defense that allows just 3.7 yards per carry, fifth in the NFL, and hasn’t allowed a run all season of longer than 21 (every other team in the league has allowed a run of at least 28 yards or longer).
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 23, Vikings 19. This may be the last real hurdle to getting into the playoffs for Seattle, which has already defeated Green Bay and Carolina in games with heavy postseason implications over the last three weeks. So why stop there? The Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL and a quarterback who won at CenturyLink last season (Kirk Cousins with Washington). But the Seahawks just keep seeming to find a way and here’s thinking they will again.