This isn’t quite the premier prime-time showdown many thought it would be coming into the season.
There will be one legitimate NFC contender to showcase Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, and another erstwhile NFC hopeful still trying to find its footing.
The Seahawks will try to go 5-0 for the first time in franchise history on Sunday Night Football when they host the Minnesota Vikings, who, at 1-3, have ranked among the most disappointing teams in the NFL this season.
The Vikings earned their first win of the season Sunday in Houston, edging the winless Texans 31-23.
The Vikings now head to Seattle, a place where they haven’t won since 2006. Pete Carroll is 6-0 as Seahawks coach against the Vikings.
Three things to know about the Vikings this week:
1. They still have Kirk Cousins …
… and that’s good news for the Seahawks.
Cousins is everything you could ask for in a mediocre NFL quarterback. He defines mediocrity. That’s not a dig; it’s a statement backed by nine seasons of truly average evidence.
Cousins has a 45-45-2 career record. He has six touchdowns against six interceptions this season, and leads an offense that ranks 16th (out of 32 teams) in the NFL in offensive efficiency.
You get the idea. He’s not bad. He’s usually not very good either. He is capable of doing just enough to beat other mediocre talent, and just bad enough that anyone can reasonably expect to beat him on any given week.
Cousins is 1-3 in four career starts against the Seahawks. His lone win against the Seahawks came in Seattle when he was with Washington in 2017. He was 21 for 31 for 247 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, and engineered a four-play, 70-yard drive for the winning score in the final minute.
The Seahawks have defeated Cousins and the Vikings in each of the past two seasons, both games in Seattle and both in prime-time. He didn’t play particularly well in either game. He wasn’t all that bad either. You get the idea.
What makes Cousins a concern for an opposing defensive coordinator, you ask? Right now, it’s the talent around him.
The Vikings traded away one star wide receiver, Stefon Diggs, to Buffalo in the offseason. They still have Adam Thielen, whose 20 catches for 284 yards and four touchdowns rank among the NFC leaders through four games.
And they have former LSU star Justin Jefferson, their first-round pick and one of the league’s most exciting rookies. Jefferson is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, and his 21.8 yards-per-catch average ranks second in the NFL — behind the Seahawks’ DK Metcalf (25.2).
Add veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph in with those receivers, and it’s a Minnesota offense that will pose problems against a Seattle defense that has allowed more passing yards (1,604) than anyone in the NFL.
“We didn’t have a preseason or anything before this,” Jefferson said, via the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “You could say this is my preseason. I’m just getting started.”
2. They still have Dalvin Cook …
… and that’s bad news for the Seahawks.
Very bad news.
Cook leads the NFL in rushing yards (424) and rushing touchdowns (6), and, according to Pro Football Focus, he also leads the league in first-down runs (25), missed tackles forced (21) and rushing yards after contact (269).
Cook was knocked out of the Monday night game in Seattle last season with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. He finished that game with nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown, with two fumbles (one lost).
The Seahawks held Dallas star Ezekiel Elliott to 34 yards on 14 carries in Week 3 at home, but the Cowboys were playing from behind and largely abandoned the run in that game. Minnesota, surely, will hope to establish a balanced attack on Sunday night.
3. Defense a work in progress
The rebuilt Minnesota defense is allowing an average of 426.5 yards per game, 6.1 yards per play and 31.3 points per game.
Standout linebacker Anthony Barr was lost to a season-ending injury, and they’ve also been without defensive end Danielle Hunter (neck).
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, acquired during training camp in a trade with Jacksonville, has three sacks and two forced fumbles in his first four games for Minnesota.
The Vikings started two rookie cornerbacks — Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler — against Houston on Sunday.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the rookies did “pretty well” against Deshaun Watson and the Texans. He acknowledged “it’s not going to get any easier” for the young corners against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
“We’ve had to face (Aaron) Rodgers, and last week it was Watson, and (Ryan) Tannehill was playing good,” Zimmer said Monday, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “The (Seahawks) receivers that they’re playing and the quarterback, obviously, it’s not going to get any easier for them.
“They’ve just got to keep going out and keep refining their technique, keep getting better at what they’re doing, keep learning about NFL football and then go out and compete. Go out and challenge people.”