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Seattle Seahawks: Opportunity – And Brutally Cold Weather Await In Minnesota

Thursday, January 07, 2016

 

After starting the season 0-2, the 10-6 and #6 seed Seattle Seahawks are going to the dance, albeit in a faraway place. While they will not host a game the rest of the way, one small comfort on the start of what hopes to be a month-long road trip is that they know their first dancing partner, the Minnesota Vikings. 

Yes, the same Vikings that Seattle beat 38-7 in Minnesota just four weeks ago. But, in another light, no, not those same Vikings at all. And these Seahawks aren’t the same, either. 

Past Matchup: 

In their only previous matchup with the Vikings this season, TE Jimmy Graham was freshly placed on IR, Marshawn Lynch was recovering from sports hernia surgery, and Thomas Rawls was, well, “rawling” as the first competent starting running back not named Lynch in Seattle since 2010. 

As good as Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin were in the passing game that day (and continue to be) teaming up for 94 yards and 2 touchdowns, Rawls was the steady hand in the ground game with Lynch out, picking up 101 yards and a score, despite also losing a fumble. 

Some up north in Minnesota may conclude that Linval Joseph’s absence that day was a major factor in Rawls’ success, however Rawls’ big day the week prior against Pittsburgh’s #5 ranked run defense would indicate that his day was going to be good regardless of who was on the other side.  On top of that, in the six games Rawls had at least 16 carries this season, he produced at least 80 yards rushing in five of them, and had a touchdown in four.

By comparison, Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson had nowhere near what could be described as a good day, as they combined for just 144 total yards and zero scores against the Seahawks, the only touchdown of the day coming from special teams with Minnesota facing a 35 point deficit in the third quarter. While some of Peterson’s low production may be attributed to limited touches as the offense attempted to comeback with the passing game, one must give credit where credit is due, and Seattle’s defense shut down everything that day, before and after the game got out of hand. You can bet that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be looking high and low to find more ways to keep the offense on the field and to get more production out of his key players this time around, but it remains to be seen if Minnesota possesses the playmakers necessary to put points on the board against Seattle. 

Present Courses and Concerns:

Health and weather will be the main factors this Sunday, as temperatures are currently expected to be in the low single digits on Sunday at kickoff (noon central time, 10am pacific), and the high is expected to be as low as 7 degrees. 

Kam Chancellor has missed the last three games with a pelvic injury, while LT Russell Okung (calf), RG JR Sweezy (concussion) and TE Luke Willson (concussion) missed week 17, but all four players are expected back for the wild card matchup. 

Rawls will not be available for the rematch as he was placed on IR in week 15 with a fractured ankle, but reports out of Seattle indicate that Lynch will make his return to the field this Sunday, and the Vikings may yet again be without Joseph, who has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury. Lynch has lacked his signature burst and lateral quickness this season while being slowed by injuries, so we will see how he fares in the brutal cold of Minnesota in his first game action in nearly two months. Adrian Peterson left the Vikings’ week 17 matchup with a lower back injury after he scored a 1-yard touchdown, but he returned for the offense’s last two possessions. Peterson appears on track to play, so Seattle will want to stay posted on his progress in practice this week as they prepare their defensive game plan. 

Regardless of who has been available and on the field, how these two teams have played all season may look drastically different (and their lone matchup this year was certainly lopsided), but their records are nearly identical (11-5 and 10-6) and both wound up in the same spot once all the dust settled - win one game to get another game.
The Seahawks finished the 2015 regular season ranked as the #4 offense in both yards and points, with the ground game ranking #3 and the passing game #20.  Defensive rankings were even better, as they held opponents to a league-low 17.3 points per game, while holding their opponents to the second fewest yards, Denver being the only team to allow fewer per game. Seattle was #2 against the pass and #1 against the run.

Minnesota’s numbers are not quite as good, as the offense finished the regular season ranked #29 in yards, #16 in points. They were second to last in the league in passing yards at 31st, but produced the #4 rushing offense behind 2015 rushing champion Adrian Peterson.  

Defense was a similarly inconsistent story, as they placed #13 in yards and #5 in points. They allowed the 12th most passing yards and the 17th most rushing yards. 
Minnesota averaged 25.4 points over the final month of the season, and allowed 17.5 to their opponents. They faced two playoffs teams in that stretch, losing to Arizona 23-20 and beating Green Bay 20-13.

Seattle averaged 29.5 points over their last four games and allowed 12 to their opponents. They faced one playoff team during that stretch, beating Arizona 36-6.
Based on the season averages and what both teams did to close out the season in December, the edge goes to Seattle in both instances, but that won’t mean much on Sunday unless they make it so. 

Still to come: 

Overall, both teams appear beat up and need to quit getting bit by the injury bug, a trick not easily pulled off this time of year. Assuming both Chancellor and Joseph return from injury this week, and Lynch and Peterson are healthy or able to play through pain, both teams should have their hands full and no excuses. If Peterson and/or Lynch cannot give it a go, Christine Michael and Jerick McKinnon are capable backups that can see the offense through, for a game at least.

The defenses are likely to control this game, as both are built to stop the run and are very capable of stopping the pass. Minnesota may not have the stellar numbers Seattle boasts, but this unit is no slouch either. Seattle has been susceptible to the big play this season, and is still breaking in young cornerback DeShawn Shead across from all-pro cover corner Richard Sherman. Shead has looked good since taking over the starting job from Cary Williams in week 12, but the journey has not been without its growing pains. Backup strong safety Kelcie McCray has filled in admirably for Chancellor the last couple of weeks, but as the first two weeks of the season revealed, he is a tough player to replicate. Assuming Chancellor is back, the new Legion of Boom will finally be in the same game together for the first time since week 12. 

Minnesota corners Terrance Newman and Xavier Rhodes and safeties Harrison Smith and Antone Exum Jr can more than cover the field, but they are not considered an elite unit yet, and like Seattle they can give up big plays here and there. One might look at the superstar running backs on either team and look to the side that best stops the run as the favorite, however this game could very well come down to which secondary can cover the other side’s best receiver, as Doug Baldwin and Stefon Diggs can make any catch required, and while they are both fast, Tyler Lockett and Mike Wallace can flat out fly. TE’s Luke Willson and Kyle Rudolph are the invaluable safety blankets in must have situations, and both offensive lines have trouble in pass protection, which could mean good days for elite pass rushers Michael Bennett and Everson Griffen.

Russell Wilson and Teddy Bridgewater possess very similar skill sets, although Wilson has the stronger arm and the more polished passing and running abilities, with the yards and scores to boot. If Bridgewater makes a few mistakes under pressure, as has been a major issue for him this season, Wilson could gain the upper hand with a slightly better receiving corps and thus far better decision making in the clutch. 

As in any playoff game, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and winds up ahead on the scoreboard at the end of the game, will move on to play the following week while their opponent's season comes to an end. 

It’s going to be a long, cold, hard road, but Seattle has the players, coaching, and experience to get the job done.  For a game being played in an outdoor freezer and on the road, it’s tough to say who comes away with this one, as rematches are especially tricky things to predict. But I have a hunch that it’s going to be Seattle moving on to the next round, and Minnesota moving on to next season.

Seattle-Minnesota II will be televised nationwide on NBC affiliates this Sunday at 10am Pacific Time, radio listeners can find the game broadcast on 750AM and 102.9FM The GAME.

{image_4}GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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