Greetings from CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks will kick off the second half of their season this afternoon against the Vikings.
The last time the Seahawks walked into this stadium they had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. Since then, however, they have yielded 475 yards to the Patriots and Tom Brady, but still won the game here on Oct. 14; been trampled for 175 rushing yards in a Thursday night loss to the 49ers and old nemesis Frank Gore in San Francisco; and allowed 352 passing yards to Matthew Stafford in last week’s loss to the Lions in Detroit – including a 16-play, 80-yard drive to the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left.
Today, the task somehow gets even more difficult for a Seahawks defense that is now ranked fifth in the league.
The Vikings not only have Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing with 775 yards – 18 more than the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch; there’s the multilayered Percy Harvin, who shares the NFL lead with 60 receptions and also is averaging 35.7 yards on kickoff returns; and also a tight end, Kyle Rudolph, who has five TD catches in the red zone.
What to do? What to do? The simple answer is making the Vikings one dimensional, and the lesser of their dimensions is the passing game – where second-year QB Christian Ponder has thrown all seven of his interceptions in the past four games, when the Vikings are 2-2 after a 3-1 start. Playing to the crowd noise at CenturyLink Field and forcing rookie left tackle Matt Kalil to deal with that while also trying to block sack-leader Chris Clemons would benefit the Seahawks in their quest to secure their fifth victory.
But that’s also easier said than done, because putting the Vikings and Ponder into passing situations means containing Peterson. He not only has returned from tearing two ligaments in his left knee last December, Peterson is running with an anger – and production – that has even Lynch’s teammates and coaches comparing the Vikings’ A.D. (All Day) back to the Seahawks’ Beast Mode back.
The 49ers had success against the Seahawks with spread formations to widen the gaps in the defensive line and then using trap blocks to create the lanes Gore exploited. The Seahawks cannot allow a repeat performance today, when they must get to Peterson early and with more than one would-be tackler.
Another way to limit Peterson and the Vikings’ offense is for the Seahawks’ offense to control the ball, as they did in the 12-play, 87-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter that should have won last week’s game in Detroit. They were able to do that by mixing Lynch runs with an efficient passing game directed by rookie QB Russell Wilson.
That, of course, could prove to be as problematic as slowing down Peterson to force Ponder to beat them will be for the defense. The Vikings, as every Seahawks opponent has done, will stack their defensive front to clog Lynch’s running lanes and then come after Wilson with a pass rush that features not only Jared Allen, who led the NFL with 22 sacks last season, but also Brian Robinson and Everson Griffen.
And the Seahawks will be attempting to run and pass with yet another offensive line combination, as left guard James Carpenter was ruled out on Saturday after getting a concussion in practice on Friday. The likely shift to cover Carpenter’s absence is to move Paul McQuistan back to the left side and have John Moffitt step back in at right guard, where he started in Weeks 2-3 before missing the past five games with a knee injury.
The Seahawks’ trump card in all this is that this game is being played at CenturyLink Field, where they are 3-0 this season with upset victories over the Cowboys, Packers and Patriots – and Wilson has thrown last-second TD passes to win two of those games. Those three teams are a combined 8-4 since their losses to the Seahawks.
With five of their final eight regular-season games at home, and still very much in the picture for a wild-card playoff berth in the NFC, the Seahawks need to continue to find ways to win at CenturyLink Field. Regardless of how difficult, and multifaceted, the challenge might seem.
Enjoy the game, with kickoff set for 1:05 p.m. on FOX (KCPQ/13 in the greater Seattle area), as well as radio coverage on 710 AM ESPN Seattle and KIRO Radio 97.3 FM.