He said / she said — Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings

The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 13 match-up between the Seattle Seahawks (6–5) and the Minnesota Vikings (8–3).

When: 10:00 a.m. PT Sunday, Dec. 8
Where
: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.

Rogers: We may be looking at the game of the week. The fundamentally sound Vikings are as hot as can be. And suddenly, the Seahawks are the Wild Card nobody will want to face. Even though tight end Jimmy Graham was lost to injury and will be out of action for the rest of the season, Russell Wilson managed to earn the first five-touchdown performance of his career last Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sunday’s 39–30 win at home over the Steelers is easily their highest quality win of the season. Talk about peaking at the right time. They travel into Minnesota to face the surprising division-leading Vikings, who boast the NFC’s stingiest scoring defense (second in the NFL). Jess, with no Graham on hand, do the Seahawks have the offensive acumen to keep the winning streak going?


Ridpath: Even though Graham’s production in Seattle has not been as explosive as many predicted, losing him for the season is a big blow. He’s their #2 receiver, behind only Doug Baldwin in both catches and yards (48 catches for 605 yards versus 50 catches 684 yards). Combined, that’s more than half of Seattle’s total passing game (2,526 yards).

The good news for the Seahawks is that Baldwin — on fire since the bye week and coming off the best game of his career (six catches, 145 yards, three TDs) — has plenty of other good company in the receiving corps. Rookie Tyler Lockett and four-year veteran Jermaine Kearse each have three receiving TDs (Graham only had two through Sunday). And while it’s true that Luke Willson has seen far fewer targets since Graham came on board, he brings valuable experience to the role of lead tight end. If he can tap into the chemistry he developed with Russell Wilson last season, he’ll be poised to absorb some of the yards Graham’s absence could leave on the field.

Julian, last week you wisely praised Russell Wilson for his resilience. But that didn’t keep you from unwisely predicting he wouldn’t bring enough fire power to beat the Steelers. After watching Wilson play arguably the best game of his career (345 passing yards and five TDs — while fighting a stomach bug), are you looking at him a little differently this week?


Rogers: Nope. Your view from your high white horse seems to be obscured. I suppose I must acknowledge your correct prediction that the Seahawks would prevail over the Steelers, which now ties you for first place among the two fools picking the Seahawks games. Of course, you’re also tied for last place, too.

You mistake my prediction that the Steelers would win last Sunday’s game as criticism of Wilson. If you look back on last week’s article you’ll note my fretting centered mostly on the defense’s inability to stop the Steelers’ offense. The Seahawks did, indeed, surrender the most total yards to an opponent (538) since Oct. 31, 2010 against the Oakland Raiders (545). But the blue birds won, thanks to an offensive avalanche.

Do I think Wilson will replicate his five touchdown / no interception performance again this week? No. But I do expect him to perform solidly against the Vikings’ ninth-ranked passing offense. Because I’m a DangerRuss believer*, get it? If he can put up 232 yards (what the Vikings average through the air) and two or three touchdowns, the Seahawks can come away with a win. I think he’s up to it.

Further, the Legion of Boom is getting a break in facing off against the Vikings’ receivers, who are tailing off in production after a fast start. The Vikes’ pass catchers are a major step down from the Steelers receivers.

According to Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, No. 1 wideout Mike Wallace is on pace for the worst season of his downward-angling career. Says Souhan, “At this rate, (Wallace) would finish the regular season with 45 catches for 509 yards and two touchdowns.” That’s positively Seahawkian. (OK, cheap shot. I know.) And also wrong. (Here: I’ll beat myself up for you, since I know you’re a little under the weather this week with the DangerRuss flu bug.) Seattle’s leading receiver, a slightly less angry than usual young man named Doug Baldwin, is on a pace for a respectable 73 catches for 995 yards and nine touchdowns. Expect him to get even more looks with Graham a goner.

Minnesota’s rookie phenom, Stefon Diggs, tallied an average of 104.75 receiving yards per game when he got into action in weeks four through eight. Since then, he’s only averaged 46.25 yards per game. If the Seahawks can figure him out, like the Rams, Raiders, Packers and Falcons did, then they have a great chance at slowing the Vikings’ passing attack.

Jess, can the Seahawks stop the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, who already has 1,164 yards? And can they win if they don’t?

  • Football output only. Nutty claims about products and other psych jobs not included.

Ridpath: The Green Bay Packers (currently 23rd in run defense) showed us it’s possible to stop Peterson in their victory over the Vikings two weeks ago. By stacking the box with eight defenders and dominating Minnesota’s offensive line (including six sacks), the Packers held Peterson to a scant 45 yards. But those 45 yards came on just 13 carries — an anomaly given his season average of more than 21 carries per game. Minnesota strayed from their tried-and-true run-heavy approach … and paid the price.

Not surprisingly, Peterson got the ball 29 times in his 158-yard tour around the Georgia Dome the following week. The Falcons utilized an eight-man box 19 times against Peterson, but with far different results than the Packers achieved. They also failed to pressure Teddy Bridgewater as well as the Packers did — gifting the young Vikings quarterback a rare sack-free game.

I think it goes without saying that the Seahawks will see upwards of 20 carries from Peterson this week. The blue birds’ fifth-ranked run defense will need to look hard at what the Packers did right and what the Falcons did wrong in swarming the ball with eight men up front.

However, all is not lost if the Seahawks let Peterson break through their defense. As you pointed out, Seattle gave up monster yards to Big Ben, but still managed a victory — thanks to previously unseen success in their passing game.

By the way, I do see a difference in Russell Wilson, and it’s not just because I’m delirious with the DangerRuss flu. Where Wilson used to scramble away from the blitz, he’s now stepping up into the pocket with quick, accurate throws. Some credit obviously goes to the stiffer protection he’s getting from the offensive line. But I think we’re also seeing Wilson’s mental game grow and adapt — while his arm becomes as dangerous as his legs have always been.

Speaking of legs, Thomas Rawls rushed for 81 yards last week, with only 3.9 yards per carry — far below his season average of 5.6. Julian, how do you expect he’ll perform against the Vikings’ stingy defense?


Rogers: I expected Rawls to come down to earth at some point. His previous six-yards-per-carry rate wasn’t sustainable. Teams have more film on him now and will continue to try to take him out of the game plan. This includes the Vikings and their 20th-ranked rushing defense. Thus far in 2015, the Steelers have offered running backs 3.8 yards per carry, which is almost exactly what Rawls got. Expect him to average closer to 4.3 YPC against the Vikes, which is their season-long average.

The Vikings are the team that proves, again, that the NFL is a passing league. They rank first in rushing yards per game (146.4), yet only 25th in scoring (21.0 per game). The lesson is one the Seahawks should heed: rushing yards are nice, but scoring comes largely through the air. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, the Vikings are the fourth-best defense against the pass, allowing only 223.5 yards per game through the air.

This game will come down to the Seahawks’ ability to continue to grow their air attack in the post-Graham world, while holding down the NFL’s comeback player of the year in Peterson. I have a hunch they can. I say the matchups favor Seattle’s secondary over the Vikings’ receivers and quarterback. I say the Seahawks’ front seven can wreak havoc on the Vikings’ suspect offensive line in the passing game. Football Outsiders ranks the Vikings 27th in pass protection; eighth in run blocking. That, and the fact that I don’t see the Vikings continuing their hot streak (6–1 over their last 7 games), leads me to pick Seattle on the road. Prediction: Seahawks 23, Vikings 20.


Ridpath: I’m bummed, Julian. I can’t find fault with a single point in your concluding analysis. Writing this column isn’t nearly as much fun when we agree.

One thing you didn’t mention, though, is turnovers, which were key in last week’s victory over the Steelers and seemed to ignite the Hawks’ offense after an all-too-familiar sluggish start. I’ll be looking for Seattle’s defense to go after Bridgewater early — reminding him what a typical day in the NFL is like when a lackluster O-line faces a top-rated defense. I predict we’ll see a handful of sacks, and at least one forced fumble (Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright have five between them so far this season) or interception.

Without Graham, topping the Vikings’ average of 220-some passing yards allowed will be a tall order. But if Seattle’s defense can come up with a turnover or two, my high white horse and I think Wilson will measure up. Also: December is here — the Seahawks have won 12 of their last 14 games played in December — and they finally have some momentum. Prediction: Seahawks 31, Vikings 27.


Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: I stated that the Seahawks have difficulty with premium quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger and company rang up the highest total of passing yards by an opponent at a Seahawks home game in franchise history (490).

What he got wrong: The game winner. I’m 7–4 on the season. I did not see the Seahawks’ offensive outpouring coming. Their 39 points is not only a high point for this season, but the most points they’ve scored in any game since Super Bowl XLVIII.

What she got right: The game winner, bringing me even with that other guy at 7–4. I expected some fireworks in the passing game (after seeing the offense really come together for the first time in week 11). But I was still surprised by just how great a show Wilson and Co. put on. I also said that Wilson could be as much (or more) of a threat through the air as Roethlisberger. Big Ben eclipsed DangerRuss in total passing yards — but the Seahawks QB won the TD battle.

What she got wrong: I expected Seattle’s defense would do a better job of stifling Pittsburgh’s passing game. Surprisingly, the Steelers’ 490 passing yards weren’t enough to win, thanks to the Seahawks’ stellar performance on offense. The fact that the passing offense is getting most of the credit for securing last week’s all-important victory is another clear signal that the 2015 Seahawks are reshaping their identity.