Sat, 23 Oct 2021

2021 Week 3 Key Matchups: Seahawks at Vikings

Seahawks
25 Sep 2021, 20:50 GMT+10

Three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday’s game at Minnesota. John Boyle

The Seahawks have been very good at bouncing back from losses in recent years-since 2021 they're a league-best 34-9 coming off a loss-and they're looking to do that again, in Minnesota on Sunday. The Vikings, meanwhile, are hoping to get on the winning track after starting the season with a 3-point overtime loss in Week 1 and a 1-point loss last week.

If the Seahawks are going to get another road win and improve to 2-1, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium:

1. A red-hot Tyler Lockett vs. a new-look Vikings secondary.

The Vikings have a lot of talent in their secondary, but early in the season at least, the newness of that group has been an issue at times. Pro-Bowl safety Harrison Smith still leads the way in his 10th season in Minnesota's secondary, but the three other starters on the back end of the defense were all singed in free agency this year: cornerback Patrick Peterson, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Xavier Woods. And while that unit is plenty talented and should be really good once everything jells, for two games at least the Vikings have struggled a bit on defense, allowing a lot of big plays, particularly late in halves, giving up 24 points inside of the 2-minute warning at the end of the first half or fourth quarter. Overall, Minnesota ranks 28th in total defense, 26th in pass defense and 27th in scoring defense, and opposing quarterbacks have a 123.6 passer rating, the fifth highest mark in the NFL.

All of that being said, there is a ton of talent on all three levels of Minnesota's defense, including in that new-look secondary, so the Seahawks know they'll need to be on top of their game, regardless of what the numbers say.

"I think Harrison Smith is one of the best players in football," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Just how explosive of a player he is on the defensive side of the ball, he's extremely intelligent. Number 22 drives everything back there. Obviously, (Danielle) Hunter is a premier pass rusher, arguably one of the best in the game. (Eric) Kendricks has been doing it for years. They've got a lot of guys, and in addition to Patrick Peterson, they've brought some great players back. I think the biggest thing is they're an experienced defense. They're an experienced defense has been there for a while and knows what their intent is and how they're trying playing the game. We've got to be on our A-game and bring our best game."

The Seahawks will counter with Wilson, who leads the NFL in passer rating and Tyler Lockett, who through two games has the second most receiving yards (278) and tied for the second most receiving touchdowns (3) in the league. Wilson and Lockett have been particularly deadly on deep passes, with Lockett scoring on 69 and 63-yard catches while also having a 51-yard reception last week that set up a score.

And of course if the Vikings make an effort to slow down Lockett's torrid pace, the Seahawks can turn to DK Metcalf, who might be primed for a big game after struggling to get going the first two weeks.

"He's got great speed, he's a really good double-move guy," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Lockett. "And you can't just pay attention to him, because they've got Metcalf on the other side."

2. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook at less than 100 percent vs. Seattle's run defense.

The first question when it comes to Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook is whether or not he'll play and how effective he'll be if he does.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told reporters Friday that Cook, who left last week's game with an ankle injury and didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, was able to get some work Friday and was "doing much better." But Zimmer also said he didn't know yet if Cook, who is listed as questionable, will play.

The Seahawks will, of course, prepare as if they're facing Cook, and assuming he is able to play, Seattle's defense knows the offense will run through him. Through two games, Cook has 252 total yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 131 on 22 carries before hurting his ankle last week.

This is the third straight week the Seahawks have gone into a game knowing they need to take care of an elite running back, and they did a very good job of that against Jonathan Taylor in Week 1, and for a half against Derrick Henry, but Henry was able to get going in the second half last week and his 182 yards and three touchdowns were huge factor in Tennessee's overtime win.

"They give him the ball a lot," linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Cook. "He's very fast, so if you're not in your gap or gap sound, it's kind of different. Derrick Henry, he might run through or might run you over, but if you blink, he might be through that hole. We have to be very gap sound. We have to know when they're going to give him the ball and understand that he's the guy that gets everything going. Once they establish that run game, it opens up their playbook. Once we stop that, we can stop a big portion of their playbook."

If Seattle's defense can play like it did for the first six quarters of the season, the Seahawks should be in great shape, but if Cook gets going like Henry did in the second half last week, Seattle could be in trouble.

3. Both teams vs. their self-inflicted wounds.

Despite these two teams coming into the game with a combined 1-3 record, both feel like they could be 2-0 if they had done a few things better and, at times, just gotten out of their own way. For the Seahawks the big issue last week was not just that they committed 10 penalties, but that five of them were of the 15-yard variety, most of which were easily avoidable with some better decision making.

"What was really important to address was the decision making," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. "More than anything else, it was the decision making in the moment, knowing when we're on the sidelines and knowing when you're late on the quarterback where you have to make the right choice of how to make your contact, and sometimes it's just so split second that they can falter. Both of the ones that we had were just bang-bang hits, and we have to get our head out of the hit, and that we didn't get that done either time. That's not a new emphasis for us, but we just have to emphasize the conscience that it takes that has to override the moment; the conscience of, you're performing for your team and these are the rules and here's how they call it and the discipline that it takes to get out of those situations carefully."

The Seahawks also had an issue with big plays last week, most notably giving up a 51-yard Julio Jones catch and Henry's 60-yard score.

Minnesota, meanwhile, dealt with 12 penalties in a close Week 1 loss that went to overtime, then last week they had a hard time keeping things contained on defense, allowing nine explosive passes (16-plus yards), including a 77-yard touchdown. And as mentioned earlier, teams have done a lot of damage against Minnesota late in halves, scoring 24 points after the 2-minute warning.

While a lot of factors will determine the outcome of this game, both teams will feel like they have a great shot if they can just avoid some of the mistakes that proved costly in the first two weeks of the season.

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