Clayton: What to look for in Seahawks’ MNF matchup vs Vikings

Dec 7, 2018, 7:57 PM
Monday night's game will be won or lost on the line of scrimmage. (AP)...
Monday night's game will be won or lost on the line of scrimmage. (AP)

After the Seahawks lost a pair of season-opening road games to Denver and Chicago, they had to play in catch-up mode with plenty of pressure. To make the playoffs, the margin of error was thin.

Stelton: Seahawks have advantage over Vikings on Monday night

With good coaching and smart game management, the potential playoff run started with the run.

D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy took over at the guard positions, and the Seahawks mounted the best running attack in football.

The defense survived a stretch of playing five top quarterbacks in a five-week span after the bye week. They came out with a 3-2 record.

To get to 10 wins they needed some kind of a break, and they got it with an implausible three-point win against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12. Now, as the Seahawks await their Monday night matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, they are in an enviable position.

If they win, the Seahawks open up a cushion to not only get a wild-card berth but also to snag the No. 5 seed. They would be a game-and-a-half ahead of the Vikings and would open up some distance on the 6-6 teams such as the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.

But this won’t be easy. Even though the Vikings have underachieved this year, they are a dangerous team.

Their defense ranks sixth in fewest yards allowed (327.8). The surprising part is they have given up more points than expected (22.5 a game).

Here is what to look for Monday night:

The biggest battle will be along the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks are the best running team in football, but they won’t have the emotional leadership and power of D.J. Fluker, who is out with a first-degree hamstring injury. Starting for him with be Jordan Simmons, whose only start in college and the pros was against the Los Angeles Rams a few weeks ago. Simmons played great in the game. The Seahawks rushed for 273 yards against one of the best defensive lines in football.

The Vikings counter with one of the best defensive lines in football. Plus, they have two defensive tackles who know the Seahawks: Sheldon Richardson, who played in Seattle last year and can be dominating, and Thomas Johnson, who signed with the Seahawks in the offseason and was with the team until he was released one week into the season.

Which ever line wins the battle should be the team winning the game.

In this game, it’s vital that Russell Wilson doesn’t throw more than 31 passes. To win, the Seahawks must have more runs than passes. In the first two losses, Wilson averaged 34.5 passes and the Seahawks scored only 41 combined points and lost both games. The Vikings are too talented on defense to try to beat them through the air. They have 30 sacks and are loaded with pass-rushers. They have a great scheme with head coach Mike Zimmer. Plus, it would too much to ask for Simmons to hold up pass blocking more than 31 times in his second NFL start.

Will Zimmer get his wish? What will be interesting to see is if Zimmer gets his wish to run the ball more. The past two weeks, he’s been upset offensive coordinator John DeFilippo hasn’t called enough running plays. For the season, the Vikings are only averaging 21.1 rushing plays a game. And despite having Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook in the backfield, they are only getting 86.1 yards each week on the ground.

The Vikings haven’t gotten the complete bang-for-the-buck from quarterback Kirk Cousins, but his numbers are still good. He’s completing 71.3 percent of his passes and, with 3,490 yards in 12 games, he’ll easily go over 4,000 yards passing. Still, despite having two receivers who will go over 100 catches, the Vikings are scoring 22.9 points a game. Cousins has been good, not great, since signing a $28 million-a-year contract.

Tackling has to improved in the secondary for the Seahawks. The Seahawks won’t win if they give up too many big plays because of missed tackles. Shaquill Griffin is going through some growing pains in the past couple of weeks at corner.

The Seahawks are welcoming the return of Mychal Kendricks. He will be available to help out at weakside linebacker. Kendricks proved to be a good play-maker before his eight-game suspension. In a game like this, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Seahawks blitz a little more to put pressure on Cousins. Kendricks proved he can blitz earlier in the season. Expect some blitzes out of Bobby Wagner.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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