In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Seahawks preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before today’s game, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Seahawks today.
-- I came across an interesting stat this week while analyzing the matchup of Adrian Peterson against the Seattle rushing defense. No team has allowed more runs of 10+ yards than Seattle (39), but only two teams have allowed fewer runs of 20+ yards than Seattle (three). What does that tell us? It tells me that runners can get past Seattle’s first and often times second level, but the Seahawks secondary is expert at keeping runners from breaking away. Seattle has allowed zero touchdown runs of 10+ yards and they’ve allowed just four scoring runs all season. Furthermore, on those 39 runs of 10+ yards Seattle has allowed, the average gain is 13.8 yards, which is lowest in the NFL, and on the three runs of 20+ yards the average gain is 23.7, which is second-lowest in the NFL. This is where Adrian Peterson comes in. He’s the best running back in the NFL because he does everything well. But his forte is breaking long runs. Peterson has 21 rushes of 20+ yards and seven rushes of 50+ yards in his career, both team records, and he has scoring runs in his career of the following yards: 82, 82, 80, 78, 73, 67, 67, 64, 64, 64, 61 and 60. Suffice it to say, there is no running back in the NFL who will be a greater test to Seattle’s secondary than Peterson.
-- We’ve discussed several times this week how great a matchup there is this week between the Vikings kickoff return game and Seattle’s kick coverage team. Cordarrelle Patterson ranks first in the NFL with a kickoff return average of 35.2 yards, while Seattle ranks first in the NFL with 14 opponent drive starts inside the 20. Additionally, the Vikings rank first in the NFL in average drive start after a kickoff (26.2 yard line) while Seattle ranks fifth in opponent average drive start (20.1). Combining Seattle’s 14 opponent drive starts inside the 20 with their touchback total this season, I found that opponents start at or inside their own 20 after a Seattle kickoff 80% of the time. What’s my point? My point is that the Vikings must be aggressive on kickoff return this week by taking the ball out of the end zone every time they have a chance. The Vikings have started inside their own 20 24 times this season and they’ve scored touchdowns on just two of those series (8.3%). Yes, Seattle’s goal is to kick the ball into the end zone and entice a team to take it out so they can tackle the returner inside the 20 and force the offense to drive 80+ yards. But Patterson is the NFL’s best at getting the ball upfield, as evidenced by his League-leading return average as well as the fact that he has two kickoff return TDs – one of 105 yards and the second of 109 yards. Take it out Patterson!
-- Another thought on the whole Vikings kickoff return vs. Seattle’s kick coverage is that this is a battle that will rage throughout the whole game, and you never know when the game’s big play will happen. If Patterson hits a big return early or if Seattle finds a way to suppress the Vikings return game early, the battle isn’t over. These special teams groups are having fantastic seasons, and they are performing so well because they are consistent and are good for the entire game. Just because one team is having success early, that doesn’t mean the other team can’t hit a big play later to turn the momentum. This battle isn’t over until the clock says 00:00.
-- Kevin Williams playing nose tackle. It’s a weird concept because for many seasons “Ticket” was the standard-bearer in terms of how to play the three technique position. But I will also submit to you that Williams’ career has been one defined by change. He came into the NFL as a dominant pass rusher, morphed into a dominant run-stopper with Pat Williams, and has since made adjustments to his game (such as becoming skilled at batting down passes at the line) to keep up with all the younger players who are now lining up across from him to block him. So why not go through another change and play nose tackle? It’s something the team has experimented with in the past, and it’s something Williams did quite a bit last week against Washington, and he did it well. Williams made plays in the run game and tallied 2.5 sacks. Earlier in the week it sounded like the Vikings were getting healthier at defensive tackle, meaning Fred Evans and Letroy Guion, the Vikings primary nose tackles, were on the track to playing this weekend and that Williams was set to move back to three technique. But then Friday happened, and it was apparent that Guion would not be able to play in this weekend’s game. That led to the following exchanged between Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier and a group of assembled reporters on Friday:
Question: You said earlier this week that Kevin Williams wouldn’t start at nose tackle. Is that still the case?
Answer: We’ll have to rethink that. We were hoping at the time that I made that statement that Letroy was going to make it. I’m not sure he will now so we’ll have to go back and discuss what’s the best way to go.
Yes! That’s what I say. Of course I don’t want Guion to be unavailable; we need all the help we can get this week against Marshawn Lynch. But I love the idea of Williams playing nose tackle (even though he’s reluctant to consider playing it full-time). I think he can be good in that spot because he still has quick and powerful hands and because he’s as mentally sharp and instinctive as I’ve ever seen along the defensive line. I can’t wait to see Williams play more nose tackle on Sunday, presuming that’s what the Vikings elect to do with Guion still on the mend. Plus, it gives first-round rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd more playing time at the three technique, and that’s good news, too.