EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings are prepping for their third road game of the season.
They're quite familiar with the destination, having traveled to Seattle in 2018, 2019 and now 2020 for a prime-time game. That being said, though, this season's road trips look vastly different – as do the opposing stadiums.
The Vikings are used to a hostile atmosphere at CenturyLink Field, but the Sunday Night Football game between Minnesota and Seattle will be played without fans due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Wednesday during his video conference with media about not having to worry about the infamous "12s" this weekend. He said the biggest challenge of facing the Seahawks remains in place.
"Well, they're a good football team; that's why they're hard to play [against], whether it's in Seattle and the fans or there [or not]," Zimmer said. "Obviously, they've got great fans there and they're very loud. [But] we're just trying to prepare for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner and all the guys they have. It makes it a challenge in itself."
And as far as the travel itself, the Vikings won't see much of the Emerald City outside of the stadium.
"It's very different," Zimmer said of away games in 2020. "We don't leave the hotel. We take 10 buses or something like that [to accommodate social distancing]. Guys don't go out to dinner. We don't get together. Last week, we had virtual meetings, so it's all a different kind of thing. I actually had the team meeting before we left [Saturday for Houston] because of all of the virtual stuff."
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed during his media availability:
1. Reinforcing personal responsibility
The Vikings were able to play their Week 4 game against the Texans despite a coronavirus scare when the Titans (their Week 3 opponent) experienced an outbreak on their team.
Minnesota has had no positive tests, and Zimmer said the team understands the importance of following protocols and taking precautions against the virus.
"Today in a team meeting, we went over all of the new protocols," Zimmer said. "I think our team is very aware of, you know, especially since [the outbreak] was Tennessee and happened against us, I think they understand the significance of all of the different things that can happen.
"You look at the Pentagon, they've got [COVID-19 there], the White House has got it, the NFL has got it," Zimmer added. "It's a crazy time, and like I told them today, [Vice President of Sports Medicine/Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman] is just trying to keep them safe. I'm trying to keep them safe and their family safe and do the best job we can to fight this virus and stay as a team."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Seahawks.
2. Managing Cook's workload
Through the first quarter of the 2020 season, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook leads the league in rushing yards (424) and touchdowns (6).
Zimmer was asked if the team specifically manages Cook's workload or approaches it on a game-by-game basis. Over the Vikings past three games, Cook has been on the field for 43 (80 percent), 48 (74 percent) and 49 (74 percent) of the team's offensive snaps. At Houston on Sunday, he carried the ball a season-high 27 times, tying a career-high.
"We try to spot him throughout the course of the ball game. I think [Alexander] Mattison had seven carries last week," Zimmer said. "But when it gets to the end of the ball game, we've got to get Dalvin in there. When the game's on the line, we've got to get him in there because he's so [multi]-dimensional. But Alexander's done a great job, too, when he's been in there."
Cook and Mattison were recently ranked by ESPN as the NFL’s top rushing tandem.
3. Progression of the cornerbacks
The Vikings have had plenty of fresh faces in at cornerback this season.
In addition to the departure of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in the offseason, Minnesota has had to implement the "next man up" philosophy a few times already. Cornerbacks Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd and Cameron Dantzler have all missed time with injuries.
Zimmer said he doesn't know the status of Hughes, who's missed the past two games with a neck injury.
"We'll see today when we practice," Zimmer said.
He added that the young corners are improving with every outing.
"[Jeff] Gladney has probably got the most on his plate because he's got to do nickel and outside," Zimmer said, "but I thought Holton [Hill] did a much better job this week, and Dantzler going in there, I thought he made some good plays."
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4. Impact of big plays in passing game
Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson is tied with Stefon Diggs for the NFL lead in plays of 20-plus yards with eight. Jefferson also ranks third in the league in per-catch-average, averaging 21.8 yards per grab.
Zimmer was asked about the impact of Jefferson's big plays.
"We should probably get him some more catches, I guess," Zimmer said. "It just adds to the combination of the run and the play-action pass and the vertical passing game, which helps. We've got a lot of guys with some speed.
"Irv Smith can get down the middle of the field, and Kyle [Rudolph]. Then we've got guys on the outside that can do some damage, and then along with Cookie (Dalvin Cook)."