EAGAN, Minn. — Turn on any NFL game this season, and you’re likely to see lots of passes, lots of points and perhaps a few more passes.
Teams across the league have run 24,253 total offensive plays entering Week 14, with 9,886 of those plays (40.76 percent) coming on the ground.
Yet as the Vikings prepare for a matchup on Monday Night Football against the Seahawks, Minnesota’s opponent has seemingly flipped the script for how on offense can be successful in 2018.
“They’ve committed to the run game,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of Seattle’s offensive scheme. “I think at some point in the season earlier in the year they were throwing it a little bit more.
“Now they are more diligent about running with it and sticking with the run,” Zimmer added.
Sure enough, the Seahawks are the only team in the NFL that has a higher percentage of run plays than pass plays in 2018. Seattle has run the ball on 51.1 percent of their 743 total plays, and they’ve had plenty of success doing so.
Seattle currently leads the league with 148.8 rushing yards per game, and unsurprisingly is tops in the NFL with 380 rushing attempts.
Vikings defenders talk each week about how stopping the run is their first priority, but that mantra might hold even truer this week in Seattle.
“That’s our approach every week,” said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. “They lead the league in rushing yards per game, so obviously they do a very good job at it. But that’s still our number one task.”
The Seahawks are led by running back Chris Carson, who has 157 rushing attempts for 704 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis each have 350-plus yards and multiple touchdowns, and quarterback Russell Wilson has 245 yards on 45 attempts.
Seattle used a multi-headed attack in Sunday’s win against the 49ers, rushing for 168 yards and a touchdown on 29 attempts on Sunday. Carson had 69 yards on 13 carries, and Penny had 65 yards and a score on seven carries. Wilson had 14 yards on four attempts.
The Vikings made it clear Thursday how much respect they have for Seattle’s leading rusher, as Zimmer said, “This Carson is a good back. He maybe the best, one of the best backs in the league, the way he runs.”
Everyone from coaches to players offered praise for the 2017 seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State.
“[Carson does] just about everything [well],” Zimmer said. “His physicality, No. 1. … But I’ve seen him hurdle guys, I’ve seen him flip and land on his feet, I’ve seen him run over guys. He’s got excellent feet and vision, but really all of it.”
Added Smith: “He breaks a lot of tackles. He’s got great vision, and he runs hard … he runs really hard. He’s a very good back. You turn on the film and the 1-on-1 tackles, he’s winning a lot of those.”
Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said: “He’s a dynamic back. He has the speed, the power and the vision … the three things you want in a great running back and he’s shown time and time again that he has those things. He’s an effective weapon for the Seahawks. When you get to him, gang tackle and get him down to the ground.”
The Vikings defense ranks seventh against the run by allowing 99.2 rushing yards per game. The Vikings have also allowed eight rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the fifth-fewest in the league.
But Minnesota is 0-5 when the Vikings allow 100 or more rushing yards to an opponent in 2018.
If the Vikings want to take a big step toward securing a possible playoff spot, they know the test that awaits Monday night in Seattle.
“Our main thing is stopping the run,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. “They’ve completely changed [their game plan] … we’ve got to go in there and play hard for 60 minutes.
“Their run game is good, they have two running backs that are running great,” Griffen added about Carson and Penny. “Our whole thing is that we have to go out there and do your job. Man your gap and get off the blocks and rip off your guy and go get the ball and make a play.”
Alexander staying level-headed
Mackensie Alexander has had both moments of triumph and moments of frustration in his three seasons with the Vikings.
But no matter what happens on the field, the Vikings nickelback said Thursday that he’s focused on keeping an even-keeled approach to his game.
“My confidence is always high; I just have to stay level-headed,” Alexander said. “You can’t get too high playing in this position because you’re asked to do a lot of things and you’re asked to think out there.
“At corner, you just play football. At the nickel spot, you have to think across the different movements and make different checks and stuff like that, so you can’t really get too high,” Alexander added. “You have to be very aware of what’s going on.”
Alexander was a second-round pick out of Clemson in 2016 and made the transition from outside cornerback to the slot as a rookie. Alexander has one career interception.
For the Vikings: Eric Kendricks (rib), Trae Waynes (concussion), Chad Beebe (hamstring) and David Morgan (knee) did not practice. Stefon Diggs (knee) was limited. Mike Remmers (low back), Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and Brandon Zylstra (foot) were full participants.
For the Seahawks: K.J. Wright (knee), D.J. Fluker (hamstring), Doug Baldwin (hip), Duane Brown (ankle) and Dion Jordan (knee) did not participate. Carson (finger), Tre Madden (chest), Shamar Stephen (foot), Shaquem Griffin (knee) and Shalom Luani (quadriceps) were limited.