NOTEBOOK: Vikings Defense Focused on Containing Elusive Wilson

EAGAN, Minn. — There are plenty of plays that stick out from the Vikings 10-9 loss to the Seahawks in the Wild Card Round of the 2015 playoffs.

But there is just one snap that sums up the wizardry of Russell Wilson.

Minnesota led by nine points early in the fourth quarter at the University of Minnesota when the Seahawks had the ball at the Vikings 39-yard line. The Seattle quarterback was in the shotgun and wasn’t ready when the ball was snapped. The pigskin glanced off his left shoulder pad and rolled all the way back to Seattle’s 45-yard line.

Wilson slid to the ground, gathered the ball and smoothly picked it up in a seamless motion. He then rolled to his right, eluding a handful of nearby Minnesota defenders before launching a pass downfield to Tyler Lockett that the wide receiver took down to the 4-yard line.

The play went down as a 35-yard pass in the box score, but it was more than that, as the sequence showed off an athleticism that the Vikings are preparing for on Monday night.

“Ha, that’s Russell being Russell,” said Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who was on the field on the play. “By far one of the best quarterbacks in the league at rolling out of the pocket. That’s what he’s known for. For him to make a play like that, that’s not uncharacteristic for Russell, you know?

“That’s one of the things you have to know about him, and you have to contain him,” Johnson added. “He’s capable of making all those throws on the run and is an accurate thrower on the run. That’s something you have to be expecting in certain situations.”

Wilson ranks ninth among NFL quarterbacks with 245 rushing yards, which means he is averaging a hair over 20 yards on the ground per game.

And he doesn’t have any rushing touchdowns so far this season, even though Wilson had tallied at least one rushing score in each of his previous six seasons.

But the Vikings know that it’s more about Wilson’s elusiveness than the fact that he’s going to rack up yardage on the ground. If the quarterback can get outside of the pocket, he can extend plays and hit a teammate for a deep gain, much like he did in that playoff game.

“[He’s dangerous with] his legs,” said Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander. “He’s able to extend plays, and he throws great deep balls.

“That’s going to be vital for us,” Alexander added. “We have to be very disciplined and get to him and get him on the ground and make sure we eliminate big plays against him.”

Added Vikings safety Harrison Smith: “He’s an athletic guy. Not that he can’t run, but he throws the deep ball really well. His athleticism allows him to create, and he’s great at that.”

The Vikings defense knows that they have the tough task of pressuring Wilson but also trying to contain him in a bubble of sorts as well.

“I think you have to mix it up on him,” said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. “They have some movement passes where they get out of the pocket. Then they have some scrambles and they have some normal play action drop backs.”

Added Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen: “He’s kind of all over the place. He’ll back up, he’ll shuffle, he’ll do anything to get out of the way and not get sacked.”

Besides being on the field against Wilson in that Wild Card game, Johnson was with the Seahawks all offseason and to start the 2018 campaign before he was released and eventually re-signed with Minnesota.

The defensive tackle has been both part of the opposition and teammates with Wilson, so he’s had an up-close view of what to expect Monday night.

“It’s extending the downs,” Johnson said. “It’s having them in third-down situations and him being able to make plays to get that first down and move the chains.

“Those runs that he does have, those rolling out plays and making DBs stick to the coverage … it’s a task and something they do well, but something we’re going to have to defend,” Johnson added.

Rudolph reacts to ‘Dear Kyle’ video

You aren’t alone if you’ve shed a tear or two while watching the “Dear Kyle” video that showcases Kyle Rudolph’s involvement in the community and at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

The video, which can be seen here, highlights Rudolph’s nomination as the Vikings nominee for 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. It has drawn thousands of emotions, including from the Vikings tight end himself.

Rudolph summed up what the video meant to him and the reactions he has received.

“A lot of responses to the video with how powerful it was,” Rudolph said. “That’s just a testament to the guys down at [Vikings Entertainment Network] and our PR department, my wife … everyone that got together and put the effort forth to get the letters.

“For our video department to have the creativity to format it that way, it was really cool for me to hear from people I don’t hear from that often. A little more uncomfortable since I’m not used to being emotional,” Rudolph added. “I said it in the press conference … well, my wife said it … but I didn’t cry at our wedding. She knows I don’t cry very often, so it was definitely a little uncomfortable seeing that. But you don’t hear from those people that often, so to hear from them was really special.”

Rudolph, who was also up for the award in 2017, said he would be honored if he eventually won the award. The recipient of the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award at the NFL Honors awards show in Atlanta the night before Super Bowl LIII.

“It would be cool. I mentioned it the other day, obviously, the accolades and awards aren’t why we do the things we do,” Rudolph said. “And to be quite honest, it’s a little uncomfortable at times when people are telling you what a great thing it is that you’re doing because we just want to help people out and make their lives a little better.

“We feel fortunate to have the platform that we have to go out and do better and make it for that,” Rudolph added. “Obviously, you look at past winners … Cris Carter winning it here with the Vikings … the award getting named after Walter Payton, some say it’s the most prestigious award in our sport. It would definitely mean a lot.”

Praise for Seattle’s O-line

The Seahawks rank first in the NFL with 148.8 rushing yards per game as the Seattle offensive line as paved the way for the league’s best ground game.

That unit has also allowed 37 sacks, which is tied for the eighth-most in the NFL, but the Vikings say the Seahawks o-line has established itself as one of the top units in the league.

“From what we’ve seen in the preseason ‘til now, they’ve been running the ball more, so they’re more aggressive that way instead of passing the ball,” said Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. “They run the ball 32 times a game or something like that, so that’s one thing we have to focus on.”

Added Zimmer: “I think they’re using [it] to their advantage [that] they are running the football a lot. They have a really good zone scheme that they do. They have a few traps, a little bit of crack toss. They’re tough, physical guys that come off the ball and get some double teams and try to remove you off the football.”

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