EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings enter the stretch run of the 2018 season with a 6-5-1 record and the postseason still squarely in front of them.
Minnesota would be the sixth seed (and second Wild Card) in the NFC playoff picture if the season ended today, and the Vikings opponent on Monday Night Football is directly ahead of them in the playoff race.
The Seahawks sit at 7-5 and are solely in contention for a Wild Card spot due to the Rams already having clinched the NFC West.
Does a matchup between the two current NFC Wild Card teams feel like a playoff-type matchup to Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer?
“I think going on the road with that crowd and the type of football team that they are, I think yeah, a little bit,” Zimmer said. “These next four games will determine what we do and where we go and how we perform in the clutch. Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
The Vikings and Seahawks will square off in Week 14 before Minnesota finishes the season with games against Miami, Detroit and Chicago. Seattle, meanwhile, plays San Francisco, Kansas City and Arizona to close out the 2018 campaign.
Minnesota has made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, winning the NFC North in 2015 and 2017.
Zimmer said the Vikings will travel to Seattle on Saturday night to try and get adjusted to the time change and playing on the West Coast.
“It’s just what we do, so hopefully we will be successful this week,” Zimmer said.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Thursday:
1. Looking good for Rhodes
Xavier Rhodes played just 45 of Minnesota’s 74 defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss against New England as a hamstring injury limited him to just 61 percent of the total plays.
But with an extra day to prepare and rest for Monday night’s matchup in Seattle, it appears the Vikings cornerback is on the mend.
Zimmer said “no” when asked Thursday if he expects Rhodes to be limited in practice this week, and then gave another indication Rhodes is healthy going into Monday’s game against the Seahawks.
When asked if Rhodes is a full go for Monday night, Zimmer simply gave a thumbs up to the Twin Cities media.
Rhodes, who was a First-Team All-Pro cornerback in 2017, has one interception this season.
2. Embrace the noise
The Seahawks have carved out a place in the NFL for having one of the most prominent homefield advantages in recent years.
Since Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012 and started as a rookie, Seattle is 41-12 (.773 win percentage) at home with him under center. The Seahawks are also 11-5 at home in Decembers since 2012.
Zimmer said the Vikings will embrace the atmosphere Monday night, but said both teams will need to make plays in order to win.
“It’s loud,” Zimmer said. “Right up there with most of them.
“It is really about whoever plays the best football, and they’ve played the best football in December since Wilson has been there,” Zimmer added.
3. Stretching it out
Dalvin Cook had his best statistical game from a yards-per-carry standpoint against the Patriots, as the Vikings running back averaged 9.33 yards per tote on nine attempts to end up with 84 rushing yards.
Cook had a 32-yard run and a pair of 18-yard runs against New England. He seemed to be effective on zone runs, which is where the offensive line moves together to block the defense and allows Cook to read the blocks before making a cut upfield.
Zimmer on Thursday said zone-schemed running plays allow some of Cook’s best qualities to be showcased and getting good matchups against the defense.
“Quite honestly, it’s really about stretching the defense and hopefully you get a cutback seam in there typically, you know,” Zimmer said. “But it’s stretch, stretch, stretch and run, and then get downhill.
“The ball might start on this hash and stretch outside the other hash, but the cutback is inside the hash,” Zimmer added. “It makes the defenders run, and so defenders start turning their shoulders, and that’s when the cutback seam occurs.”
Cook has 74 carries for 312 yards in seven games for the Vikings this season.
4. Same scheme, different players
The “Legion of Boom” is no more in Seattle, but Zimmer sees the same concepts still being run by the Seahawks.
For years, Seattle’s secondary included safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, plus cornerback Richard Sherman, a group that was one of the most feared units across the league.
Thomas is out of the season with a broken leg while Chancellor retired and Sherman is now in San Francisco.
But Zimmer said Thursday that the scheme has stayed the same, and that cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, plus safeties Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson are playing well this season.
“They look similar in concept, but they have made a few changes to what they are doing defensively in the secondary,” Zimmer said. “Their players still look the same, even though they’re not the same guys.
“Their corners are long and can run. They’re bump-and-run guys that are physical,” Zimmer added. “Their safeties are not as big as [Chancellor] was, but they look similar, yes. It looks like they have a mold that they are looking for.”
Seattle has 12 total interceptions this season, tied for the sixth-most in the NFL.