The Vikings are ready for their first prime-time game in 2020.
Minnesota secured its first win in Week 4, and now look to carry strong back-to-back offensive performances on the road to Seattle. The Vikings defense will face a tough test in quarterback Russell Wilson, who is rightfully in the early running for MVP.
But what are some key storylines from the other side?
To find that out, Vikings.com chatted with Seahawks reporter John Boyle for a glance at what Seattle is thinking before Sunday's game.
Here is the Week 5 edition of Opposing Viewpoint:
So, that Russell Wilson guy is pretty good, huh? Through four games, he has 16 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and is on pace to set a single-season record for touchdown passes. Wilson has been a high-caliber player since he entered the league, but is he playing at an even different level this season? And what has he done to garner early-season MVP chatter?
JB: I mean, he's OK I guess, if you like having the quarterback who leads the NFL in touchdown passes, passer rating, yards per attempt, completion percentage and touchdown percentage, all while throwing only two interceptions, one of which hit his intended receiver in the hands. If you like those things, then yeah, he's pretty good.
But yes, sarcasm aside, he has indeed taken his game to a new level in 2020 and is a big reason why the Seahawks are 4-0. Some of that is just the continued growth he has been showing throughout his career — as Pete Carroll likes to point out, that position is the one where guys even 8-10 years into their career can still be improving — but it's also how the Seahawks are operating on offense this year.
Carroll will always value balance in terms of having both a strong running game and passing game available to his team's offense, but through four games at least, there has been a pretty clear shift in how much the Seahawks are leaning on the passing game. The Seahawks aren't suddenly throwing it 50 times per game — Wilson ranks 17th in pass attempts — but the shift that has occurred is that the Seahawks are throwing more frequently on early downs. Some of that is just trying to make the most out of having a quarterback of Wilson's caliber, but another factor making that work has been the improved pass protection from an O-line featuring three new starters from a year ago. Having a receiving duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf doesn't hurt either.
View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Seahawks during practice at TCO Performance Center on Oct. 8.
The Seahawks are 4-0 and currently in first place in the NFC West. Seattle is also one of two undefeated teams left in the NFC, along with Green Bay. Other than Wilson's stellar play, what's a key reason why Seattle is off to a perfect start?
JB: As mentioned above, the pass protection has been a big factor in Wilson and the offense's hot start — the sack total is a little misleading because of how long Wilson sometimes holds the ball, the small downside to the big upside of his ability to extend plays — as has the play of his pass-catchers, from Lockett and Metcalf to veteran tight end Greg Olsen. Receiver David Moore doesn't have a lot of catches, but he has made some big ones. Chris Carson isn't getting as much work as in the past, but he has still been a big part of the offense with five total touchdowns.
The Seahawks defense has given up a lot more big plays and points than they'd like, and some of that can be attributed to playing from ahead — they've held a two-score lead in the second half of every game — but that group has still contributed to wins. The Seahawks have eight takeaways this season. The defense came up with a huge goal-line stand to preserve a win over New England, then got an end-of-game interception the next week to secure a win over Dallas. Last week, the defense cut way back on the big plays allowed and was very strong in the red zone, limiting Miami to five field goals before the Dolphins found the end zone in the final two minutes of the game.
Another factor Carroll has brought up, unprompted, on a few occasions, has been the team's strong play on special teams, not just from specialists Michael Dickson and Jason Myers, but from the return and coverage units that have been very solid and have not committed a penalty yet this season.
The Vikings offense has really gotten into gear the past two weeks with back-to-back, 30-point games. The unit has been powered by the trio of Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson, each of whom had 100-plus yards in Sunday's win. How do the Seahawks, who currently rank last in total yards allowed per game, plan on defending that three-headed attack?
JB: As mentioned above, at least some of the yards allowed have to do with game situations because opponents have been forced to come out firing while trailing by double digits in all four games, but the Seahawks defense will need to build off of the improvement it showed last week to deal with that trio you mentioned.
The Seahawks have been very strong against the run. Again, they haven't faced a ton of attempts while playing from ahead, but opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry, the third lowest average in the league.
Shaquill Griffin, who played in his first Pro-Bowl last year, is coming off of his best game of the year, and if he can play like that again, that would obviously be a big help. Seattle's other cornerback spot is somewhat up in the air, at least early in the week, with starter Quinton Dunbar attempting to get back from a knee injury that has kept him out of the past two games. Tre Flowers, the starter the past two seasons at right corner before the addition of Dunbar, would again step in if Dunbar can't go.
Like any defense, the Seahawks would benefit from getting their pass rush going to slow that passing game. The Seahawks have done an OK job of generating pressure, but they haven't been able to finish as many of their sack opportunities as they'd like.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Seahawks.
And speaking of that Seattle defense, the Seahawks made a big move in late July when they traded for star safety Jamal Adams. Although he missed Week 3 with an injury and is out again this week, what impact has Adams had on that unit? And with him unable to play again Sunday, who is likely to step up in his absence?
JB: Adams was fantastic in his first two games before leaving Seattle's Week 3 game with a groin injury. Just as was the case when he was an All-Pro with the Jets, Adams was all over the place for Seattle's defense, recording a sack in each of the first two games, making tackles in the backfield in run defense, covering everyone from tight ends to Julio Jones, and in general just wreaking a lot of havoc.
With Adams being held out another week, look for Ryan Neal to start his second straight game. Neal, a former undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois spent the first two weeks of the season on the practice squad. Before last week, Neal had never started an NFL game. He isn't going to bring the wow factor of Adams, but he has played very well in the past two games since Adams went down, including the game-clinching interception against Dallas and an interception on Miami's first possession last week.
And finally, with this nationally-televised matchup on Sunday Night Football, who is an under-the-radar Seahawks player that Vikings fans need to be wary of before the Week 5 tilt?
JB: We just talked about him, but with Adams out, Neal will definitely be one to watch. Sticking with the banged-up secondary, Ugo Amadi has been very impressive since taking over the nickel spot after Marquise Blair tore his ACL in Week 2. Amadi has recorded 18 tackles and four pass breakups since stepping into that role in Week 2. Also on defense, rookie defensive end Alton Robinson was a healthy scratch the first two weeks, but has played well in the past two games, recording one sack and three tackles for loss.
On offense, it seems odd to call someone as accomplished as Greg Olsen "under the radar" but the play of Wilson, Metcalf and Lockett has kind of overshadowed everything else, and Olsen has been very good in his first year with Seattle. Olsen has a modest 14 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown, bit so far, every single one of those catches has resulted in a third or fourth-down conversion.*
* — OK, that's not true, but it kind of feels that way.
Despite being new to the offense with no offseason workouts or preseason games, Olsen and Wilson have built a strong rapport already and Wilson has been very comfortable going to the veteran in big moments, including a fourth-down conversion that extended the eventual go-ahead drive against New England in Week 2.
As mentioned earlier, Moore hasn't been targeted a ton, but his 10 catches this year include 38 and 17-yard touchdowns, as well as a 57-yard catch that set up a touchdown at the end of the first half last week. Vikings fans might remember Moore from that time when he got wide open for a 60-yard touchdown in last year's meeting between these teams.
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