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No Laughing Matter: Vikings Note Russell Wilson's Torrid Start

EAGAN, Minn. – Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson smiled, then responded with nine seconds of deep laughter.

The question?

Russell Wilson doesn't seem to have a lot of flaws. What is one area you need to be sure you're good at when you're going up against him?

Patterson's laughs were directed not at the reporter but rather at the notion of choosing one area of execution most important when facing Wilson.

"He's good, man. I mean, he's one of the best in the league, so I can't tell you a weakness," Patterson told Twin Cities media members. "You've got to do the best job you can to keep him in the pocket, which is hard to do since he can make you miss.

"[This is] two weeks in a row that we've had to defend an extremely athletic quarterback (Deshaun Watson in Week 3) that has a cannon for an arm and can throw the ball," Patterson added. "We've got to do the best job we can to keep him in the pocket, and make him feel our presence up front."

After this weekend's Sunday Night Football game in Seattle, the Vikings will have played Wilson on his home turf in three consecutive regular seasons. That's three straight years of trying to find a solution for the elusive signal-caller.

At 31 years old, Wilson has shown no signs of slowing down in his ninth NFL season. Quite the contrary, actually. Through four games, he's putting up career numbers.

Wilson's 75.2 completion percentage so far is significantly above his previous career-high of 68.1 (2015). He's on track to surpass 5,000 yards through the air, and he has already thrown 16 touchdowns; if he kept up that pace, he'd have 64 touchdown passes before the playoffs. His previous high was 34 (2017).

Peyton Manning in 2013 is the only other player to throw 16 touchdowns in the first four games of a season. He set the NFL record that year with 55.

Wilson's quarterback rating of 136.7 blows his previous benchmark of 110.1 (2015) out of the water.

"Well, the thing about Russell Wilson is, number one, he'll wait in the pocket to find guys who get open, and guys get open," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "So he'll hold the ball, but he'll also move to create space and allow the receivers to get open."

Going back to the question about one area of Wilson's to focus in on, let's take a look at two areas in which he's been especially hot: first downs and in the red zone.

According to Sport Radar, Wilson on first-down plays is 50-of-62 passing (80.6 percent) for 597 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. His passer rating on such plays is 132.3.

"That does not surprise me. He's an extremely accurate thrower. Hopefully he's not that accurate on Sunday night," Zimmer said.

Inside his opponents' 20-yard line, Wilson has completed 15 of 20 attempts (75 percent). He's thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception, a pick by Dolphins corner Xavien Howard on third-and-goal last week.

The Seahawks are leading the NFL with an 86.7-percent touchdown rate in the red zone; the next closest are the Browns and Buccaneers, tied with 80 percent. The best single-season rate (in data since 2000) is 77.8 percent by the 2003 Chiefs.

Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll spoke to Twin Cities media members on Wednesday and was asked about Wilson's red-zone performance.

"You can always see the expertise of the quarterbacks by their numbers in those situations," Carroll said. "The red zone and third downs usually tell you the story about guys, and that's based on experience, awareness, timing, confidence, all of the things it takes in those most-difficult situations, and Russell has got all of that.

"And then the fact that he continues to move and find extra shots … and his poise in handling those situations just makes him really dangerous. It's really hard to defend," Carroll continued. "Any of the quarterbacks that can move like that make it most difficult to defend. You've got a regular play, and then a whole new play starts when they start moving, so they take double shots at you and triple shots sometimes. He's got all of that going for him, and he's really well-grouped and has good players to throw to."

The matchup in Seattle could be interesting Sunday night because while Minnesota's defense certainly has experienced difficulties thus far, one area it's consistently excelled in is red-zone plays. The Vikings rank No. 2 in the NFL, having limited opponents to a 41.2-percent touchdown rate inside the 20. Only the Bears (37.5) have been better.

View photos of the Vikings preparing to take on the Seahawks during practice at TCO Performance Center on Oct. 7.

Minnesota's defense is No. 7 in goal-to-go percentage (58.3), while Seattle's offense is No. 5 (90.9).

"Yeah, we've put an emphasis on inside the 5-yard line, and we've put a big emphasis on the low red zone, I guess you'd call it. Those two areas have been just points of emphasis," Zimmer said this week. "You've probably heard me talk about third downs in the red zone on both sides of the ball and how it equates to points for either team. So that's some of the areas that we've been working on.

"There's some art to playing in the red zone and understanding where the players have to be in relationship to the receivers and so forth, and if you can run the ball in, it makes it especially difficult on the defense," Zimmer added.

Vikings rookie cornerback Cam Dantzler knows he and the rest of the defenders have to be on their Ps and Qs on the West Coast this weekend.

"We've just got to be prepared," Dantzler said. "It starts with first and second downs. You've got to get them behind the chains, as Coach Zimmer always preaches."

Whether on first downs, the red zone or in working to contain an elusive Wilson, the Vikings understand the task ahead of them. As long as Wilson is on the field, they'll have their hands full.

"If you have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, then you're always going to be in the game. You're going to always have a chance to succeed," Patterson said. "Last year and this year, they've won a lot of close games at the end. When it's [crunch] time, he has the ability to drive his team down the field and score to win the football game."