There are just under 48 hours remaining before a crucial Week 3 battle with the Seahawks kicks off the 2021 home slate for the Vikings. We checked in with John P. Gilbert of Field Gulls, SB Nation’s home for all things Seahawks, in our weekly Five Good Questions segment to get some perspective from behind enemy lines.
The following is our Q&A about Sunday’s big matchup from a Seahawks writer’s perspective.
1. The Seahawks allowed a whopping 532 yards in their loss to the Titans last week, including 212 on the ground. We know that the Seahawks defense still has stars like Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams, but are there major areas of concern elsewhere? Was last week an anomaly or a sign of deep-rooted issues for the Seattle defense?
For years the Seahawks tried to use bandaids to cover bullet holes as the Legion of Boom slowly fell apart. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor saw their Seattle careers end in a Thursday night game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10 of the 2017 season, and then Earl Thomas broke his leg in Week 4 of the 2018 season and the group simply hasn’t been the same since.
Pete Carroll continues to maintain a reputation as a defensive back whisperer, but the simple fact is that the team hasn’t been able to rebuild its secondary through the draft, and three of four starters in the group came from other teams. Jamal Adams, of course, is the best known of the acquired players, but his fellow starting safety, Quandre Diggs, was a trade deadline acquisition from the Detroit Lions in 2019. Add in the starter at left corner in D.J. Reed, who came from waivers after the San Francisco 49ers tried to put him on the Non-football Injury list during 2020 training camp, and the only starter in the secondary drafted by the Seahawks is Tre Flowers. That, for many Seattle fans is a sore point, as they’d much prefer to see Flowers not be a starter, but the pickings on the bench are pretty slim, so things in the secondary are somewhat bleak.
The situation is better on the defensive line, but the issue there is that there are a lot of guys who are good and who aren’t out of place in the NFL, they don’t have the type of difference makers they once did. The dominant Legion of Boom defenses had Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons and even later on Frank Clark. There’s no one on the defensive line right now that has proven that they are a game wrecker at the NFL level. They have a whole lot of guys with upside potential, including Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson, Bryan Mone, Rasheem Green, Robert Nkemdiche and others, but none of the players on the roster have shown that ability to simply take over and impose their will in high leverage situations, and that’s hurt the defense.
What that all means is that when they face quarterbacks who are decisive and get the ball out quick, they tend to get shredded because the secondary isn’t filled with shut down guys and the defensive front isn’t winning fast enough to make an impact. When they face quarterbacks who aren’t as decisive and take longer to get the ball out, the pass rush has a much better chance of getting home, and that can certainly help.
That all said, I’m expecting Kirk Cousins to have a big game this week if the Vikings coaching staff allows him to air it out and pick apart an overmatched secondary.
2. Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett have been the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL over the first two weeks, connecting on 12 of 16 targets for an eye-popping 278 yards and three scores. What makes their connection so effective? Do you foresee Lockett or D.K. Metcalf having a bigger game against the Vikings?
Whether Lockett or Metcalf has a bigger game likely comes down to which one of the two the Vikings decide to take away. In the first two weeks teams have played a lot of two-high safety looks making sure to eliminate, or at least limit, Metcalf as a deep threat. That’s opened things up a little for Lockett, who appears to be a role similar to what Cooper Kupp has with the Los Angeles Rams, and, as you note, has been feasting so far this year.
If the Vikings want to bracket Metcalf, Lockett likely has a big day. If they bracket Lockett, Metcalf could have a big day. If they spend the day in nickel or dime and bracket both, Freddie Swain or Gerald Everett could have a career day, while the Hawks also look to feed Chris Carson.
3. After years of being a frustratingly run-first team and causing the analytics community to create the “Let Russ Cook” movement, it appears that the Seahawks offense is taking a more balanced approach under Shane Waldon this season. Are there significant differences in the Seahawks’ offensive approach this year compared to what the Vikings have seen in Seattle the past three seasons?
As I mentioned, defenses have been more focused on taking away the deep ball and the game changing explosive play than stopping the run through the first two weeks. Chris Carson had a good game Week 1, but there have been a couple injuries on the offensive line, and that seems to have impacted the ability to run the ball in Week 2. Specifically second year left guard Damien Lewis was in and out of the game against the Titans, and he is one of their big, explosive maulers up front. With Lewis slowed down a bit by a groin injury and right tackle Brandon Shell reportedly set to be a gametime decision after suffering a sprained ankle against the Titans, moving the ball on the ground could be a tall task for the Seattle offense in Week 3, but it really comes down to what the Vikings show. (NOTE: shortly after John sent his answers, Shell was officially ruled out for Sunday. Jamarco Jones is set to start in his place.) If the defense shows light boxes and invites the Hawks to run, they’ll probably run. If they stack the box and leave more one-on-one matchups in the secondary for Lockett and Metcalf, it could be an air show.
4. Name one player on offense and one player on defense that many Vikings fans may not be familiar with, but could have a big impact on Sunday’s game.
The name on offense that could have a big impact on Sunday is whoever starts at right tackle. If Brandon Shell tests his ankle in the pregame and is good to go, my worry is that the Vikings defensive line, specifically Danielle Hunter, could have a field day if Shell is limited by his injury. That said, if Shell tests his ankle and can’t play and the Hawks turn to swing tackle Jamarco Jones, then I will be very worried. (NOTE: again, Shell has been ruled out. Consider John very worried.)
On the defensive side of things, the Seahawks have used both Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair in the nickel corner role, and both have played well. The Vikings have enough dangerous receiving options that I’m expecting Seattle to spend a good bit of the day in nickel. The defense has logged 164 snaps so far this year, with Amadi and Blair combining to be on the field for 97 of those snaps (59.1%), and I don’t expect that to change in Week 3. Of course, it’s possible Blair and Amadi don’t have an impact if they’re not targeted because the outside receivers spend the entire day open, but that’s a different discussion entirely.
5. Prediction time! What do you have for a final score on Sunday? Will the Vikings finally get one over on Wilson or will he improve to 8-0 against Minnesota?
I’m expecting a high scoring game where both teams move the ball ending with Seattle victorious by a score of something in the neighborhood of 31-27. That said, while I expect and am obviously hoping for a Seattle win, I won’t be surprised to see an 0-2 team play desperate enough football looking to avoid 0-3 by coming away victorious. Basically, I think it will be a close game, and I’m going to go with Russell Wilson over Kirk Cousins one hundred percent of the time when that is the case.
Thanks again to John for taking the time to answer these questions for us.
Stay tuned for much more on the Week 3 matchup as we get closer to kickoff.