Enemy Confidential: Seahawks Bracing For Familiar Adversary in Vikings

Though they don't play in the same division, it has felt like it in recent years with Seattle and Minnesota seemingly playing each year. With another chapter in the rivalry set to be written on Sunday, even with an 0-2 record, a prolific Vikings offense will present a difficult challenge on the road for the Seahawks.
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Following a surprisingly poor 2020 campaign, a reloaded Vikings squad led by an explosive offensive orchestrated by quarterback Kirk Cousins expected to be right back in the hunt for an NFC North title and a playoff spot.

Through the first two games, however, Minnesota hasn't gotten off to the start it hoped for in the win/loss column. First, they lost 27-24 to Cincinnati in overtime in the season opener and then the team watched a 13-point first half lead in Arizona evaporate before eventually losing 34-33 last weekend to drop to 0-2.

Scoring points and moving the football offensively hasn't been the issue, as Cousins has thrown five touchdowns and star running back Dalvin Cook has rushed for 192 yards. But defensive struggles from a year ago have continued to be problematic, and aside from defensive end Danielle Hunter's resurgence coming back from injury, the team has had few bright spots on that side of the ball and currently ranks 27th and 28th in points allowed and yards allowed respectively.

Having faced the Vikings three straight years, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll still holds Mike Zimmer's team in high regard. Heading into the latest matchup between NFC rivals, he understands from first-hand experience how dynamic their offensive attack featuring Cousins, Cook, and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen can be and expects their defense to step it up a notch or two.

"The Vikings have been very explosive on offense and very efficient in scoring," Carroll said. "They are throwing the ball all over the place and running the ball well, so it’s a very difficult challenge for the defense. Mike [Zimmer] has always been hard on what he does with the defense for them. It’s a very tough matchup and they have their first home game."

With both franchises aiming to bounce back from difficult defeats in Week 2, here's a look at the Seahawks upcoming opponent, including series history, key additions and departures, schematic intel, Carroll's thoughts on the Vikings, and more.

Series History

18th regular season meeting. The Seahawks lead the all-time series 13-5, including winning a frigid wild card matchup in January 2016, and currently hold a six-game winning streak dating back to 2012.

Seattle hasn't played a regular season game in Minnesota since 2015 when it won a dominant 38-7 contest at TCF Bank Stadium. In six road contests, the Seahawks have split the series with the Vikings and have been far more dominant at home, posting a 9-2 record. Minnesota's best stretch in the rivalry came from 2002 to 2009 when it won three out of five meetings between the two franchises.

What's New

Departures: The Vikings didn't suffer too many high-profile losses during the offseason, but safety Anthony Harris bolted early in free agency for Philadelphia, creating a significant void next to All-Pro Harrison Smith. Only two years earlier, Harris led the NFL with six interceptions. In a cap savings-related move, the team moved on from veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, releasing him in early March. He eventually signed with the New York Giants.  The team also released tackle Riley Reiff to create $11 million in cap relief and he landed with Cincinnati.

Additions: Along with welcoming back Michael Pierce after sitting out last year as a COVID-19 opt out, Minnesota further fortified its interior defensive line by signing former Giants starter Dalvin Tomlinson and ex-Seahawk Sheldon Richardson. The organization also prioritized adding experienced starters at cornerback, signing former Cardinals star Patrick Peterson as well as Bashaud Breeland in free agency. To replace Harris, the Vikings signed former Cowboys starter Xavier Woods, who intercepted his first pass last weekend against the Cardinals. During the draft, the front office used a first-round pick on Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw, who has yet to play a snap due to a lingering groin injury.

Injury Report

Minnesota has several starters whose status for Sunday remains up in the air. Darrisaw, Peterson, linebacker Anthony Barr, and defensive end Everson Griffen have been limited during the first two practices of the week, while Cook has been held out recovering from an ankle sprain. Breeland and linebacker Eric Kendricks moved up to full participants on Thursday after being limited Wednesday. The team also lost tight end Irv Smith during training camp to a meniscus injury.

Inside The Scheme

While it's a small sample size, per Sharp Football Stats, the Vikings have used 11 personnel with three receivers, one tight end, and a single back on 53 percent of their snaps, nearly a 25 percent increase from a year ago. As another sign of minimal depth at tight end following Smith's injury, only the Ravens have utilized 20 personnel without any tight ends on the field and two backs in the backfield more through the first two weeks.

Last season, the Vikings ran the ball out of two-back sets more than any team in the league according to Pro Football Focus. While still primarily an outside zone team, they saw an increase in inside zone runs from 19 to 32 percent a year ago and have continued to evolve a bit in regard to run schemes. Interestingly, after using play action on nearly 30 percent of their pass attempts during the previous two seasons, with Klint Kubiak as the new offensive coordinator, play fakes have only occurred on 19.5 percent of drop backs, which ranks 27th in the NFL.

On the defensive side of the ball, while Zimmer has previously earned a reputation for being one of the more aggressive coaches bringing blitzes, that has not been the case for several years running. The Vikings were in the middle of the pack in 2020, blitzing 26.9 percent of the time, and were 20th in the league with a 24.8 percent blitz rate in 2019. In the first two games this year, Minnesota has only brought five-plus rushers on 20.5 percent of defensive snaps, ranking 24th in the NFL.

Coverage-wise, Minnesota primarily ran Cover 3 and Cover 2 zone schemes in 2020. According to PFF, Zimmer called Cover 3 25 percent of the time and Cover 2 23 percent of the time while only playing man coverage 15 percent of their defensive snaps last season.

By The Numbers

9: Runs of 10 or more yards by Cook, the most among NFL running backs.

606: Combined receiving yards by Vikings receivers, seventh-most in the league.

0: Pressures allowed by tackle Brian O'Neill, tied for fewest among qualified blockers.

80: Red zone touchdown percentage on, tied for third-best in the NFL.

30.7: Third down conversion percentage, 31st among 32 teams.

10.5: Yards per pass attempt allowed, second-worst in NFL.

4: Sacks by Hunter, tied for second-most among NFL defenders.

0: Runs of 20 or more yards surrendered defensively, tied for first in league.

71.4: Red zone touchdown percentage against, tied for fifth-worst in the league

11.2: Team sack percentage, second-best behind only the Panthers

Carroll's Thoughts

--On the stellar play of Cousins, who has thrown five touchdowns and no picks through the first two games: “He looks terrific. He’s throwing all of the throws, whether it’s the drop back stuff, play action, or on the edge. He’s using the whole field, he uses all of the rhythms, they are good in the quick game, they are good down the field, and he’s got guys that can make things happen on the outside. He’s looked really good; he’s accurate, his arm is strong, and he’s taken off a couple of times to get some yards. I see him as good as I’ve ever seen him, he’s that sharp at the start of the season.”

--On the similarities and differences between Cook and Derrick Henry, who rushed for 182 yards against Seattle last week: “He’s really explosive, totally different style of runner than we just saw but equally as effective for the most part, nobody is as effective as Derrick, but his explosiveness on the edge is really apparent. It carries over to the passing game too, they screen him, they dump the ball to him, and he’s hard to get down. We have a lot of respect for him.”

--On how the presence of Hunter has bolstered Minnesota's entire pass rush: "“He’s phenomenal, he has four sacks already, he’s flying. He’s hungry for it, you can tell. He’s really coming off of the ball well and a couple of those four were effort sacks. The quarterback wasn’t moving so it was just a pure pass rush win. He’s playing really hard, he’s a terrific player. Any guy that is that dominant as a pass rusher effects it. On the other side, we saw Chandler [Jones] a couple of weeks ago totally affect the whole team. By the way, one guy on the edge can be that kind of impact player. I don’t know if they are getting Everson Griffen back or not but he’s been like that in the past. That’s what Danielle is doing now."