Russell Wilson, Seahawks Prepared for 'Cat and Mouse' Game with Vikings Standout Safeties
RENTON, WA - Since being picked by the Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Russell Wilson has never lost to the Vikings. His team has gone a perfect 6-0, most recently winning home prime time games each of the past two years against their NFC North rivals.
But despite having an unblemished record against Minnesota, winning those games hasn't necessarily been easy for Wilson, who has actually been held in check in the majority of those contests by coach Mike Zimmer's defense. In three of those six games, the star quarterback has been limited to under 175 passing yards three times, including a career-low 72 passing yards in Seattle's 21-7 win in 2018.
When asked about what makes a well-coached Vikings defense most difficult to prepare for, Wilson immediately pointed to the team's two star safeties, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, two players he's squared off against multiple times over the years.
"I think it's all about the safety play they have in terms of Harrison [Smith] and [Anthony] Harris too," Wilson said on Thursday. "I think both of those guys, they can make so many plays and I think they're so decisive, they're confident in their play, they disguise really well, all those different things and so it'll be a little game of cat and mouse, which we always have fun with."
A five-time Pro Bowler and former First-Team All-Pro selection, Smith has faced off against Wilson five times, including in the 2015 wild card round. He's produced a pair of pass deflections, but hasn't recorded an interception in any of those games.
As for Harris, the seventh-year safety has only dressed for three games against Wilson, but he's had immense success against him in limited opportunities. Last season, as one of his league-best six interceptions, he picked Wilson off on a pass batted up in the air and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown as the Vikings built a 17-10 halftime lead.
As Wilson alluded to, Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer believes Zimmer's scheme and ability to disguise coverages accentuates Smith and Harris' strengths, particularly when it comes to being in attack mode as blitzers.
"The really cool thing when you look at what Minnesota does defensively with Zimmer and his staff, the balance of what they do is really crazy when you look at," Schottenheimer explained. "The number of pressures out base versus sub [packages], the amount of times that Harris comes versus the amount of times Harrison comes is crazy - there's just unbelievable balance. Really, it's hard to get a tell on them.
So far through four games this year, per Pro Football Reference, Harris has only blitzed five times. Smith has been brought eight times and been effective, recording a quarterback hit and three pressures.
While blitzing Wilson can be the football equivalent of playing with fire, the Vikings have found some success doing so against him in the past and Schottenheimer expects to see Zimmer dial up some pressure packages involving Smith and Harris on Sunday night. He's also anticipating aggressive play from both players in coverage, as they will each gamble at times to get their hands on the football.
"Some of the split safety stuff that they do, they take chances, they're willing to take risks, try to make plays on the ball," Schottenheimer added. "If there's a better combo of safeties in the league, we haven't seen them yet this year."
Though statistics may suggest otherwise - the Vikings currently rank 28th overall in pass defense, 30th in quarterback hits, and 30th in net yards per pass attempt - Wilson has endured enough struggles against Zimmer's team over the years to know better than to overlook them.
Away from their star safeties, Wilson sees a young, "very talented" core of cornerbacks featuring first-round pick Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, and Cam Dantzler making significant strides each week. In particular, he was impressed by their play in a win over the Texans last weekend and believes the group is improving rapidly.
Even without Anthony Barr, who was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in a Week 2 loss the Colts, and star defensive end Danielle Hunter, Wilson still sees a defense with plenty of playmakers in an excellent scheme. Holding Zimmer and his staff as well as the dynamic safety pairing of Smith and Harris in the highest regard, he expects nothing less than the Vikings' best shot on Sunday.
"It's always a challenge against the Vikings. We always have these amazing matchups and back and forth and we have a lot of respect for how they're coached, how they play, how tough they are. And so it will be a great game."