The Vikings' Week 3 game against the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon is a massive one for a multitude of reasons.
Opponent and circumstances aside, this is a huge week for a Vikings team that believes it can be a contender in the NFC but has gotten off to just about the most frustrating, gut-wrenching 0-2 start possible. After two straight dramatic road games ended in self-inflicted pain, this is absolutely must-win territory for a team that has its sights on the postseason. Starting 0-3 would be close to a death sentence.
Factor in the opponent and the venue and it gets even more interesting. The Seahawks are on the schedule for a fourth straight year, but it'll be their first time playing a regular season game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings have traveled to Seattle — and lost — in each of the last three seasons. These teams will be playing for the eighth time in the last nine years if you include the infamous Blair Walsh playoff game, which is an unusual coincidence for non-divisional opponents.
Minnesota is still searching for its first win during that time frame. They're 0-7 against the Seahawks since Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012, although each of the last four have been one-score games in the fourth quarter, including a pair of heartbreaking one-point losses for the Vikings. Other than a stretch with two games in a month at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015/16, all of those losses occurred in Seattle.
Last but not least, there's the fact that this will be the first game with a full-capacity crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium since December 29, 2019 — 637 days ago. The Vikings are treating it like a grand re-opening with new foods, hype videos, and more. The atmosphere is going to be absolutely incredible, and the team is hopeful they can ride that wave of energy to a much-needed victory.
Let's take a deeper look at some of the top storylines in this game.
Vikings excited to play in front of full-capacity crowd again
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans weren't allowed at Vikings home games in 2020. They'll be back in full force on Sunday, possessing a newfound appreciation for the ability to cheer on their favorite team in person. Given the long-awaited nature of this return to the stadium, the desperation surrounding the 0-2 Vikings, and frustration over the losing streak against the Seahawks, I expect the home crowd to be as loud as it's ever been inside USBS.
"Yeah, I thought they signed a contract for us to go over there," a laughing Dalvin Cook said about facing the Seahawks on the road in each of the last three years. "It's been crazy. For them to come here, it's fun. We've been dealing with their fans quite a bit, so now it's time for them to deal with ours."
The Vikings expect the raucous crowd to make a legitimate difference. They feel they have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, and that was missed last season.
"Ball players thrive off that," Patrick Peterson said. "That’s a little piece of boost that kind of like enters our bodies, that electricity that’s running through the building, we kind of feel like that runs through us as well. So last year it was definitely weird playing without a crowd, playing without the natural excitement. It almost felt like literally practice each and every Sunday when we went out there."
When the Vikings have the ball, fans know to keep the noise to a standard level. The offense needs to be able to operate with a snap count and making checks at the line of scrimmage. But when Seattle has the ball, all hell will break loose. The noise will force the Seahawks into using silent counts, which makes things easier on the pass rush. The Seahawks like to go no-huddle, which is much harder to do in a loud stadium. Defensively, the Vikings feed off the energy, especially on third downs. Through two weeks, the Vikings are second in the NFL in opponent third down conversion rate (6 of 23 — 26 percent).
The noise also makes it tougher for the secondary and linebackers to communicate, but the veterans on the back end of Minnesota's defense believe that's worth it.
"We feel like we thrive in that that environment," Harrison Smith said. "But hand signals and pre-alignment communications and stuff are very important."
Another fun storyline is that this will be the first time Vikings second-year players, most notably Justin Jefferson, get to play in front of a full home crowd. Jefferson should get a massive ovation from the fans after his incredible rookie campaign, and it wouldn't be surprising at all if stepped up and had his biggest game of the young season. After all, Week 3 at home was when he broke out last year.
Limiting big plays from Wilson and company will be key
Through two weeks, there are 30 teams in the NFL with one or zero passing plays of 50-plus yards, and one team with two of them. The Seahawks have four, including three in last week's overtime loss to the Titans alone.
Russell Wilson is up there with the best deep ball throwers in the NFL because of his arm strength, accuracy, and ability to extend plays inside or outside of the pocket. He also happens to have two fantastic receivers at his disposal in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Metcalf is off to a somewhat slow start but is one of the most physically dominant receivers in the league and posted a 6/93/2 line against the Vikings last year. Lockett was second in the NFL in receiving yards through two weeks, having been on the end of three of those four bombs of 50 yards or more.
The Vikings have given up a 50-yard pass play in each of their first two games. Bashaud Breeland was burned by Ja'Marr Chase in Week 1, and a coverage bust let Rondale Moore go an easy 77 yards last Sunday. Minnesota needs to be tight in coverage and not have any breakdowns, because Wilson will make them pay.
"He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Andre Patterson said. "He’s great throwing the ball, he knows where to go with the ball. He manages their whole offense – he runs the whole thing. A lot of it is no-huddle. He can escape when he wants to. He doesn’t run around as much as he used to when he was younger. But he knows how to get out, and he knows how to make plays with his feet. And he knows how to get on the edge and still make big plays down the field. He’s a tremendous challenge for us."
Mike Zimmer and the Vikings have actually done well against Wilson over the past three meetings in Seattle. He was 51 of 83 (61 percent) for 529 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 picks, and an 84.9 passer rating during those games. Wilson also ran for 132 yards but was sacked eight times. However, all that really matters is that he did enough to win each of those games.
The Vikings' Danielle Hunter-led pass rush is going to be critical. Because of his propensity to extend plays and try to make magic happen, Wilson is extremely prone to taking sacks. He's been among the top-four in sacks taken in eight straight years, leading the league in 2020, 2016, and 2015 and finishing second three times. Over the past three seasons, only Deshaun Watson was sacked more frequently. If Wilson has too much time, it'll be impossible for the Vikings' corners to stick to Metcalf and Lockett.
Getting Everson Griffen back from missing last week with a concussion will help the Vikings' pass rush. They need guys like D.J. Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly, and Sheldon Richardson to step up as well.
The Vikings also can't forget about Seahawks running back Chris Carson, who has scored a touchdown against them in three straight.
Vikings must take advantage of a beatable defense
This game feels like it has shootout written all over it. It's tied with Rams-Buccaneers for the highest over/under of Week 3 at 55 points. The Seahawks' dynamic offense should be able to put up points against an underwhelming Vikings defense, even in a tough environment. But the Vikings should be able to put up plenty of points of their own.
Two games in, the Seahawks are allowing 434 yards of offense per game, which is third-worst in the NFL (the Vikings are fifth-worst at 420/game). Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill had huge games for the Titans last week, with Tennessee putting up 532 total yards and 33 points. Bobby Wagner and Jamal Adams are obviously excellent players who the Vikings will have to account for, but Seattle's overall defensive performance has been subpar.
Minnesota needs to take advantage. Kirk Cousins is off to a great start to the season and has three legitimately dangerous receivers at his disposal. The offensive line was much improved in Week 2, though left tackle Rashod Hill remains a concern. The big story for the Vikings' offense is the health of Cook, who is questionable with an ankle injury. The Vikings need to continue playing mostly penalty and turnover-free football, protect Cousins, be creative and aggressive on offense, and hit some big plays.
If they do that, they'll have a shot to out-score Wilson and company.
Who will make the plays (or kicks) at the end?
Is there any doubt that this game is going to come down to the very end once again?
Seattle is known for playing wild games that are decided late, including last week's loss to the Titans. The Vikings just played two of those games. Three of the past four between these teams have been decided by one score.
With two talented teams in search of a bounce-back victory, everything adds up for this to be another entertaining, dramatic contest. In the end, it might just come down to the legs of kickers Greg Joseph and/or Jason Myers.
The Vikings need to capitalize on their opportunities and find a way to come away with a win in front of their fans.
Seahawks 30, Vikings 27
Unfortunately, it's hard for me to pick anything other than more Vikings heartbreak right now.
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