By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings play their first game in the Pacific Time Zone since opening day last season Sunday with an afternoon contest against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
The Vikings have a much different team this season than the one that blew a fourth quarter lead to the San Diego Chargers last year. The Vikings went on to blow halftime leads in each of the first three games. This season, the Vikings have not blown a halftime lead through eight games.
The Seahawks enter Sunday’s contest one game behind the Vikings for a wild card spot with a 4-4 record. The team has beaten two games at or above .500 (the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots) and lost to two teams below .500 (the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions). To break it down, the Seahawks are 2-2 against teams that are currently at or above .500 and 2-2 against teams that are below.
Seahawks on Offense
The strength of the Seahawk offense is similar to the Vikings. Just give the ball to a star running back and get out of the way.
Much like Viking quarterback Christian Ponder, Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has done some good things, but still is far from a star. He is undersized, but has athleticism and leadership skills.
The best matchup is Viking linebacker Chad Greenway vs. Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch. Greenway leads the NFL in tackles, even though he has been a part of the tackling problem for the Vikings in recent weeks. Lynch is second in the NFL in rushing yards, but has just 261 rushing yards and one touchdown in three home games this season.
The matchup the Vikings can exploit is defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison vs. Seahawk offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, Pro Football Focus ranks the entire Seahawk offensive line as the fifth worst in the NFL, mostly because of pass protection. Giacomini is an average tackle that keeps his quarterback clean by committing penalties. Giacomini and Okung have combined to commit 17 penalties.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its cornerbacks vs. Seahawk wide receiver Sidney Rice. Rice, a former Viking, is physically opposing and has big play potential. The Vikings will need their safeties to help the smaller corners (Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson). Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson are the only Vikings corners that can physically match up with Rice. However, Cook is out and Jefferson has played sparingly this season.
Seahawks on Defense
The Seahawks play a physical 4-3 scheme. They are big at every level. The starting left defensive end is Red Bryant, who is basically a third defensive tackle at 6-feet-4-inches tall and 323-pounds. Richard Sherman (6-3, 195) and Brandon Browner (6-4, 221) are the biggest pair of cornerbacks in the league.
The small starters are linebackers LeRoy Hill (6-1, 238) and Bobby Wagner (6-0, 241) and Earl Thomas (5-10, 202).
The best matchup is Viking left tackle Matt Kalil vs. Seahawk right defensive end Chris Clemons. Kalil has been one of the better offensive rookies in the league. Clemons is the only three-down defensive lineman in the Seahawks rotation. This matchup pits strength on strength. Kalil is very good in pass protection and Clemons is a pass rush specialist.
The matchup the Vikings can exploit is wide receiver Percy Harvin vs. Seahawk cornerback Brandon Browner. Browner has the size advantage, but struggles with quick receivers that don’t allow him to get his hands on them. Harvin is one of the quickest players in the league. The best chance Browner has to stop one of the NFL’s leading receivers is on bubble screens. He is quick to come up and navigate through traffic to make a play.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is right tackle Phil Loadholt vs. Seahawk pass rush specialist Bruce Irvin. Loadholt is a massive tackle, but low-leverage pass rushers can give him problems. Irvin, a rookie first round draft pick, is very quick and effective in obvious passing situations.
Seahawks Players to Watch
Running back Marshawn Lynch: The league’s second leading rusher could present problems for the Vikings defense. He makes defenders miss and the Vikings have missed their fair share of tackles. He has four 100-yard rushing games this season, including each of the last two. The Vikings have allowed the opposing starting running back to top 100 yards just twice, but it was the last two games.
Defensive end Chris Clemons: He is the second most experienced player on the Seahawks roster and defense. That hasn’t stopped him being on the field. He has been on the field for just under 91 percent of the Seahawks’ defensive snaps this season. He is among the league leaders in sacks with seven, but he hasn’t had one since Week 6 and had four in one game (Week 3 against the Packers).
CenturyLink Field has the reputation of being a difficult place for opponents. However, it has been as much of a home field advantage in recent seasons. The Seahawks have just a 19-17 record since the beginning of the 2008 season at home, including the 3-0 mark this season. The Vikings have played at CenturyLink Field twice (2006 and 2002) since its opening in 2002 and split the two games, winning the most recent.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.