Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…
Time to get right back on the horse.
In Week Three, the Seahawks face a team that are paced by a dominant running back and a very efficient quarterback who is throwing to two threatening wide receivers.
Whether they can adjust, refocus and return a more complete effort than they did on Sunday against Tennessee might give us some further clues about how the 2021 season is going to unfold for this team.
Both the Seahawks and the Vikings have unfinished business from their Week Five matchup last season.
For the Vikings, it is obvious. They would love another shot at the Seahawks and the chance to break their head-to-head losing streak — particularly after losing their last meeting in a heartbreakingly dramatic fashion.
For the Seahawks, it might be less obvious but no less important. The Vikings dominated them on the ground to the tune of 201 rushing yards, pushing the Seahawks defense up and down the field and thumbing their nose at two excellent Michael Dickson punts that pinned them deep.
The manner in which they won that match is hardly a sustainable recipe for success. Completing the circle in all three phases against that same tough opponent this Sunday could really send this team in the right direction.
This time around, the defense should have six players returning that did not play in last year’s game due to injury: Jordyn Brooks, Jamal Adams, Rasheem Green, Marquise Blair, D.J. Reed, and Darrell Taylor.
No two games are alike. The Seahawks have an opportunity to break the mode they have found themselves in with a game that is winnable for them. How can they do it?
Contain Dalvin Cook
The beat marches on. The Seahawks opened their schedule with three consecutive games against a team that fields one of the top running backs and systems in the NFL. How have they done so far?
Week One against Jonathan Taylor: Job done.
Week Two against Derrick Henry: Not so much.
Two out of three looks so much better than one out of three.
Limiting the damage Cook can do is key to having success against this offense. How can the Seahawks do that?
1. Set the edge on defense
The defense has witnessed two great zone schemes so far, but this one might be their biggest test yet. Why?
The Kubiak offense schemes both inside and outside zone runs and does an excellent job of masking their intentions and getting blockers downfield. It is a fantastic marriage with Cook’s elite vision and burst.
We have already seen it work both ways in 2021. Cook has four explosive runs out at the edges and three explosives between the tackles in just two games this season.
So, pick your poison.
The Seahawks have proven to be vulnerable at the edges and in defending the screen game, as predicted, with K.J. Wright no longer on the team. As stout as they have been on the interior, they are lacking strength at the edge of the defense.
Let’s take a look at how the Vikings do it so well by examining how they succeeded in their game against the Seahawks last year.
On back-to-back plays the Viking offense wrecks the edges of the Seahawk defense and gives Cook room to run untouched.
The video starts at :49. And it is not for the faint of heart…
Watch Bobby Wagner. He reads the play perfectly, reacts and knifes past Riley Reiff like he is standing still. Brilliant.
However Cook is just too quick to hit the hole and he runs past him. That is not a failure on Wagner’s part.
Cook can accelerate because the edge has been blown wide open.
Alton Robinson’s job on the play is to set the edge. If Robinson can even remotely set the edge, or disengage from the Irv Smith block to occupy that hole, Cook will be forced to hesitate and give Wagner just enough time to bring him down for a minimal gain or even a loss.
Smith blocks Robinson into the parking lot. The hole is so big that Cook easily accelerates away from Wagner and runs for ten yards as Robinson helplessly dives, flailing to try and make a play.
Let the video run. On the very next play, the exact same thing happens. Except this time Cook gets an escort to the end zone.
Off the snap, Reiff easily handles L.J. Collier and Kyle Rudolph stands up K.J. Fullback C.J. Hamm beats tracks through the hole and takes Wagner out of the play and Dakota Dozier gets two full steps to build up a head of steam to block Cody Barton and easily erases him. Touchdown Vikings.
Alexander Mattison gets a turn at it at 9:58 in that video in case you are not convinced of the Vikings’ run dominance in this game.
They have to get tougher on the edges.
Perhaps rotating one of their monster interior linemen out there occasionally is the answer? A Red Bryant type role might be an effective stopgap solution.
How about this – and trust me, I am fully aware of the irony of suggesting this, given what we just watched – using Alton Robinson more at that spot?
He has gotten much more experience since that game last year, posted PFF grades of 63 and 71 for run defense so far in 2021, and has the versatility to both play the run and rush the passer — something Seattle does not currently posses an abundance of on the defensive line.
They need to get creative to find a solution or this Sunday’s tape will look awfully familiar to what we just looked at.
2. Sound tackling is key
As you just saw, the zone system gives Cook gaps and holes to run in. The Vikings excel at opening holes and sending blockers through them to pave the way.
But it gets worse. Cook is not one of those flashy backs that breaks off big runs but goes down on first contact. He can both run away from defenders and regularly break tackles in tight quarters.
How good is he at breaking tackles?
Cook was the second-best at it in the entire league in 2020, behind only David Montgomery.
The Seahawks had a season-high eighteen missed tackles in that Vikings game last year. Every starter on defense recorded a missed tackle.
The good news is they did end the season with the fifth-fewest missed tackles in the NFL, so they are capable of better tackling.
But there have been issues in 2021 so far with tackling. Pete Carroll was asked about this after the Colts game and said the ‘team has some things to clean up’ there. And we all saw that was true Sunday against the Titans.
For this game coming up, against that runner, facing that offensive system, they cannot afford to let Cook get past the first guy to get a hand on him.
They must be better at wrapping up in order to keep Cook from wrecking this game like Henry did.
And, as always, an effective run game sets up the play action.
Kirk Cousins is extremely good in play action. They ran about a quarter of their pass plays out of it and Cousins’ quarterback rating was a whole 24% better than when they did not.
Cook sets up their offense. They have to prevent him from using his speed and skill to open up their full package of plays.
Pressure Kirk Cousins at least 10 times
In Kirk Cousins’ three-year tenure in Minnesota, you can practically draw a straight line between the amount of pressures the Vikings allow and whether they win the game or not:
- Average pressures in a Viking win: 6.9
- Average pressures in a Vikings loss: 12.4
But that is just academic, isn’t it? Just about every team in the league can tie winning the game to pressuring the quarterback, right?
What makes Kirk Cousins any different?
This does — when Cousins was blitzed in 2020, his completion percentage dropped from 71.40% to 59.50%.
You read that correctly. He goes from sharpshooter to peashooter when blitzed.
Here is the list of quarterbacks with 500 throws who had a bigger accuracy drop than Kirk Cousins when blitzed last year:
End of list.
Another stat — in only four of the Vikings’ losses with Cousins at quarterback in the last three years did they surrender less than nine pressures. The other twenty losses? Nine or more.
Pressure Cousins. By any means necessary.
Preferably, that means bottling up Dalvin Cook first and forcing Cousins to be the answer. Then skillfully using the defensive line depth to create pressure. This includes solving the substitution challenges they experienced against the Titans.
And finally, mixing some creative blitzes as well.
If you are still not convinced this is a sound strategy, consider this about Cousins’ favorite target, Adam Theilen. Last year, 89% of Theilen’s catches were for either a first down or a touchdown. Those are elite numbers in company with other pass-catching greats like DK Metcalf, Mike Evans and Travis Kelce.
Passes to Theilen from Cousins traveled an average of 9.2 air yards per catch before they were received.
Which requires time for Theilen to get downfield and make his break.
Want to prevent Theilen from getting a first down or touchdown? Do not let Cousins have time in the pocket Sunday.
Minnesota’s offensive line has been banged up so far this year. The Seahawks must take advantage.
Use the tight ends
The Seahawks had success with their tight ends in the Week One win and then completely avoided them in the Week Two loss.
Getting them heavily involved this Sunday is not just a good idea; it is a critical key to success. Why?
Once again, let’s go to the numbers.
In 2020 the Vikings conceded an awful 12.3 yards per catch to tight ends. That was the next-to-last average in the NFL, beaten to the bottom only by the Jaguars at 12.6 yards per tight end catch.
How are the Vikings doing in 2021, you ask? Even worse. They have conceded 14 yards per catch, with four explosive plays in two games.
Did the Seahawks exploit this weakness in their game against the Vikings last year? Yes they did — but not nearly enough.
Greg Olsen had one catch for twenty yards and Will Dissly had one catch for nineteen yards and a touchdown.
Both of them only had one target each.
That is both bad and easy to fix.
There is another reason to involve the tight ends though — dominating the edges in the running game.
The Seahawks will need to focus a lot of offensive attention on those edges this Sunday. Why?
The Vikings have reinvested in their defensive interior and it is producing good results. Michael Pierce is one of the stoutest tackles out there and even had two sacks in Week One to add to his repertoire.
If Michael Pierce’s name is familiar, it should be. He paired with Brandon Williams for the Ravens game against the Seahawks in Week Seven in 2019. He helped hold Chris Carson to 65 yards and held him under one yard or less on 8 of his runs. Four of those were in the first half and four in the second.
Now being paired with Dalvin Tomlinson, they are going to be a formidable match in the run game for Kyle Fuller.
Conversely, the Vikings are vulnerable on the edge. How about giving them a taste of their own medicine on offense there?
James Connor had 27 yards on 5 carries attacking the Viking defensive edges Sunday.
How did he do in between the tackles? Not good. He had -1 yard on 3 carries.
The Bengals exploited this vulnerability in Week One with Joe Mixon. He had runs to the edge of 8, 10, 12, and 19 yards.
Let’s look at the tape on the 19 yard run.
Watch the Bengals motion their tight end CJ Uzomah to the edge and completely seal it off with fantastic blocks to spring Mixon (also, pulling guard Xavier Su’a-Filo chipping one guy and blocking another is a treat):
This type of play is not beyond the Seahawks’ capability. They had several nice creative runs to the edge against the Colts. We need to see that creativity continue to blossom.
Stubbornly ramming the ball into the middle of the defense is just not advisable. Especially when there is an opponent’s vulnerability in other areas of the field and usable assets at tight end that have not been fully activated yet. The tight ends must be featured in this game to restore the offensive balance that the Seahawks lost Sunday against the Titans.
Attack the corners — both of them
Patrick Peterson has been getting some of that ‘he is not getting thrown at because he is so amazing’ shine for Minnesota so far this year. That is nice.
But here is the real reason teams are not throwing his way:
Pro Football Focus ranks #Vikings Bashaud Breeland 99th and last among all NFL cornerbacks through two games, excluding tonight’s Monday affair.
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 20, 2021
Breeland has been absolutely dreadful so far this year. At one point he had a perfect quarterback rating allowed. Why would you not throw at him?
While Peterson is still a good player, he is not what he once was. In two games against the Seahawks last year for the Cardinals he conceded 130 yards, 2 touchdowns and a 119 passer rating. That includes that strange busted-play interception in Week Seven off of Russell Wilson.
The Seahawks need to be like Tyler Lockett in that very game.
The first offensive play of the game, Peterson thought he would be cheeky and jam Lockett at the line. Not only did he fail to move Lockett in the least, the force of the jam rocked Peterson himself out of position just slightly and Lockett and Russell Wilson took advantage for a thirty-four yard beauty that let the Cards know just what was coming.
Get off me. I got things to do.
This is the attitude the Seahawks need to bring to Sunday’s game.
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