By: Casey Mabbott/Oregon Sports News
This Sunday afternoon, Seattle travels to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. Currently, Las Vegas books willing to post info on the matchup are calling Seattle 1.5 point road favorites. I would imagine some sportsbooks are holding off posting or accepting odds until Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook’s status is cemented in either direction. Cook is currently not practicing as he recovers from a sprained ankle, and if he isn’t playing, it will impact his team’s chances of succeeding.
Just like the Vegas sportsbooks, Seattle knows all too well how much of an impact a superstar running back can have against them, and they are right to be worried. While this team has played admirably at times, we can’t overlook what happened in the second half last Sunday – even if we wanted to.
We’re going to “fall back” on the clocks in a little over a month, so to prepare for that, let’s rewind the clocks to about 3 pm on Sunday. The Seahawks were up 24-9 on the scoreboard against Tennessee at halftime. QB Russell Wilson and WR Tyler Lockett had another very efficient game in the new Shane Waldron offense. All signs pointed to Seattle rolling toward their second consecutive victory. The running game was not blowing anyone away, but it was keeping the defense honest. On the other side, the defense was masterfully containing all-pro running back Derrick Henry to just 38 yards on 14 carries in the first half.
Seattle’s run defense looked outstanding, and it looked like the Titans were going to have to abandon the run in the second half to try and keep up. Whether or not that’s what Seattle expected, they didn’t adjust to what actually happened. Rather than abandon or limit the running game, Tennessee dug in and then some. It was a bold move and one most teams won’t bother with. But here’s the thing – it worked.
Henry repeatedly found running room in the third quarter and exceeded his first-half total, earning 40 yards on nine carries. His first run of the quarter went for 11 yards. Four attempts later, he was in the end zone. His first touchdown of the day happened on a 9-yard run where he started going right, and after seeing a wall of defenders, he reversed field and outran the entire defense, going left to pay dirt.
This sent a statement to Seattle that their opponent was not only sticking with the run game, but it was working now. And more importantly, Seattle was only leading by 8 points now, a one-possession game.
Tennessee ended the third quarter with a missed field goal, and the score stuck at 24-16 in favor of Seattle. The Seahawks did not add one point to their score in the quarter and were lucky they managed to hold their opponent to just one score. Things would change swiftly less than two minutes into the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson found receiver Freddie Swain without a defender in the same galaxy for an easy touchdown to put Seattle ahead 30-16 after Jason Myers missed the extra point. It looked like the Titans would keep the game competitive but would ultimately struggle to keep up. Or so we thought.
Henry ripped off a 60 yard TD run on the ensuing possession that made it a one-score game again and put the ball back in Wilson’s hands. It turns out that Wilson’s strike to Swain was the final Seattle scoring play of the day, as Tennessee controlled the tempo on both sides and eventually got even with a third TD from Henry and a 2 point conversion to make the score 30-all with 29 seconds left.
Three Seattle plays later, with two seconds left and the ball on their own 43-yard line, the Seahawks needed a touchdown or a penalty to force a field goal attempt. Rather than going for either option with a hail mary, they opted to throw a medium distance pass to Lockett, which resulted in a 27 yard gain, and the end of regulation.
In overtime, both teams finished their first possession with a punt, with Seattle narrowly escaping a safety. The Titans began their second possession at the Seattle 39, just a couple of yards from field goal range. Four plays later, Henry had gained 21 yards and all but assured the kicker a good spot for the game-winning field goal. And that’s how it played out – Randy Bullock made up for his miss earlier in the game by making this one.
In 21 attempts in the second half and overtime, Henry gained 144 yards and scored three touchdowns, forcing the extra period and leading the Titans to victory. And that’s why Dalvin Cook’s status matters so much this week, whether you work for a Vegas sportsbook or care how Seattle plays as a personal interest. If Cook is playing, he can do just as much damage as Henry, and even more problematic for Seattle – unlike Henry, he doesn’t automatically come off the field on obvious passing downs.
Minnesota and Tennessee are very similar teams – on paper. They live and die based on their running game, get just enough out of their underrated mobile QB, and have a defense built to survive, but not capable of much else. Seattle needs to play aggressively, keep the pedal down once they get a lead, and not let the ghosts of last week alter how they would have attacked the Vikings if this were week one.
Seattle OC Shane Waldron has to keep the play calling creative and aggressive, but he can’t forget to keep it balanced when the game starts to get tight. The entire team seemed thrown off by how the second half played out, and the play-calling was out of balance. If a few plays go differently, who knows. But that’s not how life works. You have to be victorious at the moment regardless of what or who is staring back at you. You have to play to win – always.
If Cook can’t go, his backup is no slouch, but he’s not a defense killer either. Alexander Mattison knows how to impact a game. He can run, he can pass, and he can help in pass protection. That’s the perfect backup, and Minnesota knows it. If Cook has to sit, they know they have a guy that can get similar production.
Now, stats on a page are not the same as seeing a player and what they can do to you. Cook is such a smooth runner and a talented receiver out of the backfield. While you can’t compare anyone to Walter Payton, Cook might be the closest modern player to the once-in-a-generation skillset Payton had. As good as Cook is if he’s out, that doesn’t mean good things automatically happen for Seattle; Mattison can still hurt you. It might force the Vikings to keep their more creative plays off the call sheet this weekend, but it doesn’t mean they’ll pare down the number of running plays called. They believe in establishing the run to open up the pass via play action, and they’re going to do it regardless of who is or isn’t on the field this Sunday.
If Seattle can stop the run, it should force Vikings QB Kirk Cousins into holding the ball or forcing throws, both of which will help the Seahawks’ chances. Cousins can be incredible with his play, but he can also lose the game on his own. Hit him enough, and you’re likely to see the latter as he tries too hard to play hero when he should just take what the defense is giving him.
Wilson and Waldron have to get DK Metcalf involved in the passing game when Cousins is resting and recovering from a beating on the sideline. In the last two weeks, Metcalf has been frustrated by tough coverage from the defense. He needs to get some early work on short routes and screens to increase the chance of wide-open downfield throws to his teammates, which will shift the focus to the offense as a whole and give Metcalf some one-on-one opportunities. The Vikings don’t have a cornerback that can handle Metcalf by themselves. Meticulous offense might be boring to watch on tv, but it’s a chess game, and these kinds of moves early on will make the second half more exciting as Wilson and Metcalf go for the kill shots.
This is not to say the Vikings are some pushover. Even though they are 0-2, they have lost both games in the closing seconds on the leg of a kicker in consecutive weeks. Arizona and Seattle are very similar on paper, and Arizona had four touchdowns by halftime before narrowly winning the game against Minnesota at the very end. Arizona destroyed Tennessee two weeks ago, and Seattle appeared to be on the same path before taking an ill-conceived detour.
Seattle playing Arizona’s scraps two weeks in a row isn’t the only streak to watch this week. Cousins only has one win against Seattle in his career, a 17-14 victory when he was the QB of the Washington Football Team in 2017. Since joining Minnesota in 2018, Cousins is 0-3 against Seattle, and he’s not the only Vikings QB with a long losing streak against the Seahawks.
You have to go back to the 2009 season to find the last time Seattle lost to Minnesota, and Brett Favre played QB for the Vikings that day. Seattle is a perfect 7-0 against Minnesota since, with all seven victories coming since Wilson took over as QB in 2012.
This will be the third matchup with the Vikings in the last three years. Seattle won a one-point nail-biter last year, after a thrilling one-score victory the year before and a two-score win the year before that. How will it end this Sunday, and will Wilson extend his Minnesota winning streak to 8-0?
No spoilers here. You’ll have to tune in and find out. The game will be broadcast this Sunday afternoon on FOX starting at 1:25 pm.