The Seahawks (9-2) face a tough test on Monday night when the host the Vikings (8-3) in the two teams' second meeting on Monday Night Football in as many seasons. The Seahawks came out on top when they hosted the Vikings last year, and if they're going to make it six wins in a row over Minnesota, postseason included, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Monday's game:
1. Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter vs the Seahawks' pass protection.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 11 times over the past two games, and while there are number of factors that have contributed to that total beyond the play of the offensive line, everyone involved in Seattle's offense would agree that the sack totals need to come down for that unit to be at its best.
Protecting Wilson against a talented Vikings defense won't be an easy task, especially for whoever is lined up against defensive end Danielle Hunter. After a Pro-Bowl 2018 season in which he piled up 14.5 sacks, Hunter is back to being one of the league's most disruptive pass-rushers in 2019. In addition to a team-leading 8.5 sacks, Hunter also has 16 quarterback hits, and according to Pro Football Focus, an NFL leading 71 quarterback pressures.
And it'd be one thing if Hunter was the only Pro-Bowl talent the Seahawks had to worry about, but Minnesota's defense has them at every level, including linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who between them have earned Pro-Bowl honors 10 times. And that list doesn't even include linebacker Eric Kendricks (the younger brother of Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks), who leads the team with 86 tackles and 12 passes defensed.
"They're such a veteran group," Wilson said. "They got everything you could want on defense. They got a great defensive line. Great linebackers. These guys are flying around making tremendous plays. Kendricks and Barr, just what they're able to do. You think about the corners and those guys being able to make plays—Rhodes has been tremendous his whole career of making pays and stuff like that… The nickel (Mackenzie) Alexander, he's a great player. You think about the secondary, Harrison is arguably one of the best in the game. I remember coming in into the 2012 class with him. Just a tremendous football player and just a guy who had the right attitude, was first in line at every drill. Just a guy who was a great leader. You really sensed that from the beginning. I think their two edge rushers, they've been unbelievable all season. So it's going to be a great battle and they coach extremely well."
2. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook vs. Seattle's run defense.
The Seahawks have faced a number of talented running backs this season, but perhaps none who has meant more to his team's offense than Dalvin Cook. With 1,017 rushing yards and 455 receiving, Cook ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage behind only Carolina's Christian McCaffrey, and his 11 rushing touchdowns are tied for second most in the NFL.
Seattle's run defense has been solid this year aside from a few occasional lapses, holing seven of 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards, including three straight before the Eagles managed 106 rushing yards last week.
For as good as Kirk Cousins has been this year, positing an NFL leading 114.8 passer rating, the Seahawks know they need to stop Cook and the running game if they're going to slow down the Vikings offense.
"They're definitely a team that's committed to running the ball," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They're going to hand it off to Cook, and we have to do a great job of stopping that, because I feel like that opens up their whole game. Watching him, he's going to hit the hole very, very hard. He's very explosive, they get him on screens in the pass game. He's a guy that we definitely have to watch out for. I think Kirk Cousins has been doing a great job this season. Not only managing the game but taking his shots. The last game when you watched them, they were down 20 points and they were able to fight their way back. So, we have to understand no matter what the score is, they're going to keep fighting and we have to do a great job of coming out with great energy and playing on their side of the ball."
3. Wilson to Lockett vs. Minnesota's pass defense.
Playing two weeks after suffering a leg contusion that led to a two-night hospital stay, Tyler Lockett wasn't quite at full speed last week, resulting in a quiet game for him with just one catch for 38 yards.
"It maybe wasn't 100 percent, even though he could run and play and all that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He just feels better now. I think it's going to take all the way to Monday to really kind of put it in the rearview mirror, but he's in good shape."
With Wilson feeling better, he and the passing game will look to get going after being held somewhat in check against two very good defenses in San Francisco and Philadelphia.
And for all the talent on Minnesota's defense, including Pro-Bowl defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith, Minnesota's recent history suggests that there should be opportunities for Lockett and the rest of Seattle's pass catchers.
The Vikings have surrendered 663 passing yards in their past two games, and over their last three they allowed 21 explosive passes (16 or more yards), tied for the second most in the NFL over that span. The Seahawks will try to run the ball and be balanced, as always, but against a Minnesota run defense that ranks sixth in the NFL (94.2 yards per game), this could be a week in which the Seahawks end up relying on Wilson, Lockett and company.
The Seahawks and the Vikings will face off on Sunday Night Football at CenturyLink Field this Sunday at 5:20 p.m. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.