The Seahawks are off to Minneapolis for their third preseason game, which will give them their last extended look at starters, who will likely see only limited action in the final preseason game, as well as a final chance to get into the routine of playing on the road before kicking off the regular season with back-to-back road games.
"This is our last shot at going on the road and working on it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Knowing that we have a couple games starting off the season on the road, this is an important trip for us to get comfortable with the whole process, how we do it, the meetings, the hotel, the whole thing. That's important to me right now that we get one more shot at getting that right."
As for what the breakdown of playing time might look like, Carroll said, "We'll still look at some young guys and try to see some guys who are trying to make a bid to make the club, however, one of the things to do this week is to get our (starters) to play through the half and come out after halftime, I'm talking about the starters getting their shot to get that sense just really kind of for the mentality and the conditioning part of playing a couple quarters, going back in, coming back out and playing again. That's basically what we're trying to get done in the overview."
And for Carroll, any trip back to Minneapolis is a special one because he spent five seasons early in his coaching career working for the Vikings, including under the legendary Bud Grant, whom Carroll considers a mentor.
"Yeah, it is (special)," Carroll said. "There's some guys I like checking in with. Five years is a long time in coaching to be somewhere, so there is some history and some roots. I'm anxious to see the new stadium and all that."
Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks kickoff against the Vikings at 5 p.m. PT on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium, a matchup that marks Seattle's first-ever appearance at the venue that opened in 2016.
1. How do the starters fare against one of the NFC's best teams?
Even though teams don't spend a lot of time game-planning for preseason games, the fact that this third preseason game comes against Minnesota should be a good test for the Seahawks because of the talent the Vikings have on both sides of the ball. Minnesota led the NFL in total defense and scoring defense last year, and a good offense should only be better with the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed with the Vikings this past offseason. With starters expected to see significant playing time in this game, it should be a solid measuring stick for the Seahawks as they get ready for the regular season.
"This is a really good team," Carroll said. "They're a really good club. In all phases, they do a good job. Cousins has jumped right in there and looked good in the first couple of games, like he's made a quick transition. The rest of their team is pretty much the same and they've been really good. They're good at offense, they're good at defense, they're good in the red zone—they're just a good club. They're doing a good job."
In particular, this should be a very good test for Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense, who are going against a loaded defense with playmakers at all three levels.
"Obviously going up against a great opponent," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We're looking forward to some of the problems that they present. But the biggest thing is watching us progress. Last week, the first week we kind of struggled on third down, so we put an emphasis on it, and we bounced back. This week we kind of struggled in the red zone, so we'll put an emphasis on that—work on it a little bit. Last couple of days, get a little bit more of it tomorrow. (We're) watching some of the younger players, watch them grow, and try to continue to function down the red zone."
2. Can the Seahawks clean things up in the red zone?
As Schottenheimer mentioned, the red zone has been a focus for the offense, which has had some issues there in the past two games. While the No. 1 offense went down the field and scored a touchdown on its opening drive in Week 1, that unit managed only a pair of field goals out of three red-zone trips last week. Errors have proved costly for the Seahawks offense in both games, whether it was a penalty that negated a Chris Carson touchdown run last week, Austin Davis throwing an interception in the end zone two weeks ago, or Carson fumbling at the goal line last week.
"You can't win if you turn the ball over, and if you do it in the red zone, it's doubly impacting in the game," Carroll said. "Both of our games kind of got marred because we were in such great situations, we're in command—first-and-5 on the 5 and we give them the ball, first-and-1 on the inch-line and we end up giving the ball to them on the 20; you can't do anything worse than that for your club. Those are things that we have to get through. I think probably the focus really is just red-zone touchdowns. We've got to get in the end zone, that's real clear. We're kicking the ball fine, but that's not what we want to do down there."
3. Defensive communication.
Perhaps more important than the yards or points the defense allows Friday night will be the way that unit communicates and works together over the course of two-plus quarters. With some significant change taking place on defense in the offseason, some of the chemistry on that side of the ball needs to be reestablished through game reps. Leaders like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright know that the impetus is on them to make sure everyone on that side of the ball is on the same page.
"I felt like I've seen a lot of guys kind of take the coaching to the field, see guys flying around," Wagner said. "We got to find a way to get the ball, we got to create more turnovers. We got to do a better job getting off to a better start, not letting them run the ball. I think a lot of that comes with time getting to understand. A lot of new faces, so we're still trying to learn everybody. But I like where we're at, and I think this will be a game to kind of show the progressions.
"This is going to be a big (game)," Wagner added. "Just from the essence of that it's another game that we can play, another opportunity to get to play a long period of time together. It's going to be fun. Actually to get out there, it's kind of hard when you go out there and you know at some point they're going to take you out. But, we know that we're going to play majority of the snaps and we just got to keep progressing. I think as long as we keep showing improvement, I think we're going to hit our strides somewhere around the season opener."
Wagner noted that some of the communication that used to take place non-verbally, sometimes with a hand gesture or even just a knowing look or a nod, now has to be said out loud.
"I think that was the big thing with us, being able to play with each other for so long, there was a lot of non-verbal communication that we had," Wagner said. "It was a lot of certain ways that you played with a person just because you've played with them for so long. For me, certain players just kind of hit a reset, and have to relearn certain players, and relearn certain styles and things of that nature. Even how guys play up front, you got to learn how they hit certain plays. I think we're doing a good job, and it's always great to have a guy like K.J. with you still. We're riding out seven years strong… You definitely have to be more verbal. I find myself over-communicating. Last year, we'd played with each other for so long that you can say it once, and maybe they didn't hear it they just know. But, you don't want to make that mistake to think or assume that they know, so me and K.J. are over-communicating right now."
4. The competition at right tackle.
As Carroll mentioned earlier this week, George Fant has started working at right tackle to join the competition at that spot along with Germain Ifedi and Isaiah Battle. Fant, who previously had only played left tackle since making the switch from college basketball power forward to NFL hopeful, will have some catching up to do, but this will be his first game-action to show what he can do. Ifedi, meanwhile, is expected to start again, and this will be a good chance for him to try to establish himself in that role and hold off his challengers.
On Fant, Carroll said, "He's anxious and excited to get comfortable and make a move. It's going to take a little bit for him to really feel comfortable with all the things that are happening. The running game has not been an issue at all, just pass sense and the variety of things that could happen for this to work out. So, it's going to take a bit, but he's a great guy to have there competing for us. We know that George can play and I'm excited for him."
Earlier this week, Carroll said the competition should help bring the best out of Ifedi.
"He did some good stuff, and he got in trouble a couple of times," Carroll said of Ifedi's play against the Chargers. "He's cleaned up some things in his game that I'm happy about and I'm hoping that would continue, I think it will. He went against a really good guy, who got after him a little bit. He got after all of us a little bit, he played a really good football game. But, (Ifedi's) making progress, and he's competing like crazy, and he's learning the new stuff, he's picking it up. He's getting challenged too. He knows we think a lot of George Fant, he knows we have a high opinion of what he's capable of doing and we've thought the same about Isaiah (Battle) too. He's obviously in a competition over there and it's going to bring out the best in everybody."
5. How does David Moore handle his latest opportunity?
Already through training camp and two preseason games, second-year receiver David Moore has been a bright spot for Seattle. That was never more evident than last week when he had 71 yards on back-to-back catches, but in addition to those big plays, he has also backed it up with consistent play in practice. Now, with J.D. McKissic sidelined 4-6 weeks with a foot injury, Moore will also likely get a chance to show what he can do in the return game.
"He'll get a shot," Carroll said. "Really excited to see David. David has had a terrific couple of first games, and more than that, what he's doing on the practice field. Just continues to show up. You guys are watching, you see him every day—he makes plays. He's been a real exciting player in this camp."