The Seahawks host the Vikings Monday night in another game with big NFC playoff implications, as Seattle (7-5) and Minnesota (6-5-1) are both right the thick of the wild-card battle. To learn more about the Seahawks' Week 14 opponent, we reached out to Vikings.com staff writer Lindsey Young with five questions about the Minnesota Vikings.
Q: Given the playoff implications, and the fact that Minnesota is yet to beat a team that currently has a winning record, how big/important of a road test is this for the Vikings?
Young:Kirk Cousins acknowledged during his press conference Thursday that CenturyLink Field is "probably the loudest [outdoor stadium] in the NFL," and the Vikings know they'll have their hands full with a talented Seahawks squad. Minnesota is 2-3-1 on the road this season. While a loss on Monday Night wouldn't eliminate the Vikings from the playoffs, a win would certainly be a momentum builder as they enter the final stretch of the regular season.
Q: The Vikings have a new offensive coordinator and quarterback this season, just how has Minnesota's offense changed in 2018 with John DeFilippo calling plays and Kirk Cousins under center?
Young:The offensive coordinator and quarterback have changed, but the Vikings returned their top three receiving targets from 2017. Cousins, who signed in free agency, has at his disposal a dynamic receiving duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs and veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph. Dalvin Cook, who returned this season after tearing his ACL in Week 4 of 2017, and Latavius Murray are in the backfield, but the Vikings 253 rush attempts entering Week 14 are well below the league average of 308.9 per team.
Q: The Vikings have been good against the run this year (including with a couple of familiar faces at defensive tackle). How important will that run defense be heading into a game against the league's No. 1 rushing offense?
Young:Minnesota currently ranks seventh in the NFL with 99.2 rushing yards allowed per game and are tied for fourth in average rushing yards allowed per play (3.74). Defending the run will be critical against the Seahawks, as the Vikings this season are 6-0-1 in games where they've held a team to fewer than 100 yards rushing. As you mentioned, Seattle fans will likely be familiar with two of the Vikings interior rushers. Starting 3-technique Sheldon Richardson has proven to be a significant offseason add for the team, having totaled 3.5 sacks, 51 tackles (coaches' tally) and eight tackles for loss. Tom Johnson spent four seasons with the Vikings before starting the 2018 season in Seattle. The eight-year veteran has been a reliable rotational player on the line and has helped Minnesota be stout against the run.
Q: Minnesota has turned the ball over 18 times this season, including 11 times in five losses. How big of a concern will that be for the Vikings heading on the road against a team with 20 takeaways this season?
Young:Ball security will absolutely be important Monday night. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has emphasized the significance of winning the turnover battle, and his message is backed by the stats. In 76 games under Zimmer, the Vikings are 30-6 when winning the turnover battle, 9-18-1 when losing the turnover battle and 6-6 when it's the same.
Q: So Adam Thielen, he's pretty good, huh? Obviously this isn't his first productive season, but he seems to be playing at an even higher level this year; what has gone into the uptick in production?
Young: Vikings fans have been familiar with Minnesota-native Adam Thielen since he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2013, but over the past two-plus seasons, the receiver has certainly garnered much-deserved national attention. Thielen was a full-time starter in 2017 and impressed with 1,276 yards and four touchdowns, but you're right – he's taken even another step forward for the 2018 campaign. Entering Monday's game against the Seahawks, Thielen has 1,166 receiving yards and a career-high nine touchdowns. As to the reason behind the uptick, one can probably point partially to a chemistry established with Cousins, but I also think Thielen's work ethic is to be credited. From a rookie tryout to the No. 2 receiver in the NFL, Thielen comes to work the same way each and every day; he reflects the blue-collar mentality of the Vikings locker room and never feels that he's "arrived." So far, his approach has paid off.