The Seahawks are in Minnesota this weekend to face the resurgent Minnesota Vikings, who after back-to-back losing seasons, are the surprise leaders of the NFC North with an 8-3 record. To learn more about this week's opponent, we turn to Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall, who answered five questions for Seahawks.com
Q: What were expectations like in Minnesota heading into the season? Was a first-place team 11 games into the season something people were expecting, especially after a season-opening loss to San Francisco?
Wobschall: Green Bay entered the season having won four consecutive NFC North titles. Even with the loss of Jordy Nelson, they were considered the favorite to win the division. But with Teddy Bridgewater coming off a solid rookie season, with Adrian Peterson coming back and with Mike Zimmer having made drastic improvements to the defense in 2014, the expectation in Minnesota was that the Vikings had an outside shot at challenging the Packers and a very good shot to compete for a wild card. Looking back on the offseason, the Vikings were widely considered to be one of those 5-6 new playoff teams that the League seems to have each season. The Week 1 loss to San Francisco cooled a lot of people's jets on the Vikings. But I think it only began to fire things up internally. You never want to lose, obviously, but I think the loss to the 49ers in Week 1 gave Zimmer and his staff plenty of teaching and motivational points for the rest of the season. The Vikings won two straight after that loss, then dropped a tight game in Denver, and then went on a 5-game winning streak following the bye. Ultimately, expectations remain high around this young Vikings team and at the same time many in Vikings nation are proceeding with some cautious optimism. For those of us who take it one game at a time, the reality is the Vikings are 8-3, in 1st place in the division, in good position overall and, most importantly, control their own destiny.
Q: It's probably oversimplifying things to say the Vikings offense goes as Adrian Peterson goes, but just how important has Peterson been to this season's success, and what has been the key to him having such a dominant season at an age when running backs are supposed to be washed up?
Wobschall: This 2015 season goes in the "never bet against him" bucket. He supposedly had a bad collarbone coming out of Oklahoma. But he was the 2007 AP Rookie of the Year. He supposedly couldn't make it back from his knee surgery at the end of 2011. But he earned NFL MVP honors the next season. After missing 15 games in 2014 and turning 30 for the 2015 season, he was supposed to lose a step. Right now, he's the NFL's rushing leader and the heart and soul of the team. The season's not over and there is more work to do, but there's no question Peterson has been paramount to the team's success. He's the complete package at RB – fast and quick, powerful and strong, aggressive and angry with the ball in his hands. Plus, he gets stronger as the game goes on – he had 10 carries for 73 yards in the fourth quarter against Atlanta's then NFL-best rushing defense last week.
Q: For Seahawks fans who haven't paid close attention to the Vikings, what are the keys to having the No. 2 scoring defense in the league?
Wobschall: Last week it was takeaways. The Vikings took the ball from Atlanta three times, and they did so in key areas of the field. Anthony Barr forced a fumble on the Minnesota 34-yard line, Captain Munnerlyn had an interception at the Minnesota 24-yard line and Terence Newman had an interception in the end zone. In other games it's been other things. In home games against San Diego and Detroit, it was battering QBs Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford. Sometimes Linval Joseph has wrecked games by shutting down the run. Mike Zimmer's defense is a well-rounded group that doesn't hang its hat on one thing.
Q: How much has Teddy Bridgewater progressed in his second season, and is more being asked of him now than in the past?
Wobschall: Teddy has played great for most of the season. Teddy was a huge part of the win on Sunday in Atlanta. Those two statements may cause some to shake their head, especially if all you look at is box scores to analyze performances. The thing about the Vikings right now is that they aren't asking the passing game to put up gaudy numbers. On Sunday in Atlanta, the Vikings ran the ball 39 times. The Vikings had one passing attempt in the 3rd quarter. Gaudy passing numbers aren't going to happen when the games go like that. But it's a formula that is working. Also, when the Vikings need Teddy to get it done through the air, he's done it for the most part. On the first scoring drive in Atlanta, Teddy was 5 of 7 for 67 yards. On a fourth-quarter field goal drive that extended the Vikings lead, Teddy was 5 of 6 for 31 yards. At Soldier Field, a place the Vikings hadn't won since 2007, Teddy threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to tie the game and then led a FG drive to win the game moments later. The Vikings fell down at Detroit 14-6 early in the game and Teddy rallied the team back for a win. He has a cold-blooded, clutch gene that most QBs don't have. He doesn't make bad plays, he's hard to sack and he's a high-percentage thrower with an above average yards-per-attempt number. He has a ways to go, for sure, but he's played well to this point and he's exactly what this team needs right now. He's a second-year QB playing on a team with a great defense and a dominant running game. Sound familiar, Seattle?
Q: From afar, the Vikings look a bit like a Pete Carroll-coached Seahawks team: running game, minimize mistakes on offense, great defense, win the turnover battle, etc. Fair comparison?
Wobschall: Hey! That's what I was referring to in the previous question. Yes, fair comparison. But I want to be clear on one point: The NFC runs through Seattle. The Vikings are trying to get to where Seattle is. The Seahawks are one of the most battle-tested, tough-minded, solid teams in the NFL and the organization is one of the most well-run in the League, as well. The Vikings are a young, improving team and there are parallels to draw with Seattle, but there is a lot of work to do still for the Vikings.
In the Seahawks' 40 year history, they have played the Vikings 13 times in the regular season and have never met in the postseason. See the action from these games and find out how each team fared before they face one another again this Sunday.