The Seahawks will host the Vikings in prime time for the third straight seasons, and are looking to improve to 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. Standing in the way is a Minnesota team that is a lot more talented than it's 1-3 record might suggest, and that is coming off of a strong performance in a Week 4 win over Houston. To help get ready Sunday night, we reached out to Vikings.com reporter Eric Smith with five questions about this week's opponent.
The Vikings started 0-3 before winning last week. There's a lot of talent on that roster on both sides of the ball, what went wrong early to lead to an 0-3 start?
Smith: The short answer is that the Vikings couldn't get out of their own way in Weeks 1 and 2, with turnovers, miscues and ill-timed penalties hurting all three phases. Heck, the offense even took safeties in the first two weeks of the season, and the combination of a stalled offense and a leaky defense meant Minnesota was dead last in the league in time of possession.
Week 3 was a better effort, but even with a 70-percent chance to win midway through the fourth quarter, the Vikings fell apart late against the Titans and tumbled to 0-3.
Week 4 was an even better overall output, as the offense was humming along and didn't commit a turnover. The defense played better for longer stretches of time — and even overcame captain Harrison Smith's second-quarter ejection — before holding on with a last-minute goal line stand against the Texans.
Has it all been pretty? No. But there are signs of progress that the team can perform like the playoff team they were a season ago, even with a good amount of roster turnover.
The Vikings have leaned on running back Dalvin Cook early this season, but receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are both coming off big performances last week. What are the Vikings hoping to be offensively, in an ideal world, under OC Gary Kubiak?
Smith: The ideal product is what we saw in Week 4, with Cook touching the ball 29 times and racking up nearly 150 total yards while scoring twice. He is the focal point of the offense, and has shown he ran run through — or around — defenders with his blend of strength and athleticism.
The Vikings and Cook agreed on a multi-year contract extension the day before the 2020 season opener, and he's responded by looking like the league's best running back with a league-high 424 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
And with Cook being such a threat in the running game, that opens up the passing game through one of Kirk Cousins' biggest strengths: play action. In Week 4, he completed nine of 11 play-action passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating on such throws was 149.1.
The recipients of those passes have been Thielen and Jefferson. Thielen endured a frustrating 2019 season with a hamstring injury, but has bounced back and once again looks like one of the top pass catchers in the league.
Jefferson was a 2020 first-round pick [and was taken with the selection acquired in the Stefon Diggs trade], and looks like a flat-out star through four games. The former LSU standout didn't even start the first two weeks, but leads the Vikings with 348 receiving yards. That total ranks eighth in the NFL and is the fourth-most by a rookie through four games to start an NFL career.
He's moved the chains on third downs and shown plenty of splashy plays in the early ongoing of his career. It appears the Vikings once again have a stellar tandem, just as they had in recent years.
Yannick Ngakoue was a big offseason addition and has come through with three sacks already. What has he added to that Vikings defense?
Smith: Ngakoue was added a week before the start of the season in a trade with Jacksonville, and has looked the part of an elite pass rusher. He has 4.0 sacks thus far, and is riding a three-game sack streak heading into Week 5. There are moments where he seems to take his game to another level and get to the quarterback in crucial situations.
Ngakoue is under contract for this season, and it remains to be seen if he is here long term. If he is, however, that should mean the Vikings have a scary pass-rushing duo with him and Danielle Hunter, who is on Injured Reserve.
Hunter is eligible to return at any time, but has not practiced since early August with an injury that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has only referred to as "a tweak." Zimmer did shed some light on Hunter's status last week, as he said the star defensive end was in New York to get a second opinion on that unspecified injury.
It looks like the Vikings had a lot of turnover at cornerback this offseason. How has that position group performed so far heading into a matchup with Russell Wilson throwing to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett?
Smith: Well, when your eldest cornerback heading into the season is just 23 years old and has only made a handful of starts, perhaps it's not overly surprising it's been a bit of a bumpy road for the cornerback group. Injuries haven't help either, as the team hasn't had the same group of starting corners since Week 1.
As I said above, the cornerback group is young, which is expected after the team didn't bring back veterans in Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander.
That group is now led by former first-round Mike Hughes, who can play outside and in the slot, but he missed the past two games with a neck injury. Rookie Cameron Dantzler, a 2020 third-rounder, also missed two games but has shown flashes in the two games he has played in.
Rookie Jeff Gladney, the 31st overall pick in 2020, can also play at nickel and outside. While he's certainly has his ups and downs, the team likes his long-term outlook. For a lot of these young guys, it's a little bit of trial by fire right now.
With that said, they'll face perhaps their toughest test of the season in Metcalf, Lockett and David Moore, who are all big-play threats from do-it-all quarterback Russell Wilson.
What is a key matchup or two you're looking forward to seeing on Sunday?
Smith: I'll pick one on each side of the ball, and start with the Vikings defense against the Seahawks offense.
While safeties Smith and Anthony Harris likely won't be on Metcalf in man coverage, they'll be relied upon to protect the deep area of the field and eliminate big plays. Metcalf has been a highlight reel so far, and he's tied for the league lead with 403 receiving yards, and leads the NFL with a whopping 25.2 yards per catch.
Smith and Harris make up the league's top safety tandem, and they'll have their work cut out for them in slowing down Metcalf on Sunday.
Offensively, it's Cook against Bobby Wagner. Two elite players going at it. While Cook leads the league in rushing, he also almost never goes down on the first hit.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cook's 21 missed tackles forced on rushing plays lead the league, as does his 269 rushing yards after contact this season.
Wagner doesn't miss tackles, and there's a reason he's a six-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and was on the NFL's All-Decade Team for his play over the past 10 seasons.
The Vikings want to run the ball, and Wagner leads the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense. Should be a fun one to watch Sunday in prime-time.