The Seahawks (7-5) host the Vikings (6-5-1) Monday night in a clash with big postseason implications for both teams, and the Seahawks are hoping home-field advantage can make a difference in a game between NFC playoff hopefuls. Since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010, the Seahawks are 15-2 in prime-time games played at CenturyLink Field, including 5-1 on Monday Night Football.
"I think the 12s will probably go crazy in this one just like they always do," Carroll said. "Let's not leave any doubt at all. Let's be wild and loud and have fun and enjoy the heck out of it. We'll try to play accordingly to make it such."
If the Seahawks are going to win their fourth straight game and further strengthen their playoff positioning, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Monday night's game:
1. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen vs. the Seahawks secondary.
The Seahawks have won three in a row in no small part due to big plays by their defense, be it red-zone stops or timely takeaways, but they also know there is plenty to clean up having allowed more than 450 yards in their past two victories. Bringing those numbers down won't be easy against a Vikings passing attack that ranks seventh in the NFL with a 274.8 yards-per-game average, and few pass-catchers in the NFL have been more dangerous than Adam Thielen, who has 1,166 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, and has nine 100-yard games this season. Add to the mix receiver Stefon Diggs, who himself is having a big season, and Monday figures to be a big test for Seattle's secondary.
"They seem extremely well connected with (quarterback Kirk) Cousins," Carroll said. "The intricacies of the things that they're running and the timing that they're able to show consistently on really good concept stuff. The guys come through and make the catches, they're both good after the catch, they both get down the field. They're possession guys, they're down the field guys, they have all of that ability in them. So it just makes it really hard, and the QB knows it. They seem to really have hooked up well with the quarterback too. The execution is as good as you can get."
But despite giving up some big numbers of late, the Seahawks feel like the problems are things that can be cleaned up, particularly after giving up a few huge plays against the 49ers last week.
"Anytime they put up yards is concerning," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "But I think anytime you have chunks like that (against San Francisco)—a 75-yarder, they had another 40-yarder. I think most of those yards came in two or three plays. A missed tackle, losing leverage at the line of scrimmage—those type of things are the things we really coach. Out of all the things that happened for young players, there's so many coachable moments. Those yards don't have to happen if you do your technique at the line of scrimmage, if you make your tackles, things like that are so important. Three plays can knock off 150 yards passing. Those are things coach-wise that you coach."
2. The Seahawks running game vs. Minnesota's defensive front.
It's hardly a secret that the Seahawks will look to establish the run in Monday's game, and for the most part they have been great in that phase of the game this season, averaging a league-high 148.8 rushing yards per game and gaining more than 150 yards in eight of their last nine games. Keeping that going, however, will be no easy task while facing a Vikings defense that is one of the best in the NFL at stopping the run.
Opponents are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry against Minnesota this season, tied for the second lowest mark in the league, and 99.2 rushing yards per game, which is the seventh-lowest total. The Vikings have allowed 100 or more rushing yards five times this season, losing all five games, while they're 6-0-1 when holding opponents under 100 yards.
"They're a really good defense," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "They take away the big plays. They do a nice job with that. As good a front seven as we've probably played this year. A lot of respect for the secondary as well. Harrison Smith is an unbelievable player. It'll be difficult. It's going to be hard. We played them in the preseason which was kind of nice. We have a little bit of a feel for them, but really a good defense."
One positive for Seattle is that if the Vikings do make it difficult to run the ball, Russell Wilson and company showed they could get the job done through the air when the running game is struggling, throwing for 339 yards in the Seahawks' Week 12 win in Carolina. That being said, the Seahawks will set out to run the ball well, regardless of how much respect they have for Minnesota's defense.
"We feel very good that we can run the ball almost each week," Schottenheimer said. "This week, again, will be another great challenge. Carolina slowed us down a little bit. It was very cool to see our guys respond and come back and put up the numbers that they did."
3. Seattle's offense vs. Minnesota's defense on third down.
Whether the Seahawks again have success running the ball or have to turn more to the passing game, they're going to face a few critical third downs on Monday night, and as always being able to convert on third down will be crucial. Doing so, however, will not be easy against a Minnesota defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert on only 29.9 percent of attempts.
"Coach (Mike) Zimmer does a terrific job throughout first, second down, and what they do on third down is really difficult," Schottenheimer said. "They're best in the league in third downs so it'll be quite a challenge."
The good news for the Seahawks is that they've upped their productivity on third downs during their current three-game winning streak, converting at a 42.1-percent rate.
"Third downs, once again, the offensive line is doing a great job for us," Wilson said. "I think that we're really meshing. Guys are really understanding our concepts of what we're trying to do and how we want to attack a defense (from) the film study. Coach Schottenheimer has done a tremendous job in breaking those down for us. Coach (Dave) Canales, all the coaches as well, really explaining what we're trying to do and trying to be focused on that. I think that goes down to the preparation. It's very simple in terms of how you prepare, and then third downs and red zone, those explosive plays, what that comes down to is making plays. That comes down to great players making phenomenal plays and having the grit to make those plays when the game is on the line and guys are hanging all over you and you've got to make the catch or whatever it may be. David Moore's 4th-and-3 in Carolina, game's on the line, just having no fear for it and just go and attack the football. Those things show up quite often. I think about Tyler Lockett running across the field on 3rd-and-9 or whatever it was, making a huge play. That's just attention to detail but also making great plays when the time is called."