Vikings, Seahawks High Performers On Special Teams

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 9:57 am

There are a lot of interesting subplots to this week’s Vikings-Seahawks matchup – the NFL’s two leading rushers (Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch) go toe-to-toe, a pair of up-and-coming QBs (Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson) look to keep progressing, two of the NFL’s best pass-rushers (Jared Allen and Chris Clemons) go against two of the NFL’s best LTs (Matt Kalil and Russell Okung), etc.

We detailed those three as well as five additional storylines on Wednesday morning.

But one subplot we didn’t mention that is certainly noteworthy is the matchup between the Vikings and Seahawks special teams groups. All NFL clubs take special teams seriously, but some groups are consistently among the NFL’s best. In recent seasons, the Vikings and Seahawks could be included in this group.

There’s no question Mike Priefer has made a difference in the Vikings special teams performnace since he joined Leslie Frazier’s staff prior to the 2011 season. Percy Harvin has continued to be arguably the NFL’s top kickoff returner and K Blair Walsh has made a quick and profound impact in his rookie season. Seattle Special Teams Coordinator Brian Schneider is now in his 3rd season on Pete Carroll’s staff, and under his guidence the Seahawks have led the NFL in blocked kicks the past two seasons.

Mike Priefer

Both coordinator’s have found success once again in 2012, and it’s making a difference for their teams. The special teams group that can outperform the other in Sunday’s game will contribute significantly to the outcome of the game. It will be a fun subplot to watch.

Here are a few facts about how the Vikings and Seahawks special teams have fared so far in 2012…

– The Vikings are one of just three teams to register both a kickoff return TD (Percy Harvin) and a punt return TD (Marcus Sherels) this season.

– The Vikings rank #2 (25.3) and the Seahawks rank #9 (23.6) in average starting position after a kickoff.

– Harvin ranks #2 (35.7) in the NFL and Seattle returner Leon Washington ranks #5 (29.8) in the NFL in kickoff return average.

– Walsh is tied for 1st in the NFL with 31 touchbacks.

– Seattle ranks #1 in the NFL in opponents average starting position after kickoff (19.4).

– Seattle ranks #4 in opponents kickoff return average (20.6).

– The Vikings rank #7 in opponents punt return average (6.2).

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8 Vikings-Seahawks Storylines To Follow

Posted by Mike Wobschall on October 31, 2012 – 6:39 am

Wednesday is finally here, which means the NFL calendar flips from last week to this week. For the Vikings, who are coming off a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home last Thursday night, that’s a good thing.

This weekend the 5-3 Vikings travel to Seattle for a contest against the 4-4 Seahawks. Both teams are hungry for a win after losses in Week 9. Here are a few storylines we’ll be chasing this week…

1. Can Vikings Contain “Lynchpin” of Seahawks Offense?
Ordinarily the Vikings are a great run-stopping defense. Over the last three games, though, poor gap integrity and shoddy tackling have plagued the Vikings. The Vikings will have serious problems on Sunday if they don’t fix those issues because Marshawn Lynch will have no mercy. Lynch is the NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher behind Adrian Peterson and he’s not an easy guy to tackle. At 5-11, 215 pounds, Lynch has a combination of speed and power that causes defenses fits.

2. All Eyes on Ponder
Fair or not, the blame for the Vikings recent woes in the passing game has generally fallen on the shoulders of QB Christian Ponder. After opening the season with 0 INTs through four games, the 2nd-year passer now has 7 INTs in his last four outings and he’s completed just 51.9% of his passes for 309 yards in his last two games. We know Ponder can get the job done by playing well and moving the ball through the air, and now all eyes will be on Ponder to see if he can get things turned around after a few extra days off following the Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay.

3. Familiar Foes
Both the Vikings and Seahawks have players on their team who were significant figures with the other franchise. A trio of former Vikings – Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell, LB Heath Farwell and WR Sidney Rice – will face their former team in the regular season for the first time since leaving the team after the 2010 season. The three helped the Vikings reach the NFC Championship Game after the 2009 season and both Farwell and Rice were named to the Pro Bowl that season.

On the flip side, TE John Carlson left Seattle to come home and join the Vikings via free agency in 2012. In Seattle, Carlson caught 106 passes and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and in 2010 he helped the 7-9 Seahawks upset the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs with a pair of touchdown catches.

4. Defending Russell Wilson
Speaking of familiar faces, the Vikings will see one under center for Seattle. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has been a pleasant surprise in the NFL. The 3rd-round pick in last April’s draft beat out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job coming out of training camp and he’s played well in the first half of the season. Vikings coaches are familiar with Wilson because he was the starting QB for Frazier’s North squad down in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. In order to win the game, the Vikings will now need their defensive linemen to become familiar with Wilson by pressuring him constantly and bringing him to the ground.

5. Overcoming the Loss of CB Chris Cook
The Vikings improvement in pass defense was a big reason they jumped out to an impressive 5-3 start in the first half of the season. The presence of Chris Cook, who missed 12 games last year, was a big reason for that improvement. But now, with Cook expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a broken arm, the Vikings will rely on their depth to overcome his loss. Expect Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson to get most of the looks, and expect them to play well in Cook’s stead.

6. Strength vs. Strength: Battle For Field Position
CenturyLink Field in Seattle is known as one of the toughest places to play for visitors. A big part of overcoming the disadvantage this week for the Vikings will be to win the field position battle. Both the Vikings and Seahawks do things to help them win the field position battle. Percy Harvin (35.7) and Seattle’s Leon Washington (29.8) rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in kickoff return average. Also, the Vikings rank 2nd in average starting field position after kickoff (25.3-yardline) and K Blair Walsh is tied for 1st in touchbacks with 31.

7. What a Rush!
A sneaky-good subplot to this Vikings-Seahawks matchup is a pair of battles that will happen between very good LTs and very good DEs. Vikings DE Jared Allen has a sack in six straight games, and on Sunday he’ll go against Seattle LT Russell Okung. The Seahawks took Okung 6th overall in 2010 and he’s rounding into a great player on their offensive line. Another outstanding performer for Seattle has been DE Chris Clemons. The 6-3, 254-pound pass-rushing ace has 7.0 sacks this season and had 11.0 sacks in each of the last two years entering 2012. He’ll go against 4th overall pick Matt Kalil, who has made a rookie mistake here and there but has generally played extremely well for the Vikings.

8. Second Half of the Season Begins
The Vikings were a surprise team in the NFL through the first half of the season, winning five of eight games and upsetting a pair of playoff teams from a season ago – Detroit and San Francisco. The second half of the season begins for the Vikings, and the attitude inside Winter Park should be that there’s no reason they can’t be a surprise team in the second half of the season, too. Sure, four of the Vikings final six games are against division opponents and are on the road, but the Vikings have proven they can play with anybody when they play well.

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