Three Reasons to Get Defensive About the Vikings
Listen to the "experts" and you'll wonder why the Vikings would even show up on Sunday as they host the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at 12:05 p.m. CT on NBC?
Most of the gentlemen who are well-compensated to drop their two cents on national TV or radio have locker room insight and have forgotten more about the X's and O's of football than I'll ever know.
However, they don't watch the Vikings like Minnesota fans do. Fans of the Purple and Gold will point to S Harrison Smith and LB Anthony Barr, two of their three best defensive players, exiting because of injuries after just 11 plays when Seattle thumped Minnesota 38-7 on Dec. 6.
Arguably the third-best defensive player, DT Linval Joseph, was also sidelined in that game with a toe injury he suffered the week prior in Atlanta.
Assuming all three play (Joseph was inactive last weekend against the Packers), the Vikings defense will be markedly tougher to score on and here's why each will have such a big impact on this game:
Anthony Barr: Barr is a 6'5" 255 lb OLB who has elite athleticism and has developed from a 3-4 edge rusher to 4-3 backer who is solid dropping back into coverage and, like last week against Rodgers, can spy mobile QB's like Russell Wilson. Last time these teams played, Wilson had a monster game including 9 carries 51 yards and 1 TD. A lot of his passing stats - which I'll get to in a minute - are a result of defenses having to respect his ability to make plays with his feet. Being able to spy Wilson effectively with one player allows the Vikings to dedicate more players to coverage or blitzes.
Harrison Smith: As mentioned above, Wilson had a huge game when these teams met in early December (21/27 271 yards 3 TD). Harrison Smith is one of the best, well-rounded, safeties in the game; he has top-tier ball skills in coverage and is great in the box against the run or blitzing from the edge. When Smith is playing, they can call more single-high S plays that will give Wilson more looks and cause hesitation and, hopefully, confusion.
Linval Joseph: Seattle has been throwing the ball much more since losing RB Marshawn Lynch earlier in the season with an abdominal injury and, surprisingly, their offense has been much more productive. That isn't to say the Seahawks haven't been running the ball. RB Thomas Rawls had 19 carries for 101 yards and 1 TD when these teams met last month. Rawls is now out for the season with a broken ankle. Christine Michael took over and had a few big games for the 'Hawks who have proven they can still pound the rock if they need to. Lynch is probably going to return this Sunday for his first game since November 15th. While I still expect Michael to get a healthy amount of carries, the Seahawks are going to need to get their running game on-track because their passing game will not be as effective as many think (for reasons I listed above). Linval Joseph is the most important player in terms of the Purple's rush defense. If he can play and play well, his ability to occupy blockers while still getting penetration against a below-average offensive line will be a key factor to slowing Seattle.
The Seahawks are two-time defending NFC Champions and deserve the respect everyone is giving them, but let's not crown them yet.
P.S. Yes, the Vikings need to move the ball and put up points to win the game, but that's for another blog post.