The Seattle Seahawks are faced with another big game that could have a major impact on their momentum going into the second half of the season.
At 4-4, the Seahawks are still in a good position to make the playoffs but there is little room for error and certain games will be crucial.
The Minnesota Vikings are a formidable opponent, and while Seattle tends to do better at home, it cannot underestimate this NFC foe.
Here are 10 keys to the game for Seattle.
Can the fifth-ranked Seattle rush defense contain the leading rusher in the NFL? We shall see.
Peterson is averaging almost 97 yards per game, and an impressive 5.1 yards per carry. He is also a threat to catch balls out of the backfield, as he has 23 receptions this season.
Seattle will be the highest-ranked rush defense that Peterson has faced this year, but he did drop 123 yards on a sixth-ranked Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense last week.
The ‘Hawks really need Jason Jones to be healthy, but there are no guarantees that he will be at full strength, even if he is on the field.
Speaking of the running game, the Seahawks have to establish their own running attack. This will be an interesting battle, as Seattle’s eighth-ranked running game will go up against Minnesota’s seventh-ranked run defense.
Seattle is pounding out 131.9 yards per game on the ground, while the Vikings are giving 133.3 yards per contest.
Getting Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin going will be important if Seattle is going to avoid putting too much pressure on Russell Wilson to make late-game throws.
Conventional wisdom suggests that when a player like Beast Mode goes over 100 yards, the ‘Hawks have a good chance of winning.
However, in games where Lynch has gone over 100 yards, the Seahawks are 1-3. An odd stat, but it does not change the importance of establishing a ground game.
Obviously you want to come out strong and lead the game after the first quarter. Has that been an indicator of success for the Seahawks this season?
Not exactly. If the ‘Hawks are going to beat Minnesota, they need to jump out to a lead early.
After the first quarter this season, Seattle has been ahead in four games, tied in three, and behind in one. On paper, that seems like a positive statistic. And yet, the team is 4-4.
In the second quarter, Seattle has outscored its opponent three times, tied once and scored fewer points four times.
The third quarter? Two times outscoring their opponent, three ties and three times being outscored.
This brings us to the fourth quarter, where the Seahawks have scored more points four times, tied once and scored fewer points than their opponents three times.
What does this mean? Obviously amounts of points, momentum and specific plays from each game play a role, but this tells me that the Seahawks do not come out strong enough in the first quarter and build on that momentum in the second.
Not enough leads and not enough breathing room throughout the game.
Here is a quiz question for you.
Does anyone know how many opening drive touchdowns the Seahawks have this season?
Anyone? That’s right…one.
Seattle has put the ball in the end zone exactly one time on its opening drive this season. That is not going to get it done in the NFL since momentum is such a crucial part of the game.
This plays very much into the previous point, which is the fact that the Seahawks have not come out of the gate and put any distance between themselves and their opponent.
Field goals are nice and Seattle has been very good at putting three points on the board on its first offensive series of the game.
The Seahawks need to start with seven if they are going to beat tough teams like the Vikings.
In the four wins this season, Seattle has three turnovers, though two of them were against the New England Patriots.
In the four losses, the Seahawks have five turnovers. They committed at least one turnover in each of those games.
A team does not have to play perfect ball in order to win but turnovers at the wrong time can be brutal.
Again, we are back to the question of Russell Wilson and whether he really is a franchise quarterback in the making. Wilson does not have to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Still, the pick against the Lions was a momentum shifter.
The key to beating the Vikings is avoiding picks. The Minnesota defense has given up its share of yards this season (27th in the NFL), but Russell has to throw the ball away if he cannot make the play.
With a depleted receiving corp, Wilson will have fewer options.
Where does Seattle rank in converting third downs on offense? Twenty-fifth. They are converting 32.7 percent of their third downs, compared to the top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers, who get a first down 51.9 percent of the time.
What does that mean? It means that too many drives are ending with a punt, which has contributed to their 27th-ranked 17.5 points per game.
With Seattle’s defense, they do not have to be an offensive juggernaut in order to win against the Vikings. Still, converting key third downs is very important.
Granted, it is not just about a particular number of third downs. It is about the timeliness of those third downs. San Francisco is 6-2, and they are 20th in the NFL in third down conversion.
The difference? Teams like the Niners convert third downs when they are needed most. A few first downs are the difference between sustained drives and eventual wins.
The Detroit Lions made the Seattle defense look bad when it came to stopping third downs. Detroit converted 12 of 16 third downs, which raises questions about the reputation this defense has built in 2012.
That was the highest conversion rate of a Seattle opponent since 2004.
I would not say that Seattle has to hit the panic button, but it does show that the Seahawks are vulnerable to teams with a high-powered passing attack.
Granted, any defense is going to be vulnerable to an upper-echelon QB, but Seattle will need to make some adjustments. Otherwise, teams are going to be planning on a lot of short-yardage slants against the Seahawks in the future.
With apologies to Star Wars, Pete Carroll finds the lack of stops on third down “disturbing.”
This is when a good defense should really pride themselves on coverage and intensity. They must be better at stifling drives against the Vikings.
Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio...errr…Bruce Irvin? Chris Clemons?
How do you restrict third down conversions? Pressure the quarterback into rushed or bad throws.
Seattle racked up eight sacks in that epic Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers.
How many sacks do they have in the last five games since that night? Seven, and Seattle did not get to Matthew Stafford in its loss to the Lions.
The Seahawks are still tied for seventh in the NFL in team sacks, but they are not putting pressure on the quarterback like they were earlier in the season. To take pressure off the secondary, the Clemons and Irvin Show must make Christian Ponder very uncomfortable.
Despite the success of the defense and the running game, the passing game remains a challenge. Again, Russell Wilson does not need to win the game single-handedly.
However, consistent production in all four quarters would be helpful.
As noted, Wilson has not been effective in the third quarter, even if he does work hard to prepare.
The frantic comebacks in the fourth quarter are exciting and all, but it would be nice to have a sustainable lead in the last frame rather than be in the position of playing from behind.
Seattle has averaged 3.4 points per game in the third quarter and have failed to score during the third quarter in four of their eight games.
Better adjustments must be made at halftime if the Seahawks are going to beat the Vikings, and Wilson must lead the way after the break.
You could probably put this as the first key to the game but we’ll treat it like that featured co-star that gets the honor of having their name at the end of the opening credits.
Bring the noise.
When it comes to fan involvement, the formula for beating the Vikings is the same every home game. Do not allow Christian Ponder to communicate with his offense. Do not allow anyone on the Vikings to hear the snap count.
Create false starts. Drown out a Boeing 747.
Credit the fans for making this a true home-field advantage for the Seahawks. If the CenturyLink Field crowd ruckus can disrupt the Viking offense, it will help Seattle remain undefeated at home this season.