Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups in Vikings Week 11 Contest with Seahawks

Matthew StensrudContributor IIINovember 16, 2013

Christian  Ponder has rushed for four touchdowns this season, while only throwing for five.
Christian Ponder has rushed for four touchdowns this season, while only throwing for five.Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings finally won a game in the United States last week, defeating Washington 34-27 on Thursday Night Football. The team has now won a whopping two games this year and heads into one of the most difficult environments in the NFL for Week 11.

If nothing else, the trip to Seattle will feel like a small player reunion, as former Vikings players seem enamored with the Emerald City. Four current Seahawks players used to don purple and gold jerseys: Heath Farwell, Percy Harvin, Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield also had a short stop over to the west coast after being cut by the Vikings in March. The Seahawks defense was too good to warrant a roster spot for Winfield. The Vikings defense is so bad that players started trying to coerce Winfield to return.

That hasn't happened, and the Vikings sit with a 2-7 record, which includes three defensive collapses in the final minute of games. Nothing seems to have gone right for Minnesota this season, while the Seahawks lead the NFC at 9-1.

There stands very little chance for the Vikings to come away with a road win this Sunday, but there's still a handful of matchups that should be interesting. Let's take a closer look at each below.


Darrell Bevell vs. Bill Musgrave

Darrell Bevell's offense has flourished with Russell Wilson at quarterback.
Darrell Bevell's offense has flourished with Russell Wilson at quarterback.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to former players joining Seattle, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell also used to stand on the sidelines for Minnesota. He helped orchestrate the Vikings offense in 2009 with quarterback Brett Favre, as the team eventually made it to the NFC Championship game.

But after head coach Brad Childress was fired in 2010 and interim coach Leslie Frazier retained the full-time gig, Bevell was out and Bill Musgrave was in as offensive coordinator.

Bevell didn't stay unemployed long and was brought in by Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll in 2011. After a rocky first season that ended with a 7-9 record, Seattle has gone 20-6 since quarterback Russell Wilson has been under center.

While Bevell has clearly shined at developing Wilson—something he excelled at in Green Bay as quarterback coach before being reunited with Favre in Minnesota—the same cannot be said for Musgrave and Christian Ponder.

This matchup will not be a clash of offensive masterminds. Instead, the Vikings will be reminded of the poor decision not to retain Bevell.

While coaching changes will likely not occur until the end of the season, this contest is another supporting reason for the exodus of Frazier and Musgrave.


Percy Harvin vs. Josh Robinson

Percy Harvin has been out this season following hip surgery on August 1.
Percy Harvin has been out this season following hip surgery on August 1.Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The much-anticipated reunion between Percy Harvin and the Vikings remains intact with the wide receiver returning from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list just in time for this Week 11 game.

Fans likely remember the blowup on the sidelines with Leslie Frazier just over one year ago in a similar meeting between the two clubs. Harvin was later shut down for the season with an ankle injury and then traded to the Seahawks.

Harvin is currently listed as probable and practiced in full both days Thursday and Friday. He should see a solid number of snaps against his former team, which has the 29th-ranked defense in passing yards allowed per game.

It's hard to choose one defender who Harvin will face most against Minnesota, as he will likely line up all over the field on Sunday. Expect a bubble screen early to get Harvin involved, as well as more traditional routes throughout the game.

Cornerback Josh Robinson has been the weakest link for the Vikings this year and should provide the Seahawks receiver the best opportunity for success. He ranks 101st out of 107 cornerbacks seeing 25 percent of defensive snaps, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Sadly, neither Chris Cook or Xavier Rhodes has fared much better, ranking 83rd and 74th under the same criteria, respectively. Marcus Sherels has surprisingly been closest to the median at 57th.

In the end, Harvin has his pick of targets to exploit in this matchup. Expect him to be smiling with Pete Carroll on the sidelines instead of feuding.


Christian Ponder vs. Richard Sherman

Richard Sherman has the history of making opposing quarterbacks' lives difficult.
Richard Sherman has the history of making opposing quarterbacks' lives difficult.Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In order for the Vikings to have any chance in this game, they will need to limit turnovers against a Seahawks defense that is tied for first in the NFL with 13 interceptions.

Christian Ponder looked better against Washington last week before dislocating his non-throwing shoulder, but he still threw another interception and has seven on the season in six games played.

Unlike Minnesota's defense, which doesn't have one cornerback in the top half of the league, Richard Sherman ranks fourth among all cornerbacks with at least 25 percent of defensive snaps, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Sherman is tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions this year, including one returned for a touchdown. His 124 intercepted return yards are also second in the league.

Ponder would be wise to direct his passes outside of Sherman's coverage area, which will affect Greg Jennings' productivity on the day. 

Tight end John Carlson should see an increase in targets as a result of the Vikings game plan, as should wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. 

If Ponder can be smart with the football and not force throws into coverage, the Vikings may be able to keep the game relatively close. But if previous games are any indication, that's going to be impossible against one of the best defenses in the NFL.


Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.