Seahawks vs. Vikings: 7 Key Storylines for Preseason Week 2 Matchup
In the same summer where it seems the Seattle Seahawks are organizing a reunion of former Minnesota Vikings, it's only appropriate that the preseason home opener sees the current Vikings coming to give the Seahawks their first test at CenturyLink Field.
Starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, No. 1 wide receiver Sidney Rice and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell—arguably Seattle's three most important new additions of the offseason—were all with Minnesota for the better part of the past five years: Jackson and Bevell since 2006, Rice since 2007.
Jackson played only a handful of snaps in his Seahawks debut last week in San Diego, while Rice sat out with a minor shoulder injury. And even though Seattle won the game, the unveiling of Bevell's offense deserves an asterisk considering the team was missing some key personnel. So in essence, the Vikings game will be the first real showing for each of the ex-Vikings.
Those reunions and more are some of the key storylines to watch in Saturday's preseason matchup.
The Quarterback Competition That Isn't Supposed to Be a Competition
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Before you get wrapped up in the fact that backup QB Charlie Whitehurst threw for 115 yards (14-for-20) last week versus just 13 yards (3-for-5) for starter Tarvaris Jackson, please remember this: Whitehurst took a lot of snaps against San Diego's second-string defense.
It happens every year. Second- or third-string players, especially quarterbacks, get too much praise in the NFL preseason because people forget that it would be considerably tougher for those backups to put up numbers against a first-string defense.
It's also worth noting that Seattle's two best wide receivers, Sidney Rice and Mike Williams (toe), sat out the Chargers game, meaning Jackson was working with reserve receivers with whom he hadn't been throwing to as often in practice.
Head coach Pete Carroll said Jackson is going to play the entire first half against Minnesota, which will offer much clearer answers to those still questioning whether he is the right fit to lead the Seahawks. (And maybe you'll want to forgive Jackson if he throws an early interception or two. Remember that for the first five years of his career, his instinct was to throw in the direction of the guys wearing purple.)
Carroll also said his team isn't holding a quarterback competition, but another strong showing by Whitehurst—particularly at home where he could get the Seattle crowd behind him—only helps his case of turning it into a competition.
Sidney Rice's Seahawks Debut
Competing or not, Seattle's quarterbacks will each benefit from having the team's starting wideouts back on the field. For Mike Williams, this is the beginning of Year 2 of his comeback story. For Sidney Rice, it's the beginning of Year 1 of his opportunity to become one of the league's elite receivers.
Rice is the kind of deep threat the Seahawks haven't had since Joey Galloway. But unlike the 5'11" former track star who burned defenses with pure speed, Rice is a low-budget Randy Moss type with a basketball player's build who can turn bad throws into good throws with his size (6'4"), range and leaping ability.
In Seattle, Rice should draw each opponent's No. 1 cornerback and stretch the defense. In his debut, he'll likely be matched up with 5'9" Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield.
Seattle's Running Backs vs. Minnesota's Front Seven
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Before San Diego's scrub defense made fourth-string RB Thomas Clayton (62 yards, TD) look like Thurman Thomas, the Seahawks running game didn't show much of anything last week. Marshawn Lynch totaled eight yards on three carries, Justin Forsett didn't play and Leon Washington averaged 2.8 yards on eight carries.
Seattle should give the backs, who, you know, are actually going to be in the rotation, more of a look against the Vikings—who have the toughest front-seven unit Seattle will face before going to Pittsburgh in Week 2 of the regular season.
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is a six-time Pro Bowler, defensive end Jared Allen is a three-time Pro Bowler, outside linebacker Chad Greenway made 145 tackles last season (third in the NFL) and was designated as Minnesota's franchise player, while middle linebacker E.J. Henderson made 106 tackles on the way to his first Pro Bowl.
However long Vikings coach Leslie Frazier keeps his top defenders on the field, they will present a brick wall that Seattle's running backs will have to figure a way around or through.
The Return of Steve Hutchinson
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One of the greatest players in Seahawks history returns to face a squad that looks nothing like the one he helped push to the Super Bowl in 2006.
There was some controversy and hurt feelings after Hutch left Seattle five years ago and signed the richest contract ever given to an NFL guard, but I'm thinking (or hoping) 'Hawks fans do the classy thing and give the man the standing ovation he deserves.
After all, Hutchinson's departure was more a case of Minnesota being shrewd than Hutch being shady.
Seattle's New-Look Secondary
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In his limited time on the field last week, San Diego star QB Phillip Rivers burned the Seahawks secondary. Coming off a season in which they finished 27th in the NFL in passing yards allowed, it wasn't a good opener for the embattled (albeit revamped) unit.
Starting cornerback Kelly Jennings made the highlight reel when he was beat by Vincent Jackson for a 48-yard gain on the opening drive, no doubt increasing the volume of those calling for second-year CB Walter Thurmond and/or rookie CB Richard Sherman to get a chance to show what they can do opposite starter Marcus Trufant.
The Seahawks also signed strong safety Atari Bigby this week, who will make his debut against Minnesota.
Ankle, hamstring and shoulder injuries have sidelined Bigby for 26 of a possible 52 games over the past three seasons, but when he's healthy he's a big hitter and ball-hawk who creates turnovers. Bigby himself has said he wasn't brought in to be a starter, but if second-year SS Kam Chancellor has some of the same struggles in pass coverage this season that he had as a rookie, the veteran Bigby could become a bigger part of the picture.
Seattle's Linebackers vs. Adrian Peterson
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A couple months ago, when I listed the 15 opposing players Seattle fans should pay to see this season, Peterson made the cut even though I figured he'd only be on the field for a few snaps in this exhibition matchup.
But the chance to see arguably the best running back in the league do something electric in that limited time is worth the money.
Peterson will be lining up across from a Seahawks linebacking corps that isn't new, but is just getting started. Former OLB David Hawthorne is now the starter at MLB, replacing departed veteran Lofa Tatupu. Hawthorne's replacement, Leroy Hill, is making his way back after playing in just one game last season. The other starting outside 'backer, Aaron Curry, is in something of a make-or-break season where he has to prove he was worth a No. 4 overall draft pick. Not to mention rookie K.J. Wright, a valuable reserve, is learning to play middle linebacker in the pros after playing outside in college.
They'll all be tested trying to stop Peterson, who is just as liable to shake a linebacker out of his cleats as leave them in his tire tracks after a Truck Stick collision.
Tyler Polumbus vs. Jared Allen
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Tyler Polumbus will be under more pressure on Saturday than your average second-string offensive lineman should be in a meaningless game.
With regular starting left tackle Russell Okung (ankle) on the shelf, Polumbus will be the main man in charge of protecting the blind side of starting QB Tarvaris Jackson. And not just for a series or two, but for the entire first half.
If that wasn't a big enough responsibility, Polumbus will spend at least part of that time trying to keep Jared Allen—one of the five best pass-rushers in the league—away from his quarterback. Allen has racked up 83 sacks in his pro career, and is the last player who will take it easy just because it's the preseason.