Monday Night Football at Seattle is historically a pleasure to watch, and tonight’s game should be no different. The visiting Vikings are #7 in the league in DVOA, while the Seahawks are #8. After Green Bay’s beatdown of the Giants on Sunday, the Vikings need a win to stay tied atop the NFC North. The same goes for the Seahawks, who can tie the 49ers in the standings and would hold the tiebreaker after beating San Francisco three weeks ago.
The biggest storyline for this game beyond the playoff implications is how a suddenly hot Kirk Cousins will handle prime time against MVP hopeful Russell Wilson. While Lamar Jackson likely has the MVP locked up, Wilson is third in the league in QBR at 74.1 and has a sparking TD-INT ratio of 24-3. To Cousins credit though, he has a 114.8 passer rating on the year with just three games below 111.5 and just one game below 91.5. He also won at Dallas in prime time two weeks ago.
Vikings Offense vs. Seahawks Defense
The Seattle defense is no longer what it once was, but they’ve shown improvement as the season has progressed, and grade out solidly average as the 16th best defense in the league. The Seahawks also play equally as average against both the pass and the run, ranking 14th in pass defense and 17th in run defense. The Vikings love to establish the run if they can, and that becomes even more important in a hostile road environment like Seattle. Expect a heavy dose of Dalvin Cook to set the tone for the Vikings.
When the Vikings pass the ball, they will once again be without Adam Thielen, who is arguably their best wide receiver. Stephon Diggs has stepped up recently in his place, but it will be much easier for the Seahawks to key in on Diggs without Thielen to make them pay. With Thielen out of the lineup, Cousins has been focusing much more on tight end Kyle Rudolph. While his targets haven’t eclipsed five in the past three games, he’s been able to haul in four touchdown passes in that time.
The Vikings have also worked in rookie tight end Irv Smith, Jr. into the mix more often the past few weeks. At 6-2, 242 pounds Irv Smith is a fast and talented receiving threat out of Alabama who has shown more consistency throughout the season. Over the past five games, he’s received six targets three times, and three targets in the other two games. He also scored his one touchdown of the year last week.
Overall as an offense, Minnesota ranks #6 in DVOA. While some of that includes Adam Thielen, the Vikings have scored 26, 28, and 27 points the past three weeks without him. If Cousins continues his strong stretch of play and gets his tight ends involved, along with Dalvin Cook doing what Dalvin Cook does, I’d expect the Vikings to have no problem putting points on the board Monday night.
Seahawks Offense vs. Vikings Defense
While the Seahawks have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, their offense is predicated on the run game. Seattle is fifth in the league in rushing attempts per game at 30.3 and is sixth in the league in yards per game at 136.9. The Seahawks have done the majority of their damage on the ground with Chris Carson, who has led the team in rushing every week but two this year.
Carson was temporarily benched in week 2 after fumbling in each of the first two games of the season. He fumbled two more times and lost his first ball in week 3, but continued to have the faith of the coaching staff. However, the past three weeks have seen Carson fumble once in each game, and he has lost all three of those fumbles. That led to Rashaad Penny taking over last week as he racked up 129 yards on the ground.
Head coach Pete Carroll has said that the two backs will continue to split work, but Penny may now be the lead man in Seattle. Both backs are 5-11, 220 pounds but Penny has been much more effective with 5.9 yards per carry, albeit on just 50 attempts. Carson is 9th in the league with 879 yards rushing, but has a much worse average of 4.2 yards per attempt.
Through the air, Russell Wilson has been utilizing rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf much more often lately. Metcalf is averaging 8 targets per game over his past five games and has started to show the big play ability he has to offer in his 6-4, 229-pound frame.
Tyler Lockett has typically been Wilson’s go-to receiver but he's seen his target share fluctuate wildly from week to week. In the past two games at Philadelphia and at San Francisco Lockett has a total of six targets. Three games ago though, he had a season-high 18 targets. Lockett’s usage is hard to predict, and entirely dependent on how the defense chooses to play him.
Minnesota is 16th in the league against the pass, so this may be a game that Wilson gets Lockett more involved. Wilson also now has Josh Gordon to spread the ball around to. Defending the run, Minnesota is much better ranking 4th in the league. So, it will be interesting to see how long Pete Carroll sticks with his running game if the Vikings are stuffing the Seahawks on early downs.
The Spread and Total
At some books, the current spread has not moved off the look-ahead line of Seahawks -3 for this contest. The lack of a move is in spite of the fact that the Seahawks have been the more heavily bet team, with 71% of the tickets and 63% of the money on Seattle. In fact, we’re seeing some reverse line movement as half the books have the Seahawks favored by 2.5 points while the others have heavy juice on the visiting Vikings at +3.
The total on the game has not budged an inch, opening at 49.5 and staying at 49.5 across the board. It feels like the under could be a stronger play than the over, as both teams want to establish the run. However, this is a game with two hot quarterbacks going against average at best pass defenses. So, it’s easy to see why no one has taken a stance on the total as of Monday morning.
By Kyle Johansen