Defensive sets and film observations: Week 11 vs. Seahawks
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Welcome to another installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-Seattle Seahawks.
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Seahawks.
For the second straight week and the third time in four games, the Minnesota Vikings defense allowed 24 first-half points. This time, to the Seattle Seahawks in a 41-20 loss on Sunday.
Four turnovers by the Vikings offense led to 20 points for the Seahawks, while a 58-yard kickoff return by former Vikings' receiver Percy Harvin helped set up another score just before halftime.
Without having to defend the read-option, the Vikings corralled running back Marshawn Lynch exceptionally well as Lynch was held for fewer than three yards on nine of his 17 carries. The Seahawks seemed to have no interest putting quarterback Russell Wilson in harm's way as he had just two rushing attempts, both the result of fleeing from rushers.
Lynch's three touchdowns were set up by either big pass plays or turnovers and he was held to his third-lowest rushing total of the season with 54 yards. However, the Vikings' 29th-ranked pass defense has now allowed a league-leading 23 touchdowns through the air.
Wilson's 12.8 yards-per-attempt topped quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford as the highest average against the Vikings defense all season. As a result, the Seahawks' 6.5 yards per play is a season high on the Vikings. Wilson had three incompletions on passes targeted downfield as defensive end Jared Allen accounted for a pass deflection and Wilson spiked to stop the clock on a scoring drive before halftime.
The Seahawks' big-play offense helped account for the Vikings' season-low 25:51 minutes on defense as the Vikings forced five punts on 11 drives.
Cornerback Josh Robinson fractured his sternum at some point in the first half, per coach Leslie Frazier. Robinson returned in the second half, but exited after reaggravating the injury. Frazier said Robinson could be placed on injured reserve with six weeks left in the season and a 4-6 week recovery.
After allowing 323 yards and 41 points on Sunday, the Vikings now allow 391.7 yards/game (30th) and a league-worst 32 points per game.
Base: 10/25 [40%]
Nickel: 14/25 [56%]
6-2: 1/25 [4%]
Base: 15/25 [60%]
Nickel: 10/25 [40%]
Total plays: 50
1) Two plays after the Vikings' opening turnover, the defense had their best shot at a takeaway when defensive tackle Fred Evans drove Seahawks center Max Unger into the backfield and poked the ball out of Lynch's hands. For fans, the Vikings were painstakingly close to grabbing that ball as defensive end Brian Robison dove to beat Lynch to his own fumble and knocked the ball away from him; but Lynch managed to get both hands on it before Evans and linebacker Chad Greenway knocked it loose again. Unger happened to be the lucky recipient in a flock of white and purple.
Other than that fumble and Allen's pass deflection, the Vikings didn't get their hands on the ball against the Wilson-led offense.
The Vikings held Seattle to just three yards on their first two drives of the game and forced three punts to open the second half before Christian Ponder's pair of interceptions put the game out of reach. Against a Seahawks offense that ranks fourth in the NFL in scoring, the Vikings stayed competitive through their physicality at the line of scrimmage, but failed to stop Wilson.
2) Even though the Vikings returned starting cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford to the secondary, Wilson's 151.4 passer rating is a career high. It's also at least the second time this season the Vikings have allowed such a feat to an opposing quarterback. Cam Newton's 143.4 rating in the Vikings' Oct. 13 loss was his career high to date.
The Vikings continually gave the Seahawks single-high safety looks as they loaded an eight-man front with Sanford near the action. Even though the Vikings contained Lynch, Wilson's efficiency allowed the Seahawks to continue to go to him. Wilson had to dropback just 21 times and felt pressure on eight of those plays. His rating dipped to a modest 149.3 in those situations. Nine of Wilson's 13 completions went for 10 or more yards as he completed gains of 26, 27, 34 and 44 yards on a relatively healthy, porous defense.
Even though Wilson rushed just twice for 14 yards, he created plays downfield his feet. Allen, Robison and defensive end Everson Griffen all registered quarterback hurries, but Wilson was sacked just once, by Griffen. Wilson evaded Robison and fired a dart to receiver Ricardo Lockette for a 27-yard gain to help set up Lynch's first touchdown run in the first quarter. Defenders on the backside of the play seemed to slow down as Wilson rolled right to extend the play and found Lockette, who came from the opposite side of the field. Griffen and Robison proved to be a disruptive twosome from the left side when Griffen would swap in at nose in passing situations.
3) Instead of breaking down a sequence, we'll select and look at one player's performance that stood out, whether for good or bad. Evans played 22 snaps and accounted for a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss and multiple disruptions in the running game. He jumped the gun on the first snap of the game for encroachment, but otherwise proved to be the most effective run stopper along the line.
(Above) Evans abused Seahawks center Max Unger throughout the day. Shortly after jumping a little too early and drawing an encroachment flag, Evans pressed Unger into the backfield on this play and two steps later would poke the ball out of Lynch's hands to force the first-quarter fumble. Notice, Evans is two yards deeper than the nearest teammate, which was a trend on Sunday. Lynch recovered the fumble for a five yard loss.
Evans, the big body in the backfield, actually misses this opportunity on 1st and goal to pin Lynch for a five-yard loss again. Evans splits the center-guard, or A-gap, again and forces Lynch to change course before he is ultimately tackled for a three-yard gain.
Two plays later on third and goal from the one-yard line, the Vikings deployed six defensive linemen and Evans is the one in the backfield. He appears to get tripped up and dives for Lynch, who easily shrugs him off and follows his lead blocker in for the one-yard touchdown. On just 22 of 50 possible snaps, Evans returned from a knee injury and continued to show he can be a disruptive force when healthy. The Vikings have now had competent play from their nose tackle for two straight games after defensive tackle Kevin Williams recorded 2.5 sacks in a win against the Washington Redskins.
4) After Seahawks punter Jon Ryan was called upon just four times in the last two games, the Vikings forced five punts on Sunday, including three to open the second half. Their efforts led to a manageable 24-13 deficit in the fourth quarter before the slew of Vikings' interceptions. The Seahawks converted 4-of-11 third downs [36%] and didn't get their first one until the second quarter on Percy Harvin's lone catch. Cook had position on Harvin, and Wilson was under pressure, but the pass floated over Cook as Harvin tipped it to himself for the 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-10.
5) The Seahawks scored four times on their first five possessions as the Vikings gave up touchdown drives of 46-, 78- and 79-yards in the first half. After holding the Seahawks to three yards on their first two drives, they ripped off 78 yards on four plays to take the 10-3 lead. A 44-yard pass to receiver Doug Baldwin set them in motion after his head fake had rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes slip up and fall a step behind in coverage. Lockette's 27-yard catch on the next play help set up Lynch's four-yard score. Wilson's ability to avoid pressure put immense pressure on a poor Vikings' coverage unit throughout the game. On their next drive, Wilson ran the play-action, had to avoid Allen and fired 34 yards downfield where tight end Zach Miller had a step on linebacker Chad Greenway. Three plays later, Lynch gave the Seahawks a 17-10 lead on a one-yard touchdown run.
Game Ball: Fred Evans. Seahawks rushers gained 15 net yards while Evans was at the nose tackle position. Evans also forced a fumble, but failed to finish on multiple plays as Lynch crossed the goal line twice while he was in. However, Evans was the most disruptive force on the Vikings defense against a Seahawks offense that scores 27.8 points per game.
Goat(s): Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes had a tough time with receiver Doug Baldwin, allowing a 44-yard reception and a 19-yard touchdown just before halftime. Wilson's accuracy, combined with Baldwin's timely jump, made it extremely difficult for Rhodes to make a play on the touchdown, but he was consistently a step behind in coverage on Sunday as part of a unit that struggled to keep up with receivers who ran all day with Wilson's elusiveness in the pocket.