Pregame: Harvin, Bevell just a few familiar faces in Vikings-Seahawks
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The Minnesota Vikings (2-7) opened as 14-point underdogs this week for Sunday's game at the Seattle Seahawks (9-1), the longest odds since 1987, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
With former Vikings' personnel in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and receiver Percy Harvin, the Seahawks look a little like Winter Park West.
But their home field advantage is no joke.
Seattle has currently won 12 straight games at CenturyLink Field and a 13th on Sunday would set a franchise record.
They'll go for the record for the first time with Harvin, who hasn't played since Nov. 4, 2012. Harvin has spent most of this season recovering from hip surgery this summer to repair a torn labrum. He was activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, practiced and is listed as probable.
Ten days after the Vikings had more injuries than inactive spots, they'll return four starters and some reserves on Sunday. Cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford will start again after missing multiple games this season. Right tackle Phil Loadholt and left guard Charlie Johnson will also start after missing the Nov. 7 win over the Washington Redskins.
The Vikings' offense will likely go as its line goes on Sunday. Their 14 rushing touchdowns are second-most in the NFL, while the Seahawks have given up just four scores on the ground all season.
Defensive tackle Fred Evans will also be available to provide depth at nose tackle as Vikings coaches are going to mull over starting Kevin Williams at nose again since starter Letroy Guion (chest) is out. Williams recorded 2.5 sacks from nose tackle in the Nov. 7 win.
The Vikings will need all the help they can get against a Seahawks offense that ranks sixth in the NFL in points per game (26.5) and averages 362 yards per game. The defense has just one turnover since the Sept. 29 win in London and will need to take advantage of one Seahawks' trend.
Seattle is currently third in the NFL with nine fumbles, but their six interceptions are tied for second fewest behind the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
Let's take a look at the five key matchups heading into Sunday:
For the purple
Carlson's return to Seattle - When the Vikings played Seattle last season, it was one of two games tight end John Carlson had to sit out as he recovered from his fourth documented concussion. Gifted with a healthy season so far, Carlson will get his first crack at his former team coming off a career performance. With premiere pass-catching tight end Kyle Rudolph out, Carlson stepped into his role and flourished. He grabbed seven receptions for 98 yards, the most he's had since 2008, and his first Vikings' touchdown against the Redskins. Carlson will likely remain a focal point of the offense after proving to be so reliable in the intermediate passing game.
Shotgun run - Four of the last seven Vikings' rushing touchdowns have come out of the shotgun formation. Running out of the shotgun has been a point of emphasis for the offense, Frazier said, but it's a matter of balancing strengths. Running back Adrian Peterson typically excels behind center. However, using the shotgun spreads out often-stacked defensive fronts. Frazier also noted that quarterback Christian Ponder sees the field better with a wider set, hence the Vikings' use of four- and five-receiver formations in the past few weeks. They'll likely keep it that way with Seattle's noisy crowd as they often run a silent count from the shotgun.
Pass rush - Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the second-ranked passer in the NFL with 395 rushing yards this season. The Vikings are fresh off a test against Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who ran for 44 yards on seven carries - including a 12-yard scamper on 4th-and-1 on the final drive. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson were part of a team-wide problem in successfully wrapping up the mobile quarterback and they face a similar test this week. Wilson averaged more than eight carries per game to start the season, but has seen that drop off significantly across the last four games. With the Vikings' consistent edge pressure, they'll need a push up the middle to keep Wilson in the pocket. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams may start at nose tackle again, which would help that cause as he brought down Griffin a season-high 2.5 times in the 34-27 win.
For the blue and teal
Beast Mode - Just a week after the Vikings helped Redskins rusher Alfred Morris become the league's third-ranked running back, they'll face one in second place, Marshawn Lynch. Lynch's 871 rushing yards trail only LeSean McCoy this season and he's just hitting his stride. Lynch has averaged six yards per carry and at least 125 yards in each of the last two games. The Vikings allowed 139 rushing yards to Morris in last week's win. If Lynch gets out to the same clip, it'll be tough for the Vikings offense to keep up as the Seahawks defense, ranked third in total yards allowed, is head and shoulders above the Redskins' unit. The Seahawks offensive line has missed a combined 18 games this season. Center Max Unger (concussion) should play, but tackles Breno Giacomini (knee) and Russell Okung (toe) are game-time decisions. However, they are listed as probable.
Percy Harvin - Listed as probable, Harvin will likely make his debut for the Seahawks against his former team on Sunday. On Friday, he spoke with the Seattle media for one of the first times this season and talked about his respect for the Vikings and their players. However, as Jared Allen said this week: "Percy is good enough, let alone when he's got fresh legs and is pissed at us." Reportedly unhappy with contract talks, the perception was Harvin's relationships with his coach, quarterback, et al appeared to be deterioriating before the March trade that sent him to Seattle before the draft.
Harvin not only has the luxury of a 9-1 team he has yet to play for, but the same offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell, who coached him for two years from 2009 to 2010 in Minnesota. However, stopping Harvin may prove to be as difficult as efforts were to keep him a Viking before they shipped him off for three draft picks. "Lot of reasons [it didn't work out]. Lot of reasons," Frazier said. "A lot of details in that story."
Out - TE Kyle Rudolph (foot), DT Letroy Guion (chest)
Doubtful - RB Matt Asiata (shoulder)
Questionable - TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), DT Fred Evans (knee)
Probable - QB Christian Ponder (shoulder), RT Phil Loadholt (concussion), LG Charlie Johnson (elbow/toe), RB Adrian Peterson (groin), WR Greg Jennings (Achilles), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), FB Jerome Felton (back), LB Erin Henderson (illness), CB Chris Cook (hip), S Jamarca Sanford (groin)
Out - CB Brandon Browner (groin)
Questionable - DT Tony McDaniel (hamstring)
Probable - WR Percy Harvin (hip), CB Jeremy Lane (thigh), LB Bruce Irvin (shoulder), T Breno Giacomini (knee), S Kam Chancellor (hip), DE Red Bryant (concussion), LB Heath Farwell (knee), DT Jordan Hill (biceps), RB Marshawn Lynch (knee), C Max Unger (concussion), FB Derrick Coleman (hamstring), CB Richard Sherman (hip)