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Updated: November 3rd, 2012 5:06pm
Preview: Vikings offense must find way to produce early on the road

Preview: Vikings offense must find way to produce early on the road

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (5-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4).
When: 3:05 p.m. Sunday.
Where: CenturyLink Field (capacity: 67,000), Seattle.
TV: Fox (Ch. 9).
Line: Seahawks by 4½.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd year, 11-19); Seahawks -- Pete Carroll (3rd year, 18-22; 7th year overall, 53-56).
Series: The Seahawks lead 6-5, including 4-2 in Seattle.
Last meeting: Brett Favre threw four touchdown passes as the Vikings built a 28-0 lead en route to a 39-5 victory on Nov. 22, 2009, at the Metrodome.
At stake: After racing to a 5-2 start, the Vikings' first half ended with a 36-17 stomping at the hands of Tampa Bay on Oct. 25. They're now tied with Green Bay for second place in the NFC North, 1½ games behind Chicago (6-1), and play their next four games within the division. Meanwhile, Seattle is trying to stay within striking distance of San Francisco (6-2) in the NFC West and preserve its perfect record at home.

Injury report

Vikings: TE John Carlson (concussion) is out. S Mistral Raymond (ankle) is questionable. CB Antoine Winfield (knee), WR Percy Harvin (hamstring), HB Adrian Peterson (ankle), NT Fred Evans (knee), NT Letroy Guion (ribs), LB Erin Henderson (elbow), P Chris Kluwe (left knee) and QB Christian Ponder (knee) are probable.

Seahawks: WR Braylon Edwards (knee) and DT Jason Jones (ankle) are out. G James Carpenter (illness), CB Byron Maxwell (hamstring) and DE Greg Scruggs (oblique) are questionable. WR Doug Baldwin (ankle), DT Alan Branch (not injury related), RB Marshawn Lynch (back) and G John Moffitt (knee) are probable.

Five things to watch

Road woes: For as badly as the Vikings struggled to throw the football the past two weeks at the Metrodome, the offense hasn't done much better as a whole on the road. Over the first three quarters of games at Indianapolis, Detroit and Washington, the offense netted 532 yards and 24 points total. Nearly half of their yardage in those games (481) came in the fourth quarter, with four touchdowns scored in catch-up mode against soft coverage in the losses to the Colts and Redskins. They beat the Lions on the strength of two special-teams touchdowns. Now they head into one of the NFL's toughest stadiums to face a talented Seahawks defense that ranks fifth in total defense (312 yards per game) and third in points allowed (16.8). Getting something going early will be crucial, because the Vikings just aren't a team built to come from behind.

Third degree: If the Seahawks defense has a weakness, it's the inability to get off the field on third down, particularly in long-yardage situations. According to the Seattle Times, the Seahawks have allowed an incredible 43.2% conversion rate (16-of-37) on third-and-10 or longer -- more than double the league average of 21.5%. Last week alone, Seattle allowed Detroit to convert 12 of 16 third downs, dropping them to 27th in the NFL (47-of-107, 43.9%). A mediocre pass rush and mistimed blitzes are two factors. The Vikings offense ranks 23rd in third-down efficiency (36-of-102, 35.3%) and has had 12 three-and-out drives ending in punts over the past two games. If there's a week to break out of the slump, this may be it.

Big hole: Starting CB Chris Cook broke his right arm against the Buccaneers, landing him on injured reserve with designation to return. How will the Vikings replace him? Frazier went out of his way to avoid answering that question during the week. But rookie CB Josh Robinson and CB A.J. Jefferson both figure to play significant roles, with Robinson likely starting opposite veteran CB Antoine Winfield and Jefferson playing outside when Winfield moves to the slot in the nickel package. If the Vikings play any dime, they could use CB Marcus Sherels or perhaps Raymond, who played some cornerback at South Florida and may begin working his way back into action this week. The Seahawks' receivers are one of their weaknesses. But WR Sidney Rice is healthy again and a fully dimensional threat who figures to be motivated against his former team.

Stay disciplined: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III's 76-yard touchdown run opened the floodgates against a Vikings run defense that ranked sixth in the NFL through five weeks. They've now allowed three consecutive 100-yard rushers -- Griffin (13 carries for 138 yards, 10.6 average), Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling (20-104-5.2) and Tampa's Doug Martin (29-135-4.7) -- over three games in which opponents totaled 468 yards on the ground, thanks in many cases to abandoned gaps and missed tackles. Coaches took players through their basic run fits early in the week as preparations began for Lynch, who ranks second behind Peterson in rushing yards (757 on 159 carries, 4.8 average) and has forced the same number of missed tackles (28), according to ProFootballFocus.com. If Lynch gets going, so would the Seahawks' play-action game with rookie QB Russell Wilson and it'd be downhill from there.

Confidence is king: Vikings players and coaches downplayed the effects of the loss to Tampa, especially with three extra days off following the Thursday night game. Sometimes, even good teams just lay an egg. But the Vikings can't afford a two-game skid with the stretch they have ahead -- home against Detroit on Nov. 11, then at Chicago, at Green Bay and home against Chicago again after the Week 11 bye. This team is constructed to run the football, throw off play-action and stand tall on defense. It's hard to imagine the Vikings keeping up with the likes of the Packers and Bears if they can't regain the balance they had early in the season, though, and Ponder must snap out of his recent funk for that to happen. It's not all on the quarterback -- the protection unit had a poor night against Tampa and besides Harvin, there are no threats at receiver. But Ponder must set the tone and take advantage when there are plays to be made.

Crystal ball

Tom Pelissero: The Seahawks' four losses have come by a combined 21 points. Just three weeks ago, they edged New England 24-23 at CenturyLink Field before dropping close games at San Francisco (13-6) and Detroit (28-24). This one figures to be close, too, but it's tough to bet against Seattle in that building, especially with the Vikings' offense trying to work through issues. Seahawks 23, Vikings 20.

Judd Zulgad: The Vikings' 38-26 at Washington in Week 6 was followed by a quiet confidence around Winter Park from a team that quickly identified its problems and put them behind. There has been a different feeling this week. This time, coaches and players almost seem to be trying to convince themselves that issues with the passing game and tackling can be quickly buried. That isn't a good sign. The Seahawks are 4-4 this season but 3-0 at home. Ponder is lacking confidence and the Seahawks' defense and big secondary is going to do everything to keep it that way. Meanwhile, Lynch wouldn't be an easy guy to tackle even if the Vikings weren't already struggling in that area. This could be a long day for the Vikings. Seattle 27, Vikings 17.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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