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NFL Preview - Seattle (3-6) at Minnesota (8-1)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A losing season is now out of the equation for the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, not that such a notion had ever really entered this talented team's scope.
Of course, Minnesota's 27-10 win over the hapless, one-win Detroit Lions last Sunday - a victory that moved the Vikes to 8-1 - didn't exactly look like the culmination of anything for Brad Childress' team. Far from it, in fact.
This Sunday, when the Seattle Seahawks invade the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Vikes will try to offer up a crisper display.
Despite dominating the first-half statistics, a trend that would continue throughout the second half, the Vikings found themselves in a 10-3 dogfight with Detroit at halftime.
A pair of lost fumbles for Adrian Peterson and a turnover on downs among the Vikings' first six drives were the culprit in devaluing the Vikings' 302-125 advantage in first-half yards.
Minnesota created some distance in the second half, ending much of the suspense when Peterson answered a fumble by the Lions' Kevin Smith with 28 yards on two rushes, including a 1-yard touchdown in the first minute of the third quarter, but it was still far from a perfect march to victory for the Vikings.
Minnesota incurred seven penalties for 46 yards over the final 30 minutes, shooting itself in the foot in a way that might get the Purple beaten by a more capable opponent.
All of that said, there was again plenty of positive to accentuate for the Vikings, who remained three games ahead of the Green Bay Packers, and put another game of distance between themselves and the Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Brett Favre continued his renaissance as the team came off its bye, completing 20-of-29 passes for 344 yards, a touchdown, no turnovers, and just one sack absorbed.
Favre's developing chemistry with wideout Sidney Rice reached a cauldron-like level, as the 6-foot-5 Rice hauled in seven balls for 201 yards to continue a recent electrifying stretch of football.
Also, despite fumbling problems that have generally come with the territory for Peterson, the All-Pro back still churned up 133 yards and two touchdowns on just 18 carries for the day. In so, doing Peterson became the fourth- fastest player to 4,000 yards in NFL history.
Meanwhile, things didn't go nearly as well for the Seahawks, who played hard in Arizona but dropped a disconcerting 31-20 decision to the first-place Cardinals.
Seattle jumped on the Cardinals early, taking leads of 14-0 and 17-7, but the defense didn't answer the bell in the second half of what would become a double-digit loss. Kurt Warner led second-half touchdown drives of 82, 80, and 85 yards, with Beanie Wells scoring on runs of 10 and 13 yards in a Cardinals victory that moved the Seahawks three games back of Arizona in the NFC West.
Also in the game, starting running back Julius Jones was lost for an indefinite period with a bruised lung.
Second-year-pro Justin Forsett, who subbed for Jones last week and is expected to start on Sunday, made the most of his opportunity last week with 17 carries for a career-high 123 yards and a touchdown.
Seattle holds a 6-4 lead in its all-time series with the Vikings, but was a 31-13 home loser when the teams last met, during the 2006 season. The Seahawks won the previous meeting, a 27-23 triumph at the Metrodome in 2004. Minnesota last defeated Seattle at home in 2003.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress is 1-0 against the Seahawks as a head coach. Seattle's Jim Mora was 1-0 against Minnesota while at the helm of the Falcons (2004-06), and will be meeting Childress for the first time head-to-head.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
The Seahawks have certainly not been afraid to put the ball in the air over the past two weeks, as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (1622 passing yards, 11 TD, 6 INT) threw it 51 and 52 times, respectively, against the Lions and Cardinals. Eight different players accounted for 26 catches in last Sunday's loss to the Vikings, with T.J. Houshmandzadeh (50 receptions, 3 TD) coming through most frequently to the tune of nine catches for 165 yards. Deion Branch (22 receptions, 1 TD) also accounted for 50 yards on four catches, but Nate Burleson (45 receptions, 3 TD) surrendered his team lead in both receptions and yards on a day in which he did not manage a grab. Burleson, a 2003 Vikings third-round draft choice, will return to Minnesota on Sunday for the first time since signing with Seattle following a much-publicized "poison pill" maneuver prior to the 2006 season. Tight end John Carlson (34 receptions, 3 TD) also figures to be involved offensively on Sunday, and will be among those seeking to provide lanes for the promising Forsett (246 rushing yards, 1 TD, 21 receptions). Carlson has been part of an offensive line that has surrendered 23 sacks on the year, including four last week.
The ability to establish Forsett this week will be critical for the Seahawks, because 50-plus drop-back attempts will be very dangerous against a Vikings team that leads the NFL in sacks (34) as Week 11 begins. Ends Jared Allen (35 tackles, 10.5 sacks) and Ray Edwards (31 tackles, 5.5 sacks), along with tackle Kevin Williams (23 tackles, 6 sacks), have all been a major part of the pass- rushing effort this season, with Edwards' two sacks standing out last week against Detroit. That attacking nature has helped keep the pressure off a battered secondary that could be without cornerback Antoine Winfield (foot) for a fourth straight game on Sunday. Cornerbacks Cedric Griffin (57 tackles, 2 INT), Benny Sapp (24 tackles), and Asher Allen (10 tackles, 1 sack) will have primary responsibility for slowing the Seahawks bevy of receivers, with shaky safeties Tyrell Johnson (40 tackles, 1 sack) and Madieu Williams (40 tackles) trying to lend support over the top. Griffin had a team-high nine tackles and a forced fumble against the Lions. As tough as the Vikings have been against the pass, Minnesota has also allowed an NFL-low-tying two rushing touchdowns on the year, along with the Steelers. Pat Williams (29 tackles, 1 sack) and Kevin Williams have proven typically difficult to move in the trenches, and inside linebackers E.J. Henderson (64 tackles, 1 sack) and Chad Greenway (57 tackles, 1 INT) have worked well behind them. Henderson and Greenway combined for 13 tackles last week.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
The ageless Favre (2269 passing yards, 17 TD, 3 INT) continues to amaze, leading the NFL in passer rating (107.5) as Week 11 begins and coming off a season-high 344-yard effort against the Lions. What's more, Favre has put aside his error-prone reputation in his first year as a Viking, throwing the fewest interceptions in the league (3) this season. Rice (44 receptions, 2 TD), the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week, has been Favre's go-to guy, with wideouts Bernard Berrian (30 receptions, 3 TD), Percy Harvin (31 receptions, 3 TD), and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (25 receptions, 6 TD) also contributing consistently. The passing game's proficiency has been a by-product, in part, of opposing defenses' worries about Peterson (917 rushing yards, 11 TD, 21 receptions), who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and last week posted his third 130-plus-yard effort of the year. Also expected to play a role this week is Chester Taylor (139 rushing yards, 1 TD, 25 receptions), who in his most recent outing against the Seahawks (Oct. 22, 2006) rushed 26 times for a career-high 169 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota's 31-13 road victory. At the heart of the Vikings offense has been a line, led by ex-Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson, that has allowed a modest 19 sacks and helped generate 4.2 yards per carry for the backs.
The Seahawks' defensive problems were underlined in last week's loss to the Cardinals, as a Seattle unit that is 22nd in the league against the pass (233 yards per game) and 11th versus the run (105 yards per game) had consistent trouble getting Arizona off the field in key situations. A secondary that surrendered 340 yards through the air to Kurt Warner will need a better effort this week against Favre and the Vikings, with cornerbacks Josh Wilson (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Marcus Trufant (14 tackles, 1 INT), along with safeties Deon Grant (31 tackles, 1 INT) and Lawyer Milloy (10 tackles), all figuring to be busy. A pass rush that has generated a disappointing 20 sacks on the year will look to get pressure on Favre after not coming up with a sack of Warner last week. Ends Patrick Kerney (17 tackles, 4 sacks) and Lawrence Jackson (18 tackles, 4 sacks) will be among those looking to get involved. The group vying to stop, or at least slow, Peterson will include middle linebacker David Hawthorne (56 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 INT), who has proven to be a sure tackler since entering the lineup in place of the injured Lofa Tatupu and had 11 stops last week. Up front, the club will rely on tackles Colin Cole (26 tackles) and Brandon Mebane (22 tackles, 1 sack) to help provide a presence at the point of attack.
Forsett may have set a record for fantasy league waiver-claims, as the formerly obscure running back looked like the real deal against a solid Cardinals run defense last week and may be the team's starter over the final seven games. His emergence might change the team's run-pass balance a bit, but could also leave the Seattle offense on the field for longer stretches, which will be good for Hasselbeck and his receivers. But for this week, you might want to take a wait- and-see approach to all of the Seahawks' offensive principles, given the unique challenge Minnesota's run defense presents. The best bets here could be Houshmandzadeh, who has made a major contribution in four of his last six games, and Carlson, who has had a disappointing year but is facing a team that does not defend the tight end well.
At some point one of Minnesota's top offensive people will let you down, but you must keep rolling with Favre, Peterson, Rice, and even Harvin until they give you a major reason not to. Shiancoe, who has scored in four of his last six games, is a risk-reward option as well. The player to bench here could be Berrian, who has not been himself since suffering a hamstring injury earlier in the year and is a secondary option for Favre down the field. Minnesota kicker Ryan Longwell is a strong play, and the Vikings defense a decent one.
The battered Seahawks gave it everything they had last week, battling into the fourth quarter against a superior Cardinals team in an effort to save their season. That they fell well short of a win is simply confirmation that this is not a great team, and is unlikely to challenge many playoff-bound opponents for the rest of this season. The Vikings are certainly playoff-bound, will have an interest in playing better football than they did in a listless performance against the Lions last week, and will take advantage of a Seahawks club that is bound to be somewhat flat in its second straight difficult road game. Look for Minnesota to begin flexing its muscles early in the second half, and to pull away.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 35, Seahawks 17
11/19 14:58:50 ET