Vikings

Vikings' Ball Security Will Be Crucial Against Aggressive Seahawks

Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA Today Sports)

The Seattle Seahawks’ defense isn’t quite as imposing as it was earlier in Pete Carroll’s tenure when Seattle held Peyton Manning to eight points in a Super Bowl win during a stretch of four straight years leading the NFL in scoring defense.

The 9-2 Seahawks have uncharacteristically allowed 29.2 points per game at home, their vaunted venue that traps noise and typically shuts down opponents’ offenses. Both their losses have come on home turf, and their three home wins have come by one point, one point and six points (in overtime), respectively.

Based on their recent takeaway totals, though — particularly in the way of forced fumbles — the Vikings will need to emphasize ball security if they want to sneak out of Seattle with a win.

The Seahawks are tied for the league lead in takeaways via fumble with 14 on the year. They have five games this season with three or more takeaways and eight total in the last two weeks. Five of those eight came via fumble recovery.

“They’ve done a great job creating turnovers, and they have really skilled players when you look at a Bobby Wagner and a K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins about the Seahawks linebackers. “These are guys that I’ve played against before and just had the utmost respect for. I’ve respected their scheme the way they play, the intensity in which they play. They’re smart players. And then their defensive line, although names have changed throughout the years, I feel that the production and their effectiveness has really been consistent year after year, so I have a lot of respect for them and the way they’ve played.’’

A year ago, Cousins fumbled late in the fourth quarter to give the Seahawks a game-sealing touchdown in their 21-7 win, one of five defensive touchdowns pinned on Cousins in 2018. This year, though, Cousins is taking care of ball better than at any point in his career, as the Vikings are one of 10 NFL teams to not allow a defensive touchdown against them. In the last five games, Couins has zero interceptions and one fumble. Monday night he’ll likely be required to play a mistake-free game against the team with the third-most takeaways in the NFL. Seattle has a +11 turnover differential in its nine victories this season.

“Especially in the games they win, they get a lot of turnovers,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “Fumbles, punch the ball out, get a lot of eyes on the ball, so they do a really good job in that. We’re going to have to possess the ball and take care of it.”

Eight of Seattle’s 14 fumble recoveries give taken from the opposing quarterback. Though a pair were unforced errors — Andy Dalton simply dropped the ball back in Week 1, and Carson Wentz botched a handoff in Week 12 — six came as a result of strip sacks. They handed the San Francisco 49ers their lone defeat with the help of a defensive touchdown when they scored on a fumble by Jimmy Garoppolo.

Two of Seattle’s fumble recoveries have come on special teams, once when they stripped Cincinnati punt returner Alex Erickson in Week 1, another time when New Orleans returner Deonte Harris muffed a punt. One was forced against Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert in the Seahawks’ most recent game.

The other three stemmed from punching the ball out of the grasp of running backs Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman and Nick Chubb. The strip of Chubb by Seahawks defensive lineman Ezekial Ansah was a direct punch at the football — an action that prioritized creating the turnover over making an immediate tackle.

That puts the onus on Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, who hasn’t fumbled in six games since coughing up the ball twice against the New York Giants.

“You got some people who just teach certain techniques about how to tackle the football,” Cook said. “You just gotta watch out for those guys. It’s just one of those teams. So you just got to be aware because that’s what they do, they tackle the football. So you gotta lock that thing up.”

The Seahawks led the league in turnover differential in 2018 as they earned a playoff spot despite supposedly depleted defensive talent. Now their defensive line is even stronger with acquisitions Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney, who have five combined forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

“He’s a get-up-the-field, cause-havoc kind of guy,” Zimmer said of Clowney, the former Texans first overall pick.

In the secondary, the Seahawks received a recent boost via a trade for Quandre Diggs, a defensive back with whom the Vikings are familiar from his four and a half years in Detroit.

Diggs has played two games, in which the Seahawks have intercepted three passes and held the 49ers and Eagles below 250 passing yards.

“He’s an impact player, and he’s given confidence to the guys around him,” Carroll said of Diggs on a conference call. “Good players help other guys play good, and he’s been part of that.”

The Vikings have given the ball away multiple times in four games this season, including two of their three losses. Do it in Seattle, and they could be staring at loss No. 4.

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Photo Credit: Joe Nicholson (USA Today Sports)

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