Last week, we had a fleeting chance to nail the score exactly (predicted 24-22, outcome was 30-28). This time, we're taking the Seahawks by a 24-13 count. Not that we really know how the game will go, but the Seahawks have more offensive weapons than the Vikings, even with Shaun Alexander watching from the sideline. For more on this matchup, check out Dave Boling's column and Darrin Beene's feature. See also: Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.
NOTE: Our preview story and game box are below.
Vikes-Hawks: No love lost
Hutchinson, Burleson signings give today's game air of tension
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MIKE SANDO; The News Tribune
Published: October 22nd, 2006 01:00 AM
The Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings are still learning about themselves five games into the NFL season.
They have already taught one another valuable lessons in free agency.
When the teams face off today at Qwest Field, the game might not carry the intensity these franchises brought to a contentious offseason.
"The relationship with the two franchises, I'm not sure I'm prepared to answer that," Vikings coach Brad Childress said during the week.
Seattle, having relocated to the NFC in 2002, has developed a healthy on-field rivalry with the St. Louis Rams. The off-field rivalry with the Vikings dates only to March, but the intensity of feeling would make rival NFL owners Al Davis and Pat Bowlen proud.
It all began when the Vikings signed Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson to an offer sheet that would have forced the Seahawks to guarantee all $49 million had they chosen to match.
Seattle retaliated by slipping similar clauses into an offer to Nate Burleson, the Vikings' best young receiver.
Both teams are finding out that signing another team's free agent can hurt the other team more than it helps one's own team, particularly in the short term.
Losing Hutchinson has deprived the Seahawks' line of the continuity it built over a five-year period, but signing him has not yet given the Vikings what Seattle enjoyed last season.
Both teams have struggled more than expected on the line, but even without Hutchinson, Seattle has converted all seven rushing attempts on third-and-1 or third-and-2, when a drive-blocking guard would seem to be most valuable. The Vikings, having added Hutchinson and right guard Artis Hicks (by trade), have converted one of four such chances.
The teams rank 15th (Seattle) and 17th (Minnesota) in rushing yards per game.
Losing Burleson, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2004, has left the Vikings largely devoid of weapons at the position. The team was counting on former Seahawks receiver Koren Robinson this season, but off-field problems led to his release.
Seattle expected Burleson to provide needed yards after the catch, but he has only seven catches in five games, with four drops.
The Vikings and Seahawks can reasonably expect Hutchinson and Burleson to contribute plenty over the long term.
Through five games, however, the Vikings are winning with defense while the Seahawks are winning with receivers Darrell Jackson and Deion Branch as primary playmakers.
Childress is using a ball-control offense and an opportunistic defense to keep games close.
In Brad Johnson, he has a veteran quarterback with 66 victories in 109 regular-season starts (.601). Johnson, 38, has completed at least 60 percent of his passes for 10 consecutive seasons, an NFL record for players with at least 100 attempts per season.
Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor lead the Vikings with 18 catches apiece, but Marcus Robinson has had the most success against Seattle. He caught seven passes for 131 yards and four touchdowns against the Seahawks in a 2003 game.
Seattle has improved dramatically on defense since then, but allowing long pass plays has been a problem.
With only three touchdown passes this season, Childress has remained loyal to the ground game.
Chester Taylor, a free-agent addition from Baltimore, is averaging 22.2 carries per game, tied with St. Louis' Steven Jackson for second in the league. But Taylor's 3.8-yard average ranks 10th among the 12 players with at least 421 yards rushing.
"I don't think any of us would say we're satisfied with how we've played this year," Vikings center Matt Birk said. "We always feel like we can be better, but I think we've done enough things to build on.
"Every week's a new test, and this week is going to be a stiff test."
The Seahawks have never been stronger at defensive tackle during Mike Holmgren's seven-plus seasons as coach.
Marcus Tubbs, a first-round pick in 2004, is healthy and will start opposite Hutchinson. Veteran newcomer Russell Davis will also play extensively. Both have the size to compete with Hutchinson.
Rocky Bernard and Chuck Darby provide two smaller alternatives with superior pass-rush ability. Craig Terrill, always productive when he plays, has become inactive as Tubbs and Davis have become healthy.
"It's a good front," Childress said. "You may say, 'Well, there's not a marquee name,' but sometimes those are your best blue-collar fronts."
Seattle's offense also faces a potentially difficult challenge. The Vikings' defense has scored three touchdowns, one fewer than Minnesota has scored on offense.
The Vikings' defensive interior features Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, 620 pounds of run-stuffing power. Kevin Williams has three sacks. Pat has forced a fumble.
"Kevin Williams is one of the great D-tackles in the game right now," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.
Minnesota plays a version of the "Tampa-2" defense Seattle faced in its season-opening game at Detroit. The scheme requires a fast front seven with linebackers who can cover. The cornerbacks must tackle well. The safeties play deep enough to deter long passes.
Hasselbeck completed 25 of 30 passes against Detroit, but the Lions sacked him five times and did not allow a touchdown.
Seattle's receivers must contend with a talented secondary featuring cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot, with Darren Sharper at free safety and Dwight Smith at strong safety. Since last season, the Vikings lead the NFL with five interception returns for touchdowns.
"It seems like they are very smart, take a lot of educated guesses (in the secondary)," Hasselbeck said. "Some weeks you go into a game and you look at your game plan and say, 'OK, we're going to go at this guy.' This is not one of those weeks.
"I think this is more one of those weeks where you are saying, 'OK, they have really smart players on defense in terms of their secondary. They know what we like to do. We've got to make sure that we don't give them any advantage by taking them for granted.' "
MINNESOTA (3-2) AT SEATTLE (4-1)
1:15 p.m. TODAY, Qwest Field
Television: Ch. 13 with Ron Pitts and Terry Donahue.
Radio: 710-AM with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Akemi Takei.
The series: Seattle leads, 6-3. The Seahawks have won three of the past four, including 27-23 in the most recent meeting (Dec. 12, 2004 at Minnesota). The Vikings are 0-2 in Seattle since a 1990 victory in the Kingdome. Minnesota fell, 48-23, in its only previous visit to Qwest Field (then Seahawks Stadium). Seattle's Shaun Alexander scored five first-half touchdowns in that 2002 matchup.
In the spotlight: Vikings LG Steve Hutchinson. The former Seattle standout faces potentially tough matchups because the Seahawks have outstanding depth at defensive tackle. Marcus Tubbs moved into the starting lineup this month. He is heavier than Hutchinson and more athletic than many interior linemen. Veteran Russell Davis gives Seattle another big, strong tackle to throw Hutchinson's way.
Key matchup: Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin vs. Seattle's three-receiver sets. Seattle had nine pass plays longer than 11 yards last week. Eight of them came from three-receiver sets, a disproportionately high number (61 percent of all pass plays were with three receivers). Opposing coaches must decide where to have their safeties provide the most help in coverage. That is becoming more difficult now that WR Deion Branch is becoming better acclimated.
On the hot seat: Seahawks FS Ken Hamlin. Hamlin gives Seattle a physical and athletic presence it lacked when he was injured last season. But the Seahawks have also been more susceptible to the deep pass now that Hamlin is back in the lineup and his 2005 replacement, Marquand Manuel, is with Green Bay. Manuel wasn't close to Hamlin in the talent department, but he was fundamentally sound.
How the Seahawks can win: Simply protecting the football could be enough for Seattle to prevail. Maurice Morris' fourth-quarter fumble nearly cost the Seahawks a victory against the Rams last week. One difference this week: The Vikings offense is relatively conservative and without game-breaking weaponry. It's unlikely Minnesota will string together a series of long touchdown drives. Seattle must avoid putting the Vikings in position for shorter ones.
How the Vikings can win: Beating the Seahawks at Qwest Field has been nearly impossible in recent seasons. Minnesota has the personnel to shut down Seattle's ground game, but winning means pressuring Hasselbeck into mistakes. Hasselbeck's competitive drive leads him to force passes. It doesn't happen often, but the Seahawks are vulnerable when it does. With three defensive touchdowns, plus one more on special teams, the Vikings have the ability to maximize an opponent's mistakes.
TNT pick: Vikings lack play-makers. Seahawks, 24-13.
Mike Sando, The News Tribune