John DeFilippo’s game plan Monday night will be monitored only slightly less fervently than NORAD’s Santa Tracker app on Christmas Eve.
Will the Vikings offensive coordinator call more running plays? Too many? Or just the right amount to make Mike Zimmer smile and give a thumbs-up?
While the run-pass ratio served as an easy-pickings debate last week, the outcome of a critically important game in Seattle hinges less on the number of times the Vikings run the ball and more on their ability to stop the run.
Well, that and being able to contain some guy named Russell Wilson.
“We have a full plate,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said.
Full like a trip through the buffet line. The roadmap to victory is clear: The Vikings need their best position group — the heralded and highly compensated defensive line — to be their best players in a game that could determine their playoff fate.
Everything starts there. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson and Linval Joseph. When they are swarming and relentless in their pass rush, offenses look claustrophobic, tentative, disrupted. That front four can dictate the flow of an entire game.
“Those games are usually fun,” Richardson said.
And successful. And that’s what the Vikings need more than anything: a smothering performance from their D-line, because the Seahawks can wear down opponents by slow drip or with Wilson’s brilliance.
The Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing. That’s their identity. They are the only NFL team that has called more runs than pass plays this season, bucking a leaguewide shift in philosophy that encourages passing to set up more passing.
The Seahawks had 32 rushing attempts in eight of their previous 10 games. They topped 150 rushing yards in seven consecutive games during one stretch, a team record. They don’t try to fool anyone.
Seattle’s leading rusher, Chris Carson, leads the league in broken tackles with 42, according to Football Outsiders. His 704 rushing yards include 545 after contact, per ProFootballFocus.
Translated from analytics to English: He’s tough to bring down.
“He may be the best, one of the best backs in the league, the way he runs,” Zimmer said.
That sounds like a strong case of opposing coach flattery, but Carson is a priority because if the Vikings don’t stop the run, nothing else will matter. The Seahawks would be able to do whatever they desire. Run, pass, sip espresso.
“We have to earn the right to rush,” Richardson said.
The D-linemen recite that phrase often. It’s their mantra, Earn the right to rush.
It means if they stop the run, they earn the right to rush the quarterback in passing downs, which is their favorite part of the job. That’s their reward for handling the dirty work.
Of course, rushing Wilson is no picnic, not with the way he pivots and pirouettes in the pocket. He plays the position like Harry Houdini. He somehow wiggles out of the tightest jams.
“He’s kind of all over the place,” Griffen said. “He’ll do anything to not get sacked.”
Wilson has never lost to the Vikings. He has beaten them three times in the regular season and once in the playoffs in a game that no Minnesota fan needs to be reminded of.
He has posted an absurd 142.0 passer rating in regular-season meetings by completing 72 percent of his passes for 677 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. The Vikings have sacked him only three times in three games.
Wilson doesn’t rattle easily, and rushing him requires discipline because sometimes he scrambles to run and sometimes he scrambles merely to buy time for receivers to get open.
“In order to get to him,” Hunter said, “you’ve got to stop the run [first].”
The Vikings haven’t shied away from discussing the importance of this game in terms of playoff ramifications. Not even Zimmer, who admitted the circumstances have created a playoff vibe.
“Crunch time,” Richardson said.
Winning in crunch time can take many forms. A masterpiece by the defensive line would give the Vikings their best shot.