Sun, Dec 15, 2019

There is a golden opportunity available for the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. After the San Francisco 49ers lost to Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Seahawks have a shot to take over the NFC West lead and position themselves for a first-round bye if they can manage to defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. 

The Vikings are in extremely solid wild card position at the moment, but they need to secure a win to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. The Packers laid the smackdown on the New York Giants on Sunday to move their record to 9-3, and though the Packers own the tiebreaker at the moment, the Vikings control their own destiny. 

How to watch

Date: Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington) 
TV: ESPN | Follow: CBS Sports App  

Of course, this game is of great importance even if neither team wins the division, because the winner will get a leg up on being able to face whichever decrepit NFC East team makes the playoffs, as opposed to one of the real division winners, in the first round. With that in mind, let’s break things down.

When the Seahawks have the ball

The dirty little secret about the Minnesota Vikings’ defense is that it is now far easier to throw on them than it ever has been. Minnesota ranks just 16th in passing defense DVOA, and its cornerbacks are still struggling just about as bad as they were the last time we wrote about them in this space. (Numbers in the excerpt below have been updated through Week 12.)

No. 1 cornerback Xavier Rhodes is just flat out not quite as good as he used to be. Rhodes has allowed a 124.6 passer rating on throws in his direction, per Pro Football Focus, which ranks 154th out of the 168 cornerbacks and safeties who have played at least 200 snaps in coverage. Compare that to 2018 (88.4), 2017 (73.2), and 2016 (47.0), and it’s clear Rhodes is simply not the same.  

Trae Waynes has not been much better than Rhodes, as he’s been hit for a 109.5 passer rating on throws his way, which ranks 126th among the same group of players.

The Vikings typically align with Rhodes at right corner and Waynes on the left, which means Rhodes will see more of monster-sized rookie wideout DK Metcalf. Metcalf has become essentially a full-time player after being used situationally early in the season (87-plus percent snap rate in each of the past four games after hitting that mark only once in the first seven games), and he has taken over a larger share of the targets during that time as well. He’s still not the most dynamic route-runner in the world but his combination of size, strength, and length gives him one of the NFL‘s wideout catch radiuses, and Russell Wilson has developed a good amount of trust in him. 

Of course, Wilson’s No. 1 target is Tyler Lockett. We explored the connection between the two players last week: 

Lockett was sparingly involved during the early portion of his career, never seeing more than 71 targets during any of his first four seasons. He’s got 78 through 11 weeks this season, but he has managed to maintain the spectacular efficiency. It seemed wildly unlikely that Lockett could replicate last season’s 81.4 percent catch rate if he upped the volume this season, but he’s at 80.8 percent this year, the third-best mark among 31 players with 75-plus targets. While his insane touchdown rate (10 on 70 targets) has come down a bit (six on 78 targets), he’s still turning 7.7 percent of his targets into scores, which ranks sixth-best among that same group of 31 players. 

Somewhat incredibly given his size, Lockett is arguably the best receiver in the entire league at using his body to shield a defender on a deep ball. He has terrific upper-body strength and he knows exactly when to use his shoulder or his arm to bar the defender from leaping over the top to deflect a pass. He and Wilson have marvelous chemistry on these types of plays, and Wilson knows to put a little extra arc under the ball when he’s targeting Lockett down the field. And Lockett is fantastic at tracking the ball over his shoulder and getting his hands up and on the ball in just enough time to snag it