Poll Of The Week

Poll of the Week: The Seahawks Have a Tight End Problem

Mike Zimmer’s three-week bird hunting retreat continues, as the Minnesota Vikings (8-3) play host to the Seattle Seahawks (6-5) this Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium. After their convincing 20-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12, the Vikings will look to make a statement against the Seahawks, who fell just short of winning Super Bowl XLIX last February.

Despite their superior record, the Vikings are home underdogs to the suddenly-hot Seahawks. Pete Carrol’s football team has gone 4-1 since a disappointing 2-4 start and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a shootout last week behind Russel Wilson’s five touchdown passes. On defense, they rank in the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, passing defense and rushing defense. It’s the start of a difficult set of games for Minnesota, but it may be coming at the perfect time.

Why? The Seahawks have a legitimate problem in the secondary — containing tight ends. And Minnesota’s oft-injured tight end, Kyle Rudolph, is finally emerging as one of the Vikings’ most valuable receiving weapons. When the teams do meet Sunday, look for Rudolph to make an impact in the middle of the field.

Every coverage, from Cover-0 to Cover-6, has it’s weaknesses. In Cover-2, for example, two safeties are responsible for the deep area of the field. Each player splits the field in half and is expected to defend their own zone. The cornerbacks underneath typically defend the area of the field known as “curl-to-flat” while the linebackers drop to defend the “hook-to-curl.” At its most basic, the Cover-2 has two weak spots — in the middle of the field between the two deep defenders and in the void between the cornerbacks and the safeties.

The Seahawks employ a a few simple single-high looks, with safety Earl Thomas serving as the single-high safety in most coverages (Cover-1, Cover-3, Cover-6). Bucky Brooks of NFL.com broke down the defense last season and provided a concise explanation of Seattle’s strategy against the pass:

[quote_center]The hybrid Cover-3 puts cornerbacks in press coverage on the outside, with the four underneath defenders dropping to designated areas (numbers, hash, hash and numbers, etc.) at around 12 yards from the line of scrimmage. The underneath defenders are instructed to play with vision on the quarterback, to help them make quicker breaks on throws within their respective areas.[/quote_center]

This season, Seattle is blitzing just 22 percent of the time, a significant decrease from 28 percent in 2013. Their decision to keep more defenders in coverage hasn’t paid off, though. Before Sunday’s win over the Steelers, Seattle had allowed 57 pass plays of 15 yards or more, with eight of those plays going for at least 25 yards. The most damage has come in the area of the field between the dropping linebackers and the single-high safety — the softest spot in a Cover-3 defense.

In most offenses, tight ends rule the middle of the field. This is especially true in today’s NFL, where tight ends are faster than linebackers and bigger than safeties. Seattle, in particular, has struggled this season to match that size and speed. Fifteen of the pass plays for at least 15 yards given up by the Seahawks have been to tight ends, and tight ends have scored touchdowns in six games against Seattle. Below, a look at their deficiencies when covering tight ends:

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That’s why Kyle Rudolph’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for the Vikings. He has 13 receptions in his past two games, his highest catch total in consecutive games in his NFL career, per the team’s official website. Against the Falcons, he caught seven passes (10 targets) for 53 yards, leading the Vikings in all three categories. On the year, his four touchdown catches are a team-high. That’s not saying much for the Vikings’ 32nd-ranked passing attack, but he’s proving to be a reliable option for second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

“It’s just great to get Kyle going,” Bridgewater said, per Vikings.com. “Especially coming off of last week’s performance. He’s a guy that’s a hard worker, detailed guy, and he is playing some good football for us right now.”

The previous week, Rudolph caught 6 passes for a career-high 106 yards against the Packers, scoring on a beautiful corner route in the first quarter and making a number of contested catches to keep the Vikings competitive late. Finally healthy, Rudolph’s beginning to silence those who questioned the team’s decision to reward the tight end with a five-year, $36.5 million contract extension last year. And on an offense that’s struggled to move the ball through the air, Rudolph has emerged as the team’s most consistent option.

He’s also an important cog in Minnesota’s league-leading rushing attack. Per Pro Football Focus, Rudolph has been used on more than half (50.7 percent) of his snaps as a run or pass blocker. That balanced skill-set will prove critical to the Vikings’ success against the Seahawks this week, and Zimmer applauded Rudolph for his versatility and commitment on Monday:

[quote_center]”Kyle is a very conscientious kid. Obviously he’s kind of a receiver at heart, he wants to catch the ball like everybody does, he’s kind of bought in to the concept as well about, ‘This is who we are, and I don’t know when my opportunity is going to come, but when it does, I have to take advantage of it.'”[/quote_center]

Seattle remains one of the league’s best defensive teams, but Minnesota has the weapons in Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison (if you consider a bulldozer a weapon), and MyCole Pruitt to attack them where they’re weakest — the middle of the field. Can Teddy Bridgewater take advantage and exploit the Seahawks’ fragile Cover-3? Take the poll below and share your thoughts in the comments section!



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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. I’m interested in how that defensive scheme works against a running offense like ours? Most teams load the box against AD. In some analysis it appears Teddy is reluctant to throw the mid range ball and often opts to check down instead of the hitting the mid range guy. You never know about this team though. The only constant is Peterson. Every week something doesn’t work that used to or something works that didn’t before?? Win ugly baby!!

  2. I voted “Other”. The Seahawks coaches are known around the league for over planning. Remember that pass from the one yard line that turned into an interception during the SB last year? What Seahawks can’t plan for is the great unknown. None other then Zach Line.

    This may be the game when Norv decides to unleash Zach from his shackles. Let’s face it. Do the Seahawks have hours of film on Line. Doubtful, unless they are continuously watching a loop of that lone reception from last weeks game.

    Zach Line – The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse!

      1. JeffMetaUniversalPeaceDugan is currently training Donald Trump’s coiffure how to survive hurricane force winds. The pay is pretty good for a part time job. Dugan’s gig giving the Dalai Lama humility lessons is on hold. This will change the next time the Lama gives another single finger salute to Vladimir Putin.

      2. Coach! Bout time you checked in, I thought maybe you had forgotten about us. Old age and all…
        What’re thoughts on this 8-3 football team we have here? Zimmer has them playing old school, a little reminiscent of your early days. Run the football, play great defense…get a lead and don’t do anything stupid.

        1. Hey cart! Yeah, I love it, and love Zimmer’s one-liners. “I can get cover-two corners down at the 7-11 in Bloomington. We don’t need any more of those.” Football is back in Viking land. I still cringe at our offensive line, afraid one of these runaway trains is gonna end Teddy’s season. Also wishing we had spent the Mike Wallace money a little better. But this defense is a fun bunch – Barr is another Matt Blair and then some. We got a tough row to hoe ahead of us… gotta get Harrison Smith back on the field. What do you think?

          1. Yep, O-line is average at best. But they fight like hell, whole team fights! Every game seems like a big game, and they are. But overall this team has a tough and positive mentality. I think we can win a few more here.
            Mike Zimmer on whether there’s a chance Harrison Smith could play Sunday: “There’s a chance that if I lose 100 pounds, I could be a jockey.”
            Zimmer could be a great HC.
            Good to hear from ya Coach, don’t be such a stranger.