EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've talked plenty this week about what the Vikings expect to see from the Seattle Seahawks on offense, and how much the addition of Percy Harvin could add to what is already a diverse unit. The biggest challenge Seattle presents to the Vikings' offense might not be as hard to diagnose, but the Vikings could have just as much, if not more, trouble solving it.
The Vikings will face a defense Sunday that employs as much press coverage as they'll likely see all season. That approach worked nearly to perfection in Seattle's 30-20 win over the Vikings last year, when Christian Ponder completed 11 of 22 passes for just 63 yards and was intercepted once. Seattle also sacked Ponder four times and had him under duress on another seven of his 31 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The reason press coverage can be so effective for a team with a strong pass rush, like Seattle, is that it throws off the timing between a quarterback and his receivers, especially on routes that need to develop quickly. In a loud stadium, where pass rushers can often get a split-second advantage on blockers, pressing receivers can get a quarterback even more rattled.
We'll also add these factors to the mix: Ponder still appears likely to start Sunday after dislocating his left shoulder Nov. 7 against Washington, and one of his biggest issues in the NFL has been a tendency to bail on his progressions and leave the pocket too quickly when something doesn't open up for him. He's been more effective in the shotgun than he has under center this season, and the Vikings figure to continue their trend of putting him there more often if he does start.
"I think it helps a lot of quarterbacks in today’s day and age," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "Defenses are so complex that they can get back there, take a mental picture of it before the ball is snapped to them or get them back to launching point sooner than they could travel on their own two feet. It definitely helps."
But if we're talking about timing, Ponder's could also be hurt by the fact that Jerome Simpson -- the receiver the Vikings have targeted the most this season -- might not start after a drunken driving arrest last Saturday. Coach Leslie Frazier still wasn't willing to divulge his plan for Simpson on Thursday afternoon, other than to say he has a good idea of what he wants to do.
It seems likely that Cordarrelle Patterson, not Simpson, could start. That would add yet another wrinkle to a matchup in which Ponder will already have plenty to think about. One of the best ways his receivers could help him would be to get free of jams quickly and get open.
The Vikings have instructed their scout team defense to press receivers in practice all week, with the hopes they'll have an idea of what to do when the Seahawks try it.
"They're pressing almost every play," Ponder said. "They have the big, physical guys to do it, to get your hands on receivers and try to disrupt timing. It's going to be on our receivers to do a great job getting off the line and beating those guys. I have full confidence they'll be able to do it."