After the first eight weeks the Minnesota Vikings are 5-2, and thats exactly where they needed to be in order to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. Now they head into the heart of their schedule in which they have a six game stretch that will ultimately decide their faith this season.
First up, the St. Louis Rams come to town in a match up that will be significant in determining who is in the drivers seat for a Wild Card spot. The Rams have won two straight games in which they have held their opponents to a total of only 12 points. If that isn’t daunting enough, according to PFF the Rams are second overall in total defense with a rating of +92.2. The defense is led by 2014 draft pick Aaron Donald, who is ranked the top defensive tackle in the NFL with a rating of +28.3(PFF).
The Rams offense is a one man show, and that man is Todd Gurley. Even though Gurley missed the first two games of the season, he is fifth in the league in rushing with 575 yards. He has provided the spark their offense needed, and many are already comparing him to a running back on the team he’s play against, Adrain Peterson. The key to stopping the Rams offensively is a simple concept, but a tough task. Stop Todd Gurley, and they will have difficulty moving the ball. Quarterback Nick Foles will be forced to throw the ball and when he’s been under pressure this season he’s had a completion percentage of 47.1%(PFF).
On the offensive side of the ball, I believe Norv Turner is going to dial up some quick passes to get the ball out of Teddy Bridgewater’s hand. The Rams, like the Vikings have a young and vicious defense that is ready to hit the quarterback at any chance they get. Bridgewater has already been sacked 19 times this season, and if the Vikings want to win this game they need to keep their quarterback upright. In games that the Vikings have allowed five sacks or more they are 0-2, and in games that they have allowed four sacks or less they are 5-0. Outside of keeping Teddy clean the Vikings need to continue to finding ways to get the ball into the hands of their newest playmaker, Stefon Diggs. He is the first rookie wide receiver to have back to back 100 receiving yards games since Randy Moss (ESPN). When they get him the ball, he has shown that he is able to regularly make big plays.
Defensively, the Vikings need to wrap up tackles consistently to not allow Gurley to break a long run like they’ve seen Peterson do so many times in the past. If they are able to contain Gurley, I think the Vikings will be able to win this game. Coming off a game against the Chicago Bears in which they blitzed more then they have all season, look for them to keep bringing pressure against the Rams trying to put the heat on Nick Foles.
Fundamentally, these two teams are nearly identical in playing styles, both teams want to run the ball, throw when needed and allow their defense to keep the game within striking distance in the 4th quarter. Field position is going to be key in this game due to the extremely talented defensive units. I think this is going to be a closely contested match, since the Vikings are playing at home I will give them an edge.
Vikings 16-12 Rams
Image courtesy of Fox Sports.