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The Skinny Post: Vikings, Rams Meet in Battle of Division Leaders

Posted Nov 17, 2017


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It just might be the best game in the NFL this weekend.

The Vikings and Rams will square off Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium at noon (CT) in a battle of division leaders.

Minnesota scored a season-high 38 points last weekend and is 7-2 and in first place in the NFC North.

Los Angeles is also 7-2 after getting a 33-7 win over Houston last weekend. The Rams lead the NFC West.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday’s contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Collision course on 3rd downs | By @pcraigers 

When the Vikings lock horns with the Rams, something’s got to give, and the breaking point could be on third downs when a Minnesota defense that’s been dominant on the money downs faces a Los Angeles offense that’s had success moving the chains. 

Vikings opponents have converted 33 of 115 third downs (28.7 percent), a stinginess rate that ranks second in the NFL.

The Rams have converted 60 of 126 third downs (47.6 percent), a success rate that is the best in the league. The brunt of the conversions have occurred against fellow NFC West foes.

Los Angeles is 29-of-46 on third downs (63 percent) against division teams in games against the 49ers (8-for-12), Seattle (8-for-15) and Arizona (13-for-19) but is just 31-for-80 in its six other games.

The Vikings defense ranks fifth in the NFL in opponent passer rating on third downs, allowing opposing QBs a mark of just 58.9 and limiting them to 5.0 yards per attempt.

The Rams have a 109.5 passer rating on third downs, which ranks third in the NFL.

Jared Goff is 59-of-91 passing (64.8 percent) with 707 yards and seven of his 16 passing touchdowns. He’s thrown one interception on third downs.

Goff’s favorite targets on third downs have been Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, who are tied at 18th in the league with 13 receptions apiece on third downs.

The linebackers vs. Gurley | By @Eric_L_Smith 

Another week, another dual-threat running back for the Vikings linebacker group to contend with.

Rams running back Todd Gurley leads the league with 10 total touchdowns and  with 1,160 yards yards from scrimmage. 

Gurley, the former first-round pick, will be a tough task for linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks.

But the duo has excelled already this season against multi-purpose backs from New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland and Washington.

“Gurley has done an exceptional job catching the ball out of the backfield this year. I think he has over 400 yards,” said Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards. “You can see him on screens, or he’s taking it to the house, or checkdowns and critical third-down situations where he is able to pick up the first down. 

“We’ll have to do a good job of leveraging him in coverage underneath,” Edwards added. “We’ll have to do a good job of tackling him in the open field. He’s got a tendency to break tackles after the catch.”

Big-play potential | By @LindseyMNSports

Two teams with the potential for making big plays will face each other Sunday afternoon.

The Rams and Vikings offenses have both improved from 2016 to 2017, Los Angeles making the most drastic jump. After being last in the league for points per game last season, the Rams now top the NFL with 32.9 points per game.

Former teammates Case Keenum and Goff have each proven their ability to sling the ball downfield and make explosive plays for their respective teams, and Gurley currently is fourth in the league with 754 rushing yards.

The Vikings offense is tied for fourth in the NFL with 41 plays of 20 or more yards (nine rushes and 32 passes).

Los Angeles broke last week’s game against Houston wide open with a 94-yard touchdown pass from Goff to Woods.

When two talented teams battle it out, Minnesota will look to stymie Los Angeles’ big plays while hoping to notch a few of its own in order to notch a sixth straight win and move to 8-2 on the season.

Substantial Stats

— The Vikings offensive line has allowed 10 sacks in 2017, which is second-best in the NFL; Minnesota had allowed 24 through nine games in 2016. The Rams rank fifth, having surrendered 13 sacks this season.

— Case Keenum threw four touchdown passes Sunday in Washington, a career high for the Vikings quarterback; Rams quarterback Jared Goff’s career high is also four touchdowns, which he threw earlier this month against the Giants.

— Vikings kicker Kai Forbath has hit all five of his field goal attempts from 50-plus yards in 2017, the same number of 50-plus yard kicks he had in his career entering this season. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has hit all four of his attempts from 50-plus yards this season.

— The Vikings and Rams have 14 combined wins this season as both teams are 7-2; Minnesota (8-8) and Los Angeles (4-12) combined for 12 wins in 2016.

Quotable

“Not really yet, too early. We just try to take it one game at a time and win that game. It will all take care of itself eventually anyway. There’s nothing we can do about what some other team does or wins or loses or anything else.” — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on whether or not he checks the league standings.