After finishing the 2014 preseason with a 4-0 record, the Vikings kick off the regular season on the road against the St. Louis Rams. The game will begin at noon CT from the Edward Jones Dome and marks the first Kickoff Weekend matchup between the two franchises.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Rams prepare to battle.
1. A Mighty Battle Up FrontThe Rams boast one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, with three first-round picks in the starting lineup (DT Michael Brockers, DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn) and another first-rounder (DT Aaron Donald) in the rotation, as well. Quinn, who will go primarily against Vikings LT Matt Kalil, had 19.0 sacks last season, a campaign that included five multi-sack games and three games with 3.0 sacks. Long is stout against the run and the pass and the starting tackle tandem of Brockers and Kendall Langford is more than most interior offensive lines can handle. Both dealt with injuries in the preseason but are expected to play on Sunday.
The Vikings offensive line will be a worthy challenge for this talented Rams defensive front. The 2014 season is the third consecutive in which the group of Kalil, LG Charlie Johnson, C John Sullivan, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Phil Loadholt and FB Jerome Felton has started together, and they've blocked for the same running back – Adrian Peterson – the entire time. In fact, it was just two seasons ago when Peterson rushed for 212 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries against this same group of defensive linemen.
Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Rams.
2. Former Viking Shaun Hill Under Center for St. LouisFor the second consecutive season, Rams starting QB Sam Bradford's season has ended early due to a knee injury. Last year, Bradford went down in Week 7, and his replacement – Kellen Clemens – threw for 200+ yards just three times the rest of the season. With Bradford out this year, former Viking Shaun Hill will be under center for the Rams. Hill entered the NFL in 2002 as an undrafted free agent for the Vikings, playing in Minnesota from 2002-05. He's with the Rams now, and he is no slouch of a QB. Hill has a 41-23 career touchdown-interception ratio, he's completed 61.9% of his passes and he has a career passer rating of 85.9.
Rams Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer may feel compelled to use a quick, timing-based approach with the passing game against the Vikings, electing to have Hill get rid of the ball quickly to neutralize the Vikings pass rush and put pressure on Vikings LBs and DBs to pursue and tackle against a talented Rams receiver group.
3. Attacking the Rams secondaryThe Vikings offense begins and ends with Peterson, but the Vikings will have some options when they decide to attack in the air on Sunday. Rodney McLeod and TJ McDonald both started at safety in the final game of 2013 and both are set to start on Sunday. But starting cornerback Trumaine Johnson will miss the game with a knee injury, leaving second-year player Brandon McGee the starter on one side opposite third-year player Janoris Jenkins, who starts on the other side. It remains to be seen who will play nickel CB for St. Louis, with rookies EJ Gaines and Lamarcus Joyner both options; you never know what Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams is up to. Williams is an aggressive schemer with historically dynamic defenses, so whatever limitations may exist from an injury or personnel standpoint, Williams can find a way around them.
4. Will the Rams kick to Patterson?Greg Zuerlein has a strong a leg as there is in the NFL. He booted 52 touchbacks last year, good for a tie for fourth in the NFL last year and a number that represented 64.2% of the Rams kickoffs. It's apparent that, if they choose to, the Rams can avoid any kickoff returner in the NFL by having Zuerlein blast the ball from the tee through the end zone. Interestingly enough, though, the Rams only had six touchbacks in 18 kickoffs this preseason. Might St. Louis elect to kick to Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday?
5. Vikings Set to Unleash Their BeastThe Vikings offense was efficient and productive this preseason, with the group of quarterbacks compiling a 104.0 passer rating, tops in the NFL, and with the offense as a whole scoring 30 points twice. It all happened with the offense's best weapon on the sidelines. Peterson will make his 2014 debut on Sunday against the Rams, and the bad news for the Rams is two-fold. First, and as stated above, Peterson rushed for 212 yards the last time he faced this bunch and that performance was part of a 2,000-yard rushing and MVP season. Secondly, All Day loves Opening Day. He holds team opening day records with 180 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, set against Cleveland in 2009, and he also tied an opening-day mark with a 78-yard touchdown run last year in Detroit.