With kickoff fast-approaching, here are a few final thoughts about today's game.
Red zone to end zone
The Vikings got out of Soldier Field with a win despite going 0-2 in the red zone. That may not do the trick today against the Rams. And the Rams have the NFL's best red zone defense. St. Louis allows opponents to score TDs on only 31.3% of their trips to the red zone, a staggeringly low number. To lend context to that, the NFL's 2nd-ranked red zone defense (Cincinnati) yields a TD on 43.8% of possessions. The Vikings have scored TDs on 38.1% of their red zone trips, and they'll be looking to increase that number this week.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said earlier in the week that one key to improving the red zone offense may be finding a way to run the ball better between the 10 and 5 yard lines.
Strong special teams featured today
Today's Vikings-Rams matchup features two very solid special teams groups. In a close game, special teams can make all the difference and both the Vikings and Rams have had special teams performances contribute significantly to wins. Last week, the Vikings scored 17 of their 23 points on special teams, including a 65-yard punt return TD by Marcus Sherels. Since Mike Priefer arrived as special teams coordinator in 2011, no team has more special teams TDs than the Vikings 9.
Running game needs to be Ram tough
On the surface, one might think the Vikings will at some point feel inclined to put the ball in Teddy Bridgewater's hands in today's game and that it may come sooner rather than later. St. Louis has a dominant front four, they surrender just 3.7 yards per carry, they haven't allowed a team to rush for 100 yards since Week 2 and they've allowed just three rushing TDs on the season. Plus, teams have been overplaying the run all season against Adrian Peterson and there's no reason to expect that to stop today.
But there's a flip side. While the Vikings feel comfortable putting the ball in Bridgewater's hands (he had a perfect passer rating on the Vikings final two drives at Soldier Field last week), they also have the best RB in the NFL and entering Week 9 Adrian Peterson ranks 3rd in the NFL in rushing. There's also this stat: Rams opponents have averaged only 26.3 runs per game for the season. During their current three-game winning streak, the Vikings are averaging 31.7 rushing attempts per game. The last team to run the ball 31 times against the Rams was the Washington Redskins, and they defeated St. Louis that day.
There's no doubt, the Rams know how to stop the run. But there's also little doubt the Vikings can run the ball, want to run the ball and probably should run the ball to test the stamina of the Rams run defense.
The Rams will enter today's game looking to run the ball, too. Two key players for the Vikings defense in the run game will be whomever starts for Eric Kendricks (presumably Audie Cole) and the backside DE on any given play. The Rams like to use a FB in formation in front of RB Todd Gurley, and often times it's the middle LB who is keying the FB. The Rams will use a lot of misdirection with the FB and OL, blocking down with the OL and using the FB to draw the middle LB's attention while sending Gurley to the back side or at least building in a cutback option for Gurley on the play. It's important for the LB to read this properly to find Gurley and it's also important for the backside DE to not give up on the play Gurley may be waiting for the right time to put his foot in the ground and cutback to the weak side.
Gurley is on fire. He's the only rookie to rush for 125+ yards in each of his first four starts and despite playing in just five games he is fifth in the League in rushing; he's tops in the NFL with a 6.1 yard per-carry average. If the Vikings aren't fundamentally sound and if they don't tackle well, they could become the latest victim in Gurley's impressive rookie run. It is worth bearing in mind that the Vikings have allowed teams to rush for 100 yards just twice this season and they've surrendered only two rushing TDs since Week 1. Also, Gurley's production has come in the "famine, famine, feast" style. He has seven runs of 20+ yards but he also has 19 runs of zero or negative yardage.
What do those numbers mean? That's 14 carries, 95 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs. Those are the numbers Gurley needs in each respective category to match Peterson's total in his first six games. In 2007, Peterson ran the ball 108 times for 670 yards and 5 TDs in his first six games. Gurley stands at 94-575-2 in his first five games.