Two of the NFL's hottest teams meet at U.S. Bank Stadium today, with the 7-2 Vikings playing host to the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams. The Vikings are 4-1 at home this season while the Rams are a perfect 4-0 on the road. The Vikings enter with a five-game winning streak and the Rams come in having won four straight. Both teams are division leaders, both have stingy defenses and sharp special teams and both offenses can light up the scoreboard when things are clicking. It should be a fun one in Minnesota today.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
Special teams is special indeed
A key component to the Vikings 7-2 record this season has been the play of the special teams. This phase of the game is important for every team every season, but there's an even greater need and opportunity for the special teams when defense is your calling card. A sharp special teams group that wins the hidden yardage battle and consistently salvages scoring drives with field goals is a major boon for a special teams group. A few highlights of the Vikings special teams group so far in 2017 include:
-- No. 4 in punt return average – 10.7
-- No. 4 in kickoff return average – 25.4
-- No. 3 in punt return average allowed – 4.3
-- One of just four teams with no touchbacks on punts
-- Kai Forbath is 22 of 23 (95.7) on field goal tries, including five of five from 50+ yards
Pro Bowl voting
Fan voting for the 2018 Pro Bowl in Orland, Florida is now open. For the first time, a new voting window will run for four weeks, beginning this week and concluding on Thursday, December 14. To vote, click here.
This year's Pro Bowl will be played on January 28, 2018 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Thielen keeps moving the chains
Speaking of Pro Bowl voting, there aren't many players more deserving of an all-star nod in 2017 than Vikings fan favorite Adam Thielen. He has the most games with 90+ receiving yards (five) in the NFL and he's tied for first in the NFL for most games with five-plus receptions (nine). Thielen has also proven clutch, hauling in 19 receptions on 3rd down, which is second-most in the NFL, and with 16 of those 19 receptions resulting in a 1st down.
Stat of the week
The Vikings have eight scoring drives of 80+ yards 2017, already four more than they had in all of 2016.
There is a lot of evidence one can use to show that the Vikings offensive line is one of the most improved groups in the entire NFL from last season to this season, including the fact that the Vikings have allowed only 10 sacks on the season. But the stat above is perhaps Exhibit A because it speaks not only to performance in the pass protection but to improvement in the running game, 3rd downs, red zone and other key areas.
Quote of the week
"I don't want this to be about me. It's about us. We're sitting in a good position right now, pushing for the playoffs, hopefully home-field advantage. So, we can't take the attention away from that. We're playing great football and I pray that we can continue to just keep getting better." – Teddy Bridgewater
For about 15 months, every day was about himself. Bridgewater suffered a severe injury and it required maximum ambition, attention and fearlessness to get back to the point where he could rejoin his teammates on the field and, eventually, on the 53-man roster. Then, suddenly, it couldn't be all about him. Don't take for granted the type of person it takes to be able to make that transition mentally, let along make that transition following such a challenging and grueling rehab.
Cooper Kupp – It's Robert Woods who is on fire of late and Sammy Watkins may be the most talented, but Kupp has been a thorn in the sides of defenses in 2017. He operates out of the slot and out wide, and he does some of his best work on 3rd downs. With 22 targets, he's the Rams most targeted receiver on 3rd down and he's also scored twice on the money down. Kupp has hauled in 13 of his 22 3rd-down targets.
Rams misdirection on offense – As was broken down so well by Vikings Radio Network analyst Pete Bercich, the Rams penchant for using misdirection is one of the biggest challenges in front of the Vikings defense today. The first step to neutralizing this component of the offense, though, is to slow down running back Todd Gurley. So far in 2017, Gurley has over 200 touches, 10 touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving) and four 100-yard rushing games.
Rams specialists – Kicker Greg Zuerlein is No. 1 in the NFL in field goal percentage (96.6%), punter Johnny Hekker and the punt team are No. 4 in net punting average (44.4) with nearly half their punts landing inside the 20, returner Pharoh Cooper is No. 3 in the NFL with a 30.2 kickoff return average and No. 5 with a 11.2 punt return average and the Rams are one of two teams (Baltimore) with both a kickoff return and punt return touchdown.
Do you see it as an advantage or disadvantage for Case Keenum to have played with the Rams last year? Is it an advantage for the Rams in any specific areas?
-- Larry Lujan
I see it as almost no advantage because the Rams run an entirely different offense with an entirely new offensive coaching staff than from what they ran when Keenum was there. He can provide a few opinions, perhaps, on the Rams personnel who remain there from his time with the Rams, but those same players as well as the Rams scouts have that same kind of info on him, as well.
Jayron Kearse has only played special teams this year, even with the injuries to Andrew Sendejo. Is he limited to just that now?
-- Joseph @Joseph99404522
Kearse has been solid on special teams, but no, he's not limited to only that in 2017; he has the ability to play on defense if called upon to do so. Anthony Harris has gotten the nod at safety over Kearse in Sendejo's place likely because of how he complements Smith and because of his knowledge of the defense; Harris has one more year of experience in this defense. Sendejo continuing to win the starting job opposite of Smith year-in, year-out is a testament to how much value Zimmer places on continuity for his players within the defense and their knowledge of the defense.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Kevin Burkhardt
Analyst: Charles Davis
Sideline: Pam Oliver
Play-by-play: Adam Amin
Analyst: Bill Polian
Sideline: Jeff Darlington
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber