The Rams and Vikings entered yesterday's game with matching 7-2 records, and the Vikings proceeded to hold the NFL's number-one scoring offense to just seven points and 254 net yards.
According to *The Athletic *Vikings reporter Jon Krawczynski, Vikings fans were treated to the "best defensive effort" by Minnesota so far this season. Krawczynski said he didn't intend to lessen the performance of Case Keenum, who was 27-of-38 passing for 280 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions; he wrote, however:
But the Vikings were stuck on seven points until early in the fourth quarter, and they were never in real danger.
With a 39-year-old cornerback (Terence Newman) playing like a man on fire, a former legend (Jared Allen) returning home and a crowd as tuned up as it's ever been at U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer's defense shrugged off a touchdown drive on the first series of the game, grabbed hold of the Rams and squeezed the life out of them over the last 56 minutes.
Krawczynski emphasized the performance of defensive players beyond the unit's "usual" stars – including Anthony Harris, who forced a fumble and recovered at the Vikings 1-yard line; Stephen Weatherly, who saw extra time on the defensive line in Brian Robison's absence; and Mackensie Alexander, who broke up a pass and put pressure on Jared Goff through a blitz.
Krawczynski quoted Newman, who reminded media members that "things can go south just as fast they went the other way." But Krawczynski added that the 2017 Vikings squad is a different one than last season's that slid after starting the season 5-0.
This defense is deeper, fresher and has a little more help on offense this time around.
NFL.com Dubs Adam Thielen as Vikings MVP
Adam Thielen notched another highlight performance Sunday en route to the Vikings 24-7 defeat of the Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Thielen has drawn national attention this season and continued to do so after his 123-yard outing that included a trip to the end zone. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal said that Thielen "continues to be the MVP* *of this team and an early favorite for postseason All-Pro honors." Rosenthal wrote:
He made a handful of difficult grabs throughout the day to keep drives going, then took a short pass 65 yards for a backbreaking touchdown in the fourth quarter. That big play came against Rams cornerback Dominique Hatfield, who was only on the field because of injuries to two Rams cornerbacks: Nickell Robey-Coleman and Kayvon Webster. The Rams have enjoyed exceptional injury luck all season, but it bit them Sunday.
Another opinion Rosenthal drew after a Minnesota win that improved the team to 8-2 was that the 2017 Vikings are Head Coach Mike Zimmer's "dream team."
The Vikings are tougher than their opponents on a weekly basis on both sides of the ball, a fact that showed up dramatically in the second half Sunday. Minnesota's offensive line wore down the Rams front, opening up huge holes for their running backs on their way to 171 rushing yards, while Rams running back Todd Gurley was repeatedly stymied by the heavyweight Vikings defensive line.
Linval Joseph a dominant force for Minnesota's defense
It's no secret that nose tackle Linval Joseph is strong.
But according to his teammates and Zimmer, it's a strength uncommon even for an NFL defensive tackle.
*Star Tribune *columnist Chip Scoggins recently delved into Joseph's role on Minnesota's defense and the attributes that make him such a well-rounded athlete. Scoggins quoted Harrison Smith, who likened Joseph to the Hulk, and offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles, who called his teammate a "monster." Scoggins wrote:
That's where their defensive dominance starts, right in the middle with an immovable object. ProFootballFocus.com ranks Joseph among the best interior defenders in the NFL, and one can argue that no other nose tackle plays the position more forcefully than him.
Joseph earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season after becoming the first Vikings defensive tackle to reach triple digits in tackles (100 even) since Henry Thomas in 1991.
Entering Sunday's game against the Rams, Joseph had tallied 55 total tackles (coaches' tally), 2.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hurries. And Scoggins pointed out that Joseph is often double-teamed in an effort to contain the 329-pound force.
*He's strong enough to collapse the pocket even when drawing two linemen. The attention he draws allows defensive ends and linebackers more freedom to make plays. *
"You have one guy who has to pull on the branch, and that's me," Joseph told Scoggins. "I pull the branch down, the other guys pick the fruit. Well, sometimes the fruit falls and I have to go scramble and get it."