The week of practice is over and the Vikings are nearly set for their contest against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings-Rams matchup in Week 9.
**Vikings, Rams a lot alike
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer opened his Wednesday press conference by commenting that the St. Louis Rams are similar to his team. Solid defense, an emphasis on running the ball and an ability to put pressure on the QB were elements Zimmer mentioned. The numbers support Zimmer's assertion.
The Vikings rank 2nd in points allowed, 6th in total defense, 7th in passing defense and have surrendered a 90.3 passer rating on the season. The Rams rank 4th in points allowed, 5th in total defense, 8th in pass defense and have surrendered a passer rating of 88.0. In terms of running the ball, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, who is 3rd in the League in rushing. The Rams have Todd Gurley, who is 5th.
The comparisons go on. Both teams have defensive-minded head coaches who preach aggressiveness demand, discipline and have constructed tough teams. Both teams have strong-legged kickers and punters. Both teams are athletic and young in the secondary. Sunday's game is between two alike teams and everyone involved expects a close and physical game.
This is not the week to sleep on special teams
After watching Marcus Sherels return a punt 65 yards for a TD a week ago, Vikings fans probably don't need to be told to avoid falling asleep when it's time for the special teams to take the field this week. Even so, Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer expressed that message while meeting with reporters on Thursday.
"Going to be a lot of sleepless nights this week, St. Louis Rams, very good special teams unit," Priefer said to open his press conference. "They do a lot of tricky, gadgety-type of stuff with all of their phases. Punt, they've got different formations, they run fakes, their punter can throw the ball – he's about 6'6" and he can see the whole field. Kickoff, they'll run a surprise onside, kickoff return, they've run reverses, so we have our work cut off for us coming off of two great road wins and now we've got to go home in front of our great fans and go get a win."
Priefer has a connection to Rams Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel. Priefer worked for John's father, Jim Fassel, on the NY Giants staff.
"Yeah, John does a great job," Priefer said. "I worked for John's father [Jim Fassel] with the Giants. He hired me in New York. Jim, I appreciated everything he did for me and then John who is a fine, young man and a fine football coach, but he's not afraid to pull anything off. And I think Coach [Jeff] Fisher is the same way. Coach Fisher was a special teams player, he was a punt returner when he played in the NFL and he loves special teams and he's very, very aggressive and they'll pull out all of the stops to beat us, so we've got to be prepared for all of them."
Barr looks like he's in, Kendricks is out
It won't be certain until 90 minutes prior to kickoff when inactives are announced, but it looks like LB Anthony Barr has a shot to play on Sunday. He's been battling a low back injury this week and was held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. But he was a full participant on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
Fellow LB Eric Kendricks has already been ruled out, though, and that means the Vikings depth at LB will come in handy this week as the Vikings are set to square off against a Rams offense that will look to deploy rookie RB Todd Gurley early and often.
Other injury news for the Vikings includes DT Sharrif Floyd and DE Justin Trattou as being listed as out for Sunday but all others on the report (aside from Barr) listed as probable.
Rams sack-leader Robert Quinn dealing with knee injury
On the Rams injury front, DE Robert Quinn missed the entire week of practice with a knee injury and is listed as questionable on the injury report. The Rams are deep and talented along the defensive line, but missing Quinn would be a blow to the defense, especially with fellow DE Chris Long already ruled out after having missed the last two games.
Quinn has 5.0 sacks on the season and, if he plays, has a big-time matchup with Vikings LT Matt Kalil. Through seven games, Kalil has been solid for the Vikings and his matchup against Quinn would represent his stiffest test of the season, perhaps aside from his Week 4 matchup with DeMarcus Ware.
Aside from Long and Quinn, all other Rams on the injury report are listed as questionable.
The Vikings prepared for the Rams offense to use no-huddle
While meeting with reporters for the final team this week before Sunday's game, Zimmer mentioned the Rams have used the no-huddle approach on offense at times this season. That could be a tactic the Rams choose to use this Sunday to help neutralize the Vikings pass rush and the home crowd.
"We're excited to get back to TCF [Bank Stadium], get in front of our fans," Zimmer said. "They've gone a little bit of no-huddle in some of their games, so it's important for us, that they help us out and be nice and loud."
While it's important for the Vikings to be ready for the Rams no-huddle offense on Sunday, Zimmer says the team has plenty of experience practicing against it this year.
"We've seen it a lot this year, so you kind of get used to it," he said. "All through training camp we've had no-huddle periods, it's not necessarily hurry-up no-huddle like in two-minute stuff, it's get lined up and go. They do it sporadically throughout the game, I don't think it should be too big of an issue.
Rookie DE Danielle Hunter keeps getting better
Last Sunday was a good day for DE Danielle Hunter. He nearly blocked two punts, was on the field for Marcus Sherels' 65-yard punt return TD and he had a sack to go along with 4 QB hurries.
"We've added more to his plate as we've progressed, as he's gotten more comfortable schematically and technique and fundamentals of the things that we're asking him to do," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. "I think Coach [Andre] Patterson has done an excellent job of bringing him along, being able to tell what he can handle, what he can't handle. And he's just gotten better each week.
"As we keep progressing through the season, I think he'll continue to get better, understand the rush angles, understand those things that are a lot different than probably what he was accustomed to before and understand what we're trying to do schematically to use his skillset."
Hunter started and played well for Everson Griffen in Week 6, recording 4 tackles, a forced fumble and a half-sack against the Chiefs. Both starters at DE are healthy and playing now, but Hunter is demonstrating that he can be a contributor as a backup and he'll be ready to start if his number is called upon again.