After going a perfect 4-0 in the preseason, the Vikings kicked off the 2014 regular season on the right foot, too. Mike Zimmer led his team to St. Louis and the Vikings came away with a convincing 34-6 victory, which in combination with losses by Green Bay and Chicago puts the Vikings alone in 1st place in the NFC North, pending Detroit's season opener on Monday night.
So what went right for the Vikings in the victory? Here are a few ideas…
Won the Turnover BattleThe Vikings carried their positive preseason turnover trend ( 5) into the regular season, coming away from the game against St. Louis with a 2 margin. More than just being 2, it should be noted the Vikings didn't turn the ball over one time. Taking care of the ball on offense and taking it away on defense is step No. 1 to winning in the NFL.
In taking the ball away twice from the Rams, the Vikings made it count. CB Josh Robinson intercepted a Shaun Hill pass late in the 2nd quarter along the sideline, making an acrobatic play and giving the Vikings one last possession before halftime. The offense took advantage, driving 35 yards in just four plays to punch the ball in the end zone on a pretty Matt Cassel-to-Greg Jennings connection. The second interception came late in the game and was produced by Harrison Smith. He jumped a route, caught the ball and sprinted down the right sideline for a score that served as the exclamation point on a blowout victory.
View images from the regular season opener in St. Louis against the Rams.
Defense Got Off the FieldWhen the Vikings weren't turning the Rams over, they were pressuring and forcing them to punt. The Vikings surrendered just 109 net yards and six 1st downs in the first half, with the Rams first-half possessions ending like this: punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, interception, end of half. St. Louis surrendered five sacks to the Vikings, punted three more times in the second half and had negative net yardage on four different drives. The Rams were just four of 14 on 3rd downs and they entered the red zone once all afternoon.
Playmakers Made PlaysAfter biting, clawing and scratching their way to a 6-0 lead well into the first half, the Vikings started making big-time plays to open up the game. It began with Robinson's interception, which set up the first touchdown. It continued late in the 3rd quarter, when Cordarrelle Patterson broke the game open with an electric 67-yard touchdown run in which the sensational sophomore ran around several defenders and slipped out of seven tackles to give the Vikings a 20-3 lead. Cassel found Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown mid-way through the 4th quarter and then Smith put the game far out of reach with his pick-six.
Neutralized Rams Pass RushAll week the leading subplot to the Vikings-Rams matchup was how the Vikings offensive line would handle the Rams defensive line. There was outstanding back and forth during the game, with each side winning its fair share of battles. The Vikings offensive line won the war, though, allowing no sacks to the defensive line (a pair of LBs split the lone Rams sack) and overcoming some crowd-related adversity throughout the game. Was it a perfect performance? No. There is room for improvement. But the performance was more than good enough to pave the way for those offensive playmakers.
Flipped Field PositionThree of the Vikings first five series began at or inside the 10, but each time the Vikings were able to dig out of a hole and they did not yield good field position to the Rams on the ensuing drive. A penalty on the opening kickoff of the game forced the Vikings to start at their own 10, but Cassel spread the ball around – using primarily Patterson and Adrian Peterson – and drove the Vikings to a field goal. The Vikings began their second series on the 9 and drove just 19 yards, but Jeff Locke blasted a high-hang time, 43-yard punt to Tavon Austin that was returned for no yards, and the Rams started on their own 27. The third Vikings drive that started inside the 10 started at the 8, but it finished near midfield thanks largely to a cold-blooded connection from Cassel to Greg Jennings, who led the team in receptions on the day with six. Locke punted to end that drive, too, and his punt came down near the 6 before it was returned to the 25. In the second half, Locke had a 47-yard punt that was not returned and a 52-yarder that came back just eight yards,
The ability to flip the field position in this manner took pressure off the Vikings defense and allowed that group to be more flexible in its play calls.