Fresh off one of the most shocking defeats in recent memory, the Vikings look to rebound against another NFC elite on Thursday Night Football. The Rams have looked unstoppable thus far, while the Vikings have been far from.
As one would expect in a standoff of uniquely talented rosters, this game has a litany of stories heading in. Let’s take a look at a few of the more intriguing ones.
Injuries Galore on Both Sides
Theoretically, this is the Thursday Night matchup of the year: a battle between two suspected NFL heavyweights. Alas, as big name after big name falls victim to the injury bug, the shine of the potential playoff preview loses just a hint of luster. The Vikings will certainly be without Everson Griffen after his reported incident at a Minneapolis hotel last weekend. Dalvin Cook is still nursing a hamstring that kept him out of Sunday’s game. Marcus Sherels and Riley Reiff did not practice yesterday and Rashod Hill, Trae Waynes and David Morgan were all limited. That is six de facto starters who the Vikings could be without come Thursday.
As for the Rams, the situation is no better. Both of their All-Pro corners, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, could miss Thursday’s game, and Talib’s injury may require surgery. Peters is “day-to-day,” according to Sean McVay. The two corners have been outstanding all season and a big reason why the Rams have looked like the best team in the NFC thus far. If they both cannot play, well…
Vikings Have Major Matchup Advantage Against Rams’ Corners
The best corner duo against the best receiving duo. That could have been one of the headlines of this game. Now, the Vikings should have a major leg up on their hosts. Los Angeles added a little bit of depth outside of the stars at corner with Sam Shields, but they still could be severely outmatched by Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Thielen especially is off to a great start and currently ranks second in the league in receptions and fourth in yards. Diggs’ three touchdowns are tied for third.
Vikings Struggling Offensive Line Faces Toughest Test Yet
The inverse is true when it comes to the battle up front. Minnesota’s offensive line is coming off its worst performance of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, they allowed pressure on over 53 percent of dropbacks, and STATS had them at 19 hurries/knockdowns allowed, all highest of the season for any NFL offensive line. The Rams, on the other hand, boast an elite pass rushing front, especially up the middle. Though Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers have low sack totals, the amount of pressure they have forced is among the league’s best (Suh and Donald are ranked fourth and second, respectively among interior defenders by PFF, for whatever that is worth).
And that is just analyzing the matchup from a pass blocking perspective. The Vikings’ rushing attack has been anemic all season, due in no small part to the lack of a push the line has created. The Rams are allowing five yards per rush, but keep in mind that they have also held massive leads in all three games thus far. The chances the Vikings find their running game against the Rams’ front seems a little far-fetched. Granted, linebacker is probably Los Angeles’ weakest position, so if the Vikings’ backs can get to the second level, they could break off some big runs. But that is a big if, based on what we have seen from the Minnesota line.
Sean McVay Knows Cousins As Well As Anyone
McVay was at the helm of the Washington offense when Kirk Cousins took over the starting job from Robert Griffin III. He helped coach Cousins to back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons and a playoff birth in 2015. Truth be told, McVay’s grooming of Cousins is a big reason why he earned the Los Angeles job last year. As such, there may be no person on the planet who knows Cousins’ strengths and weaknesses better than Sean McVay. Now, who’s to say what this means for Thursday? How much time will McVay really spend in the defensive meeting room when he has an elite defense to gameplan against? If the Vikings scheme correctly, does it matter how well McVay knows Cousins? It may all be meaningless. But at the very least, it adds depth to the story of Thursday night’s game.
Rams Offense is Everything Vikings Defense Has Been Struggling to Stop
The McVay offense is misdirection, balance, efficiency and proper utilization of top weapons. The Rams have weapons inside and out and a quarterback who can get them the ball, regardless of circumstance. Minnesota’s defense has fallen victim to play action and misdirection a number of times already, allowing receivers to get behind them while tight ends and backs slip into wide open spaces. They got away with it in week one and to a degree in week two. Buffalo killed them with it and the Rams have the pieces to do the same. It will be a litmus test for what is supposed to be the best defense in the conference: is this vulnerability a blip or a trend?
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