The last time the Rams made the trip to Minnesota they were on a two-game winning streak and running back Todd Gurley was making a name for himself in his rookie season. Playoff hopes for the Rams were still alive, but this time, they are fighting for much more than just the playoffs. They will be looking to secure their first eight-win season since 2004 and put themselves one-game ahead of an NFC foe that currently owns the same record as them at 7-2. The Vikings are the first stop on the Rams’ toughest stretch of the season that has them facing the Vikings (7-2), Saints (7-2), Eagles (8-1), and Seahawks (6-3). If the Rams want to prove that their success has not been a product of one of the easiest schedules to start the year, they will need to make statements in these games, starting in Minnesota.
Los Angeles Rams Offense vs. Minnesota Vikings Defense
Quarterback Jared Goff will face one of his most difficult tasks on Sunday as this is a showdown of the league’s highest scoring offense (32.9 per game) and third highest average of yards gained per game at 388.9, and the league’s fifth stingiest defense in terms of yards allowed per game at 294.6 as well as points allowed per game at 18.3 (15.2 at home). The league will no longer sit back as Robert Woods tears defenses apart, and he shall see one of the league’s best coverage corners in the league in cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who has defended four of the passes thrown his way this year as well as intercepted one. Fortunately for Woods, they both spend most of their time on opposite sides of the field and will see a lot more of cornerback Trae Waynes, who has allowed three touchdowns against him this season, one less than the four that Woods has scored in the last two weeks. A lot of the success that the Rams have had on offense this season is due to getting running back Todd Gurley going early in both the run and passing game. Running on the road has been out of this world this season, as the Rams average the second most rush yards per game on the road with 159.0. However the Vikings are not only third overall in rushing yards allowed per game with only 81.3 allowed overall, they are even stingier at home with the league’s third fewest allowed at home with 63.8. This could be a problem since the Rams have had unmatched success on play-action passes, as evidenced by the 94-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods in week 10 and Goff throwing his other two touchdowns off of play-action as well.
Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. Minnesota Vikings Offense
With Case Keenum starting or finishing every game for the Vikings since week two, the Rams defense will see a familiar face across the field on Sunday, as he started the first nine games for the Rams in 2016 before handing the reigns to No. 1 overall pick and 2017 breakout star, Jared Goff. The defense will see a much more efficient Keenum, his 170 completions on 262 attempts this season are only 20 less than he had in 2016, though he attempted 313 passes in 2016. Turnovers have been a key to the success of the Rams, as shown by their league-leading 19 takeaways and plus seven turnover differential, tied for third most. Despite such huge success in takeaways, getting a takeover will be a tall task as the Vikings have only turned the ball over 10 times the whole season, which is tied for sixth fewest. Keenum has thrown half of those turnovers as interceptions, something the Rams are second in the league at with 12 interceptions and a combined 21 passes defended. Despite their lack of turnovers, there is a formula to getting Keenum to turn the ball over, it’s getting the pass rush to him quickly, as he has thrown four of his interceptions when the pass rush was able to get there quickly. That is also another tall task though, as the Vikings have surrendered the league’s second fewest sacks with 10, while the Rams are tied for fifth most sacks by their defense with 28. All that without even mentioning their two biggest weapons on offense, wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Those two combined for 244 yards receiving on 12 receptions and two touchdowns, going over Washington’s average pass yards allowed per game by themselves. With the Rams owning one of the best pass defending secondaries in the league, this matchup should be very fun to watch.
Despite the success of the Vikings’ defense, the Rams have already played against the league’s stingiest defense in the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game they won and scored the second most points allowed by the Jaguars this season with 27. It’s hard to envision just what the Rams will bring on Sunday as this is their first season under a new regime and the first game with true playoff implications so late in the season. Despite that fact, the coaches and players are saying all the right things and seemed to be more locked in than they have been in the last 15 years since the team’s last Super Bowl appearance. I’d expect the Rams to come out with an inspired defense, which has the most players here that have been on losing team after losing team. If they can get to the quarterback and create turnovers they are one of the best teams in the league, shown by their points per game, yards per game, and wins total increase from a season ago. Look for the Rams to start their tough stretch at 1-0 with a victory over the Vikings by the score of 34-21.