The Los Angeles Rams vs. the Minnesota Vikings matchup on Thursday Night Football is a heavyweight matchup between, not only two of the NFC’s best but two of the NFL’s best. At least on paper. The Rams come into the matchup sitting pretty at 3-0 while the Vikes come in an unusual 1-1-1 after a shocking beatdown at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, in what is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, upsets in NFL history.
They met last regular season in Minnesota when the Vikings won 24-7. But these are two different teams. The Rams are a year older and mature, with new additions on defense while the Vikings invested $84 million on a quarterback. This is the type of early-season game that can help establish the hierarchy and power balance in the conference. However, there is no doubt that this game means much more than to Minnesota than to LA. LA can afford a loss; Minnesota, not so much.
Here are the most significant things to pay attention to during the game:
How Will the Vikings Respond?
The Vikes got beatdown by the lousy Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday. It was an embarrassing showing that no doubt has them fueled for a matchup in LA in primetime against their biggest foe in the NFC this year. This game is massive because starting of 1-2-1 with the team that they have will begin to create some worry. I believe that they are an elite team and not the one that showed up last week, but they have to prove it to everyone. How they come out and play today, even in a loss, will tell us a lot about them.
How Will the Rams’ Pass Defense Hold Up?
The Rams’ impressive victory over the Chargers last week did not come without a cost. They lost their duo of star cornerbacks, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, who helped give LA arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Talib had ankle surgery this week and was placed on the IR while Peters is officially listed as ‘questionable,” but isn’t expected to play.
In their place, Sam Shields and Troy Hill will assume starting roles. Shields hasn’t played in two years because of concussion problems but is a former Pro Bowler who, at his peak, was among the best, but he has not played at this level in a long time. And Hill isn’t much of a standout player and has made a name for being a solid reserve. This will be a huge test for the two, and they are viewed as the Achilles heel of the team now.
And it’s not a good recipe to have when you have Stefan Diggs and Adam Thielen lining up across you on the other side. They are one of the top receiving tandems in the game and will have the huge motivation to ball out. This game has the writings of a Stefan Diggs introduction to the entire NFL community.
And they will need it because the offense’s success will be predicated on the passing game. The running game is up in the air with Dalvin Cook’s health, but even if he returns, they won’t be able to put up points relying on the ground game against that defensive line. It’s up to “Captain Kirk” Cousins to earn his $84 million. If he can’t expose a gaping hole like this, that contract will continue to look worse.
How Will the Vikings’ Offensive Line Hold Up?
When you think of the LA defense, you immediately think of the defensive line anchored by Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, with Michael Brockers supporting them. The trio forms what may be the best defensive line in American football, and it appears that it will be a long night for the Vikings’ pass protection.
Los Angeles only has four sacks on the season, and Donald has zilch, but they are creating pressure, and Donald has 15 pressures created, which is near the top of the league. And remember that Donald missed pretty much the entire training camp because of his holdout. Plus, going up against a line that has already allowed nine sacks will only help.
And you must take into account that the Rams have been dominating each game, so there hasn’t been a need to rev up the pressure and show off any new exotic schemes on defense. This is their first test, so you can expect Donald and Suh to respond. And you can bet that they will find an extra gear to help negate the holes in the secondary because a secondary’s best friend is getting to the quarterback fast.
Will Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and the Offense Stay Hot?
The Rams’ offense has picked up where it left off last season and been picking apart defenses. The first team didn’t have a preseason, so the first half of their first game was their preseason. But since the second half, LA has put up 92 points in 10 quarters and has been spearheaded by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.
Goff is dispelling the rumor that his success is solely on Sean McVay, and has thrown for 941 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions, and has completed 70.3% of his passes And the receiving corps of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp have made plays to help him out. And Gurley missed the second half against the Arizona Cardinals, but in 10 quarters has put up 255 rushing yards, 121 receiving yards, and five total touchdowns, but you get the feeling that he has another gear or two that he has yet to hit, just like the rest of the offense.
They have increased the scoring each game: 33 points, 34 points, 35 points, and you get the feeling that they are only scratching the surface. But they are facing a defense that was ranked number one overall in 2017 and is angry from last week. The Vikings are missing standout lineman Everson Griffin, but they have loads of depth across the unit without him and are still an elite unit.