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Rams-Vikings Preview

The season begins. Hope, renewed. It starts on Sunday with the Vikings.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Football is back...and I am made whole.

For game-related info, check out the SBN page for the game. For Vikings news leading up the game, check out Daily Norseman.

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St. Louis Rams, 0-0, t-2nd - NFC West

Minnesota Vikings, 0-0, t-1st - NFC North

Sun., Sep. 7, 1 p.m. ET

* - Rams-Vikings broadcast in the yellow areas

MIN pass v. STL pass D

Interesting battle off the top. Greg Jennings and second-year Cordarrelle Patterson lead the line for the Vikings as Jerome Simpson is serving a three-game suspension. While Rams fans bemoan the lack of a passing offense, Minnesota's wasn't much better last year. Matt Cassel replaced the woeful play of Christian Ponder, but his 1.22:1 TD to INT ratio was hardly spectacular (for reference, Kellen Clemens' ratio was 1.14:1...). The real key for this passing attack might be TE Kyle Rudolph. The former Notre Dame standout was on his way to some eye popping numbers last season when he broke his foot on a 31-yard TD play against Dallas:


He's back to full health, and under the tutelage of OC Norv Turner (who had a pretty damn succesful run with TE Antonio Gates in San Diego) Rudolph could be in for a big season...and a big day. I guess I'm obliged to mention Teddy Bridgewater here since he was a first-round pick, but if he plays on Sunday, that means Cassel performed horribly...which I'd be ok with.

In any case, the Vikings could pose a decent challenge for a Rams defense that needs to find its footing in the passing game. First, you've got personnel groupings. It looks likely that Janoris Jenkins and E.J. Gaines are the starters outside with Trumaine Johnson out for another month or so. Does Lamarcus Joyner play the nickel or slide in as a safety? Does he play a bit of both depending on man schemes vs. zone? Do Brandon McGee or Marcus Roberson get much PT to keep the cornerbacks fresh at some point? DC Does Gregg Williams intend to use the secondary much in his blitz packages and, if so, who? And lastly...the Cushion of do the Rams employ it early and how do they modify it over the course of the game? All questions, no answers until Sunday.

MIN run v. STL run D

Adrian Peterson. End analysis.

For the Rams, Adrian Peterson. End analysis.

MIN O-line v. STL D-line

The Vikings O-line has been intact for some time, and the chemistry affords them a collective wisdom most teams don't have especially in the running game. So already with an edge favoring Adrian Peterson, the Rams will need to be extra diligent here. No, Cassel's not going to be a running threat so there's not a ton of discipline needed against run fakes, can't get sucked in by the playaction or lulled by a draw or counter.

That's going to be a big responsibility for DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long who, understandably, are better known for their pass rushing combination work. I'm also eager to see how the Rams rotate the interior threesome (hehe...interior threesome) of Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford and Aaron Donald. The former are dealing with minor injuries, so I wonder if that might increase Donald's workload over what the Rams would be planning for otherwise.

STL pass v. MIN pass D

Well, here we go. Shaun Hill. Whoo. Seriously though, I'm eager to see this WR corps get to work. Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Chris Givens...maybe it's me being a Rams fan, but I feel like they can do work.

If I'm trying to justify that though, part of it may be because Minnesota was horrid against the pass last year. They gave up the secondmost yards in the passing game in the league and the most touchdowns. Think about it like this. The Rams gave up 21 passing touchdowns, and we had gripes. Complaints. The Vikings gave up 16 more touchdowns than the Rams. That's 112 more points the Vikings passing game gave opponents than the Rams' passing defense did. Now they did go out and sign CB Captain Munnerlyn in free agency, who had developed into a pretty solid defender in Carolina. But if we're being serious, as ineffective as the Rams passing offense was in 2013, the Vikings' pass defense was worse. The Rams should be expected to get something done here.

STL run v. MIN run D

Here, you've got a mess of confusion. How much are the Rams going to ride Zac Stacy? GM Les Snead said mid-week the carries will go to the "hot hand"...which doesn't even make sense because nobody has a hot hand until after they start doing something so it's a nonsensical way of saying they're open to playing anyone. Does that mean more work for Benny Cunningham? If either struggle does that open the door for rookies Tre Mason or Trey Watts? I don't know what the hell is going to happen in the run game other than that Stacy will be in there first...and I hope he gets the offense going.

Because the Vikings were so bad against the pass, it opened things up for their opponents' running games. Perhaps we get a sense of that on Sunday. We'll have to see how the Vikings shuffle between nickel looks and 3-LB schemes. The Vikings spent their initial first round pick on UCLA OLB Anthony Barr to go with career Viking Chad Greenway and MLB Jasper Brinkley who returns to Minnesota after a one-year sabbatical with the Cardinals. With expectations as high as they are for Zac Stacy this year, it would do the Rams well to get off to a solid start against a unit that was at best mediocre against the run in 2013.

STL O-line v. MIN D-line

For the line though, yes it's about performance...but it's also about health. Four of the Rams starting offensive linemen have serious red flags in their medical history: LT Jake Long, LG Rodger Saffold, C Scott Wells and RG Davin Joseph. Getting through a game with all five starters intact, RT Joseph Barksdale included, would do well to calm the nerves of Rams fans already perturbed that #2 overall pick Greg Robinson will be on the sidelines for at least the first offensive play. If, when or why he gets playing time against the Vikings is yet to be seen.

Minnesota for their part has had huge turnover on their defensive line. Gone are stalwarts past DT Kevin Williams and DE Jared Allen. Up step DT Sharrif Floyd and DE Everson Griffen into starting roles. Linval Joseph arrives after four years with the Giants, and there's reason for optimism among Vikings fans with him...despite the fact he was shot a month ago (seriously). So while the line struggled mightily last year, they've addressed that. Whether or not it yields positive returns, they'll have to see. But it may be the kind of young line the Rams' veteran blockers want to see to get the season going.

This week's top 3 storylines brought to you by Joan Rivers, the master of bitch comedy:

1.) "My breasts are so low, now I can have a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time."

There are four dimensions: length, width, depth and time. One is more important than all of them on Sunday: length... or in better football usage, field position. The Rams are likely to come out conservative on offense to adjust and allow Shaun Hill to acclimatize to the Rams' offense in actual NFL time. The defense likely comes out the opposite to compensate. That means the Rams have to win the field position battle and give Greg Zuerlein the opportunity to best Blair Walsh in the kicking game. In the debacle in 2012, Walsh converted five field goal attempts. Zuerlein missed his only kick of the game. That's a difference of 15 points.

The Rams lost by 14.

2.) "I was dating a football player. He was so dumb. The man could not count to 21 unless he was naked."

It's week one. You're going to see some dumb football (see: the Packers' first half sloppiness last night against the Seahawks). The less of that we see from the Rams, the better. Especially when it comes to turnovers. Nothing makes the field position game more glaringly crucial than turnovers. The Rams need to avoid the less intelligent plays of the game...the Vikings can make all they want.

3.) "When I was born, my mother asked the doctor, 'Will she live?' He said, 'Only if you take your foot off her throat.'"

Let's be blunt. This season is a reflection not only on the players, but perhaps moreso on HC Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead. Scott Linehan was the head coach of the Rams for three seasons. Steve Spagnulo was the head coach of the Rams for three seasons. This is Fisher's third season.

I'm not insinuating he's going to be fired at the end of this year if the Rams struggle. I'm noting that the third year is a reflection of the head coaches' ability to implement the progress he's planned for. Sometimes, that reflection is best expressed in the win-loss column. Sometimes not.  But Fisher has to find ways to get this team to improve. Whether it's the penalties or the Cushion of Death or coverage lapses or offensive turnovers or missed blocking assignments or an uninspiring offensive scheme, there are tons of things Rams fans can point to as things we'd like to improve upon...or throw out entirely. Those are smaller points that make up the larger whole.

It's Fisher's job to make sure that larger whole, the entirety of his three-year tenure to this point starts delivering positive results. And the first opportunity of 2014 to make that happen is Sunday.

Go Rams.