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Rams-Vikings: Matchups to Watch (REAL)

The NFL is a game of matchups and who does best at exploiting their key matchup advantages. Let's take a look at some of the key matchups for this week's game.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Rams will kick off the NFL season in the friendly confines of the Edward Jones Dome as they host the Minnesota Vikings.  The Vikings are coming off a disappointing 5-10-1 season in 2013, being led by new head coach Mike Zimmer and well respected Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner.  The Vikings do feature one of the better running backs to ever play professional football, and will be certain to lean heavily on Adrian Peterson early in the season.  The defensive minded Zimmer should be able to improve upon a defense that surrendered a league high 30 points per game in 2013 and, with the capable yet unspectacular veteran (stop me if you've heard this) Matt Cassel under center, are hoping for a big leap from second year WR Cordarelle Patterson.

The Vikings and the Rams are two of the greater mysteries of the 2014 NFL season, can either team make their production match their potential?  Forget about the entire 2014 season though, lets focus on those week 1 matchups!

Rams D-line vs. Vikings O-line

It doesn't matter how many times someone writes or says it, NFL games are won in the trenches.  As far as the Rams are concerned, a majority of their games are going to be won or lost on the backs of their imposing defensive line.  With the nickname Sack City already racing across the internet, the defensive line loaded with first round talent is expected to be the best in the NFL in 2014.  On the other side of the line the Vikings have something every Offensive line needs to be successful, cohesion.  As a Rams fan you may not remember what its like to see the same 5 offensive lineman on the field together for consecutive games.  According to ESPN the Vikings will field the same 5 guys for the 3rd straight season, that kind of familiarity can certainly mask some talent deficiencies.

So the question is how does this matchup of an ultra talented, and deep, Rams defensive line versus the close knit offensive line of the Vikings pan out?  If you are just talking about matchup advantages, the clear answer is the Rams have the edge.  The real question is, will it be significant enough for them to ride their front 4 to victory?

Rams Second Level vs. Adrian Peterson

Yes the Rams defensive line will play a huge part in slowing down AD (his nickname is AD for All Day, not AP, just saying), but they aren't alone in the struggle.  If we learned anything from the 2012 Vikings game (besides that Craig Dahl isn't an NFL safety), its that AD will make it to the second level eventually.  In the 2012 game the Rams allowed two huge runs by Peterson which netted 134 yards and a backbreaking TD.  While the front four will pretty much be the same as in the 2012 game, the changes at safety and addition of Alec Ogletree at linebacker could help the Rams prevent the type of backbreaking run AD is known for.

So can second year players Ogletree and TJ McDonald provide the extra pop on the backend to contain Peterson?  It seems the Rams will certainly be better off on the backend in this matchup, however, Adrian Peterson versus any "second level" in the NFL is advantage AD.

Special Teams

Yet again I am going with a matchup that could be considered key in every NFL game.  One of the most under rated aspects of the professional game is special teams.  The ability to control field position, as well as to score from anywhere inside the opponents territory are crucial for defensive minded teams such as the Rams and Vikings.  This game will feature two of the games most talented and strong legged kickers in Blair Walsh and Greg Zeurlein.  The Rams will see an advantage in the punting game, as they field arguably the NFL's best punter Johnny Hekker.  Hekker set the NFL single season record for Net Punting average in 2013, and the Rams punt coverage unit surrendered a measly 79 return yards in 16 games.  Entering his 3rd season Hekker has an awfully high bar to clear for improvement, but has shown an improved ability with the "coffin corner" during training camp and preseason.  The Vikings will field 2nd year punter Jeff Locke, who showed some promise in 2013 during his rookie campaign.  His 39.2 average net yards per punt in 2013 are not too shabby, although a full 5 yards short of the mark Hekker put up.

In the return game each team has dynamic playmakers with the ability to take on back to the house.  Cordarelle Patterson for the Vikings, and Tavon Austin for the Rams should provide fans with ample reason not to leave their seats for a bathroom break during punts or kickoffs.  So who has the advantage for this matchup?  I would have to give the nod to the Rams young special teams group, with All-Pro and NFL record setter Johnny Hekker being the primary reason as Young GZ and Walsh are both very good.

Game Prediction

After reviewing three key matchups for this game I know everyone reading this article is thinking, "What does it all mean, Basil?"  (Austin Powers) Well this game will be the first step to answering several questions regarding the fate of both of these clubs in 2014.  How do the Rams look without Sam Bradford at starting QB?  Can the Vikings provide Peterson with enough support to compete in the NFC North?  How good can the Rams defense be under Gregg Williams?  There are so many unknown quantities entering this game, but considering the Rams are playing at home and I am a Rams fan, I will go with the home team.

Rams win 24 - 13.

Thanks for reading and as always Go Rams!!