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Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings: What the Rams need to do to win

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Clarity is coming to the NFC...

Baltimore Ravens v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Overview

The NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams travel to the comfortable confines of U.S. Bank Stadium to take on the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings.

Both teams are 7-2 and offer very good defenses. Where the Rams excel over the Vikings is on the offensive side of the ball. There is no question that ex-Rams QB Case Keenum is having an outstanding season having moved into the starting position when Sam Bradford went down. Why the Vikings would even think about replacing Case with QB Teddy Bridgewater this week as the starter is a mind-boggling and completely unnecessary self-inflicted controversy.

Having named Keenum named the starter this week, it’s time to put this game in the proper perspective.

History

Invoking the image of the “Minnesota Vikings” to die-hard, longtime Rams fans conjures up deep-seated, tragic memories. The Vikings rank right up there with San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks as one of our most disliked teams.

The Vikings earned this reputation for climbing to the Super Bowl four times on our backs. Each of these playoff losses stung because the Vikings lost all four of those appearances. The only credit the Vikes deserved was that they were “best team” on the day they played the Rams.

Why the Rams lost those playoff games had everything to do with Minnesota’s greatest weapon — the weather.

When the Los Angeles Rams used to travel to the desolate tundra of Minnesota, games were played in a wind chill factor of 30 degrees below zero. In those days, there were no sideline heaters. There werer no hot packs. The California weather-trained Rams crumbled under the prevailing Canadian winds coming out of the north as anything under 60 degrees requires Angelenos to bundle up in a heavy jacket.

Cold is cold. But 30 degrees below zero is unthinkable conditions for any team to expect to win in, except the Vikings and Green Bay Packers. They live in it.

Los Angeles on the other hand can only imagine what snow feels like. The only time we see the substance is during Christmas commercials. Our only reaction to it is to be grateful we don’t have shovel that stuff off our driveways.

The one time the Rams did play the Vikings at home for a playoff game, mother nature threw another curveball at the Rams as it rained all that week. Older fans remember the 1977 Mud Bowl which of course given the conditions the Vikings won as well.

Redemption finally came in the 1999 Divisional Playoff when the St. Louis Rams at home under the warmth of the Edwards Dome put a whooping on the Vikes. Revenge was sweet for the fans living in Los Angeles who stayed loyal to the team, but even that win brought little satisfaction to those who loved only the Los Angeles Rams. Of course that year, the Rams went onto do something the Vikings have never done—win a Super Bowl.

In the absence of their greatest weapon, the weather, the Vikings have struggled to make the playoffs consistently since the turn of the century. They’ve had some good teams, but since playing in the comfortable confines of a dome, the Vikings have not returned to the Super Bowl since.

The NFC North was formerly known as the “black and blue” division. The name speaks for itself as to the physical football played among their division rival Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Packers.

Over the last decade, the Packers have dominated the division due solely to QB Aaron Rodgers as today’s game is a quarterback-driven league and he is arguably the best in the game.

For any other team in the NFC North to make it to the Super Bowl, they must learn to shred the “black and blue” image. Yet, not much has changed since the good old days except the Rams are back in L.A. and the only reason the Vikings lead the division is Rodgers’ injury.

Coming into this game, both these teams have something to prove.

The Rams need to prove they can beat a good team other than the Dallas Cowboys.

The Vikings need to prove they can dominate any of the high-powered offenses crowded atop of NFC Conference with their smothering defense and just enough on offense to win these types of games. But I have a surprise for those who think the Rams game plan is to run with RB Todd Gurley first and then throw with QB Jared Goff.

This game will be about the pass first and the run second.

When The Rams Have The Ball On Offense

Everyone knows that the defensive game plan against the Rams is about stopping the run with Gurley to put pressure on a young and still inexperienced Jared Goff to make the plays when needed. Playing against mediocre teams, the Rams have found success in spite of the obvious defensive gameplanning.

It’s now time for the Rams to let loose their secret weapon, our resurgent quarterback Jared Goff. It’s time to let him go for broke and sling that ball all over the field.

The Rams don’t need to go bombs away. They just need to come out of the gate throwing 15- to 20-yard passes and to do the check downs when needed. If the Rams can muster a 14-point lead in the 1st quarter, it will put pressure on the Vikings to catch up. The Rams must continue build on this lead, so that by the time the teams reach the 4th quarter, Minnesota will need three scores to tie or four possessions to win.

If the Rams can accomplish this feat, that’s when they can begin pounding the ball with Gurley. This will cause valuable time to come off the clock. By the 4th quarter, the Vikings’ defense should be tired out from chasing the Rams all day. This will limit the number of possessions need to win the game. Getting first downs on the ground and adding either a field goal or touchdown on a long drive at that point will seal the victory.

Some might think this gameplan is crazy, but the Vikings rank 12th against the pass and 3rd against the rush. None of the teams the Vikings have faced thus far pose as much of a threat in the pass game as the Rams. And the two teams Minnesota lost to? The Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers, each of whom can say they have good quarterbacks in Matt Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger.

The rest of the Vikings wins were against the New Orleans Saints in their season opener, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears, The Packers without Rodgers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns and a squeaker over the floundering Redskins, 38-30.

If the Rams find success in the passing game early and often, this game will be considered Goff’s coming out party. And for those who still question his ability, it will be time to pipe down. It will also open up the eyes to those who still view the Rams as being overrated. Even though they won’t say it, they will have to at least acknowledge the Rams are pretty darn good.

Winning in the passing game will force teams to re-evaluate how they game plan with their defense against the Rams in the future. Defenses can no longer anticipate runs from the various formations the Rams employ, they can pass out of it too.

Less predictability bodes well for the Rams as they march towards the playoffs in lieu of the tough schedule ahead.

When The Vikings Have The Ball

In order for the passing game to take off, it’s imperative that the Rams defense not allow the Vikings to match score for score making them believe they’re still in the game, especially if the Rams can muster to get an early 2 touchdown lead.

Minnesota ranks a respectable 9th in total yards per game. They have done this with a balanced attack in both the passing and rushing game, ranking 12th and 11th respectively.

If the Rams offense can manage to get out to early lead, it will be up to the defense to keep it. The biggest obstacle to doing that is the Rams inability to stop the run.

The Rams rank 24th in the league against the rush. The Rams are getting better, but in this game, stopping the run, forcing the Vikings into 3rd and long is a must. While Ram fans appreciated Keenum’s time with the team and are happy he has finally found success in Minnesota, he’s still the Case whom the Rams know all too well from last year. What fans saw last season from Keenum was that despite the lack of an imaginative offense. He lacked consistency.

While Keenum has a better percentage of completions 64.9, in comparison to Goff at who has 61, under pressure and in 3rd and long, he can be prone to sacks, bad passes and interceptions. Throw in the fact he is playing against the Rams, ranking 9th against the pass and we can only wish it will be long day for the ex-Ram QB, rekindling this week’s silly quarterback controversy in Minnesota.

Field position will be monumental in this game. The Rams must force the Vikings to try to catch up. Minnesota’s lack of success will enable the Rams to gain possession of the ball in good field position. At that point the Rams must score, adding even more pressure onto the shoulders of offensive coordinator Pat Schumer to dial up big plays the Vikings rarely practice or use.

Special Teams

This week it’s “Do Your Job.”

The Rams need to make every field goal they attempt. They need every punt to land inside the 20 yard line and they need PR Pharoh Cooper to run back punts and kickoffs to shorten the field, whereupon it will only take a few plays for Rams offense to score again.

Unforeseen Outcome

What if the Rams run into a buzz saw against the Vikings?

If the Rams play their typical run with Gurley, then pass with Goff offense, they will still score points. It won’t be the 33 they now average, but so will the Vikings score enough to keep it close. This leads to the other outcome—a close game going into the 4th quarter.

Should the Rams be faced with the daunting task of having to pull one out in the final drive, it will be the first one this year and that’s a good thing as well. Face it Ram fans, at that point “A win's a win” we’ll take it. Even if the Rams win in close game or blowout, they will still get no respect from the critics.

On the other hand should the Rams lose this game, it will reinforce what the the critics have been saying anyways, the Rams are “overrated.”

With bigger and tougher opponents still on their schedule, this is why this game is so extremely important to win. This is the game on the schedule bringing clarity to race in the NFC Conference and further proof that Rams are really good football team.

The Los Angeles Rams are a better team than Minnesota, let’s hope don’t play like they have in the past and blow this game by letting the Vikings wind up being the better team for this one game, on this Sunday.

To the task ahead I say “Go Rams!” and onward to victory!