The Los Angeles Rams offense has never been better—not since 1999. But like the Rams, the Minnesota Vikings look like a blast from the past with their defense trending towards the same level as their 1988 squad. That year, their defense was allowing the second-fewest points in the league.
Currently, they’re allowing the fourth-fewest and on Sunday when they host the Rams, the expectation is they will stay the course and force the high-scoring offense out of it’s comfort-zone. They will try to bring the Rams down to their level of nitty-gritty, grinding football.
That’s the only way this Vikings teams was beat this season. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions slugged their way through four quarters against an unrelenting defense and came out on the other side victorious (and most likely bruised).
Although a tall order, the Rams will hope to be the third team to do so.
Chess match of Zimmer & McVay
As noted by ESPN Vikings reporter Courntey Cronin, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer likes to play his cards close to the chest. Unlike McVay, who likes to throw around receivers in motion and show different looks, Zimmer limits what opposing offenses see.
The Vikings line up in the base 4-3, or against the obvious pass-situation, they show the 4-2-5 Nickel. It’s not the greatest answer to a dynamic offense like the Rams, but at the same time, anything could be coming against them.
With the Vikings lining up in the base nearly every play, anything could be coming. This makes it more difficult for QB Jared Goff to predict what’s coming when he’s at the line, and less likely that he will know when to make the audible.
The Rams have faced talented defensive fronts before, but this will be the most grueling test of the season.
Minnesota has not allowed a team to run for more than 100 yards in six of their nine games this season. They haven’t allowed a running back to run for more than 100 yards against them, either.
One of the reasons why is because their defensive line, specifically their interior big boys, are physically powerful. It takes a lot more than a one-on-one matchup to move NT Linval Joseph.
Joseph is a big body, but his play against the run is so fluid. He goes from planting his base to clog the running lanes to shedding the block and chasing down the running back.
Against the Houston Texans, the Rams assigned one-on-one blocking on DE Jadaveon Clowney, which was pretty stupid, especially when you realize they put receiving TE Tyler Higbee and WR Cooper Kupp on him solo. You may as well play a man down.
While DE Danielle Hunter is no Clowney, putting solo, non-linemen blockers on the end will be a repeat performance of Sunday.
Same goes for the opposite side of the line with DE Everson Griffin, who leads the team with 10 sacks.
Everyone joins the fun
LA’s offensive line will have a rough outing on Sunday because there will be danger at every corner. It’s not just the linemen who will be going at them. The linebackers and defensive backs will be flying in to take advantage of the diverted attention.
SS Harrison Smith has been a force since his playing days at Notre Dame. His speed from the backfield of the defense is impressive and he seems to know the right time to pounce.
When the Rams played the Dallas Cowboys in October, they were fortunate enough not to play against LB Sean Lee, who is one of the best run-defenders in the league. LB Eric Kendricks is not at that, yet, but he’s damn close.
Between two poisons
The Vikings are allowing the fifth-fewest yards through the air, sixth-fewest yards per-completion, and their pass-defense features one of the most respected corners in the league in CB Xavier Rhodes.
The pass-defense leaves little to feel comfortable amount. They know how to limit opposing offenses and similar to the Rams defenses of 2013-2015, they know how to bring the game down to their level of football.
Goff doesn’t need to light up the field on Sunday to beat the Vikings. He just needs to see what the defense is giving him and take advantage of the check-downs.
The Washington Redskins were able to expose the Vikings through the air last Sunday. Before their game, the defense hadn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for more than 161 yards in five weeks. QB Kirk Cousins torched them for more than 300 yards.
How? By taking advantage of the Vikings mistakes. For instance, the defense does a great job in following the running back. But they overcommit, and got fooled a handful of times on the play-action pass.
Also, their front-seven seem to struggle on the pulling plays.
Cousins and the offense also targeted the linebackers in the pass-attack.
While Kendricks is a skilled run-defender, he is not very strong against the pass.
This is a great opportunity for Gurley in the passing game. While he’s not often lined up like a slot receiver, Gurley can still run vertical routes and find open space for the catch.
Same goes for Higbee and TE Gerald Everett. If Goff sees Kendricks lined up over his tight ends, he needs to target that mismatch.
The Redskins lost a game that they could have won. Unfortunately, they themselves made more mistakes and the Vikings got lucky they didn’t capitalize.