Rams-Vikings: Re-Revisiting our Prediction

Oh, the irony. Oh, the horror. Oh, the humanity.

In our preseason preview, we liked the Rams to start coming together by this point in the season, and follow up a statement win at San Francisco (ha!) with an upstart victory (haha!) against the rugged but quarterback-less Minnesota Vikings. Here was a chunk of our thinking:

If the Rams have a hope of beating the Vikings, it will be in coercing #7 to give the game away. With the pounding Adrian Peterson and the slashing Percy Harvin, one would think that the Vikings could likely win the game by simply handing off on every play. But NFL coaching hubris demands that the QB drop back under center and complete forward passes, and so the Rams’ opportunistic defensive backfield will get their chances.

Then, once Brett Favre finished his Mexican hat dance with the media and the NFL, and finally announced his agreement to un-retire at the very end of the preseason, we adjusted our expectations accordingly. And still predicted a win!

Oh, the hubris.

In fairness, the prediction was made while scrutinizing the Rams — and Spagnuolo’s — recent history against Favre’s teams, and came with observations like this:

The Rams defense essentially gave Favre the middle of the field, hoping he would get bored with dinking and dunking and force a mistake or two. Uncharacteristically, though, he threw no picks, and was rarely pressured. The run defense was gashed by a little-known back named Noah Herron, for 106 yards on 20 carries, but in the old Haslett “bend but don’t break” mode, the yards got harder to get in the red zone. Only a coverage breakdown on deep threat Greg Jennings, leading to a 46-yard TD, kept the game close as the Rams had taken a 10-point lead with disciplined play, consistent running — 30 rushes for 118 yards — and a long-lost ability to convert red zone opportunities into passing touchdowns.

The lesson learned in this game was that the Rams could play conservative and limit Favre’s deep chances — but they were nearly burned. It took an all-out rush, and good fortune, to make this strategy pay off.

As the Vikings, and a contingent of their bronze-helmeted fans, approach St Louis, the Rams have to hope that this strategy will work once again to even keep this game close. For they are a deserving 4-0, and we are a deserving 0-4, and seemingly more than four wins form a gulf that separates these two teams from each other.

But as we discussed on this week’s edition of Rams Radio on the Turf Show Times, there are three key elements of this strategy that should pay off, if the Rams can execute:

  1. Contain Adrian Peterson. The run defense has been, so far, the brightest spot for the rebuilding Rams. But for one carry, the Rams contained Julius Jones. They threw back Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. They were not beaten by Ryan Grant. And they scoffed at Glen Coffee. Now, they face a player that is better than this cast, by a whole order of magnitude.

    However, I must backtrack a bit from my broadcast comments — because of Favre’s often unheralded ability to sell a play-fake, and use the threat of AP to generate easy throwing lanes, the Rams cannot afford to completely sell out against the run. They must play Peterson as honestly as they can, and still cover receivers as tightly as they can in the process.

  2. Take away the short passes. So far, we aren’t sure how familiar Favre is with the Vikings’ playbook, but looking at his yards-per-attempt in his game log suggests that he’s rapidly becoming acclimated: 5.2, 5.7, 6.3, 8.7. Still, though, Favre’s job in this offense is to be a game-manager. If follow the 49ers’ defensive blueprint — take away his short passes and stifle the running lanes — and force Favre to put the ball in the air 35+ times, then you generate opportunities for turnovers. And one thing we learned from last week is that the Rams’ defense can go toe-to-toe with that of the 49ers, and not be ashamed of their effort.
  3. Take advantage of every opportunity. To keep this game close, the Rams have to build and sustain drives, and turn them into points. It’s worth noting that the last time the Rams faced a Leslie Frazier defense, Steven Jackson ran for 142 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, so we’re not asking for something completely unprecedented.

    The Rams cannot kill their own opportunities with penalties on offense, with turnovers (especially in their own red zone), or with playcalling that goes against the few strengths of this team. And on defense, they have to be ready to strip the ball, tip the ball, and get their mitts on the ball.

With all that said, the Rams are a deserving 10-point home underdog. A perfectly executed gameplan gets them a cover, but only some “any given sunday” hijinks gets them the improbable upset victory.