One of the signature games on the NFL Thursday Night Schedule will take place this week as the Minnesota Vikings travel cross country to take on the Los Angeles Rams. It’s a battle of two teams that won their respective divisions last season and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Minnesota is coming off a loss at home to the Buffalo Bills. The Bills going into Sunday’s game were off to one of the worst starts in the league. Not only were the Bills blown out in their opening two games, they were starting a rookie quarterback on the road. On top of that, Buffalo was without LeSean McCoy who is one of the best running backs in the league. On paper, the Bills were expected to lose especially since the Vikings have one of the best defenses in the league. Well, Josh Allen had other thoughts as he had 3 total touchdowns and 0 turnovers as the Bills won 27-6.
Minnesota’s vaulted defense gave up 17 points in the opening quarter and never seemed to get their footing in the game – which is ironic because if you look at the stats, both teams were just about even. Kirk Cousins and the offense weren’t themselves either. Without Dalvin Cook available, Cousins and the offense had two turnovers in the opening two possessions and Cousins threw an interception in the 3rd quarter as the Vikings couldn’t find a rhythm. This was a sharp contrast compared to the previous week against the Packers, where Cousins threw for over 400 yards in the 29-29 tie.
Los Angeles enters the game as the hottest team in the NFC. Led by Jared Goff and All-Pro Running Back Todd Gurley, the Rams have scored 30 or more points in each of their 3 games this season. The defense has been just as good as they shutout against Arizona and have 6 total takeaways. The only thing that has gone wrong is that Greg Zuerlein is out with a groin injury, so their almost automatic kicker isn’t available.
With both teams having a lot to prove on a national stage on Thursday night, let’s take a look at the 3 things that I find to be the most important things to watch for.
1. Los Angeles’s Rush On Cousins
The Bills showed less than 5 days ago that if you pressure Cousins he might not have the best of days throwing the ball. Yes, he only had the one interception thrown, but the pressure on Kirk was felt all game long. Cousins is one of the best in the league when he has time to pick the defense apart. But when he is pressured, he tends to make mistakes. With the Rams having players like Aaron Donald leading the rush, pressure on Cousins could lead to the secondary also making a play or two.
2. Kyle Rudolph Vs The Rams Linebackers And Safety’s
We all know that the Rams have a dynamic duo at cornerback (Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib) and the Vikings have one of the best receiving duo’s in the league (Adam Thelen and Stefon Diggs). Since both are established in their own right, their matchups can be considered as a wash on who has the advantage. The real key to watch is if Kyle make himself a target- especially if Minnesota can get into the redzone. Rudolph, standing 6′ 6″, should get a few targets inside the 20 yard line. The Rams linebackers and safety’s will have to jam him at the line of scrimmage to keep Rudolph from getting his 3rd touchdown catch of the season.
3. Who Wins The Rushing Battle?
On paper, Gurley is one of the best runners in the entire league, hands down. But when I mention the rushing battle, I mean can the Vikings somehow run the football? Against the Bills, Cousins threw 55 times and they ran the ball a grand total of 5 times as a team. With Cook’s availability still in question, Minnesota has to attempt to run the ball as much as the Rams to even keep this game close. If Cook is back, expect 15-20 carries for at least 70 yards on the ground. If that happens, Gurley and the Rams won’t have the chances to put up huge numbers.
Minnesota is one of the best teams in the NFL, but traveling to the other coast four days after losing to Buffalo is a huge task to take. I feel like the Vikings are in and above their heads in this one. Gurley rushes for over 100 yards and Goff throws for 3 touchdowns in the Rams’ fourth victory of the season.
Rams 34 Vikings 21
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