If the Rams
are going to make the playoffs this season, they probably need to win out. Even then, they will need a little help from some other teams, but three victories to close out the season would certainly go a long way toward making postseason football happen.
They'll play their final home game of the season today, welcoming in the Minnesota Vikings, who have playoff aspirations of their own. Much as it was last week for the Rams, this is a game in which the loser will likely see their playoff dreams end; there shouldn't be any question about the level of motivation we see from either of these teams.
Three keys to victory after the jump.
Key #1: A Tough Road to Travel
The Minnesota Vikings are a remarkably bad road team. Their record for the season stands at 7-6 overall; that includes a 1-5 mark away from the confines of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. That seems a little odd to me, honestly; usually teams with an enormous homefield advantage are those that play in conditions like Minnesota Decembers outside. Why there would be such a discrepancy with an indoor stadium is beyond me. Maybe the Metrodome really is that depressing a place to play, and only those who call it home can deal with the soul-crushingness of the whole thing.
Regardless, the Vikings just aren't the same team on the road. The Rams are going to need the Edward Jones Dome to put forth its absolute best effort to exert some pressure on the Vikings. A loud building, a fast start, and the Rams should be able to force the Purple Menace to crumple.
Key #2: The Contain Game -- Adrian Peterson
Look, the Rams aren't going to be able to stop Adrian Peterson. They're just not. No other NFL team has yet found a formula for consistently doing so, and I don't think the Rams are magic. The guy is just too good. He's still the best running back in the league, and he has the numbers and the highlight reel to prove it.
So, you can't stop him..What you can do, though, is slow him down, and that's what the Rams are going to have to try and do. This will be possibly the toughest test the Rams' front seven has faced this year, in terms of run defense. There isn't another back in the league capable of doing the things Peterson can do to a defense.
Unfortunately, stopping the run has been a bit of a problem for the Rams at times this year. As dynamic as this defensive line is, they aren't particularly stout against the run. Chris Long and Robert Quinn have both shown the ability to get upfield and pressure opposing quarterbacks like nobody's business, but neither has nearly the same effectiveness playing the run. The middle of the line comes and goes, as well; too many washouts and not enough push. I will say Michael Brockers has improved steadily as the season has gone on, and his future is so bright he should probably check into some eye protection. But for now, there are still too many times he ends up less pusher and more pushee.
If the Rams can hold Peterson somewhere around 100 yards, they should have a great chance of containing the Viking offense. This is not a team that's going to beat you throwing the football; slowing down the ground game is paramount if the Rams want to come out victorious.
Key #3: Starting Fast
The Rams have made it a habit -- a bad one, at that -- of falling behind in games this year. It's nice to see them show the intestinal fortitude to come back and win some of those contests, of course, where in years past we would likely be looking at games that just fall completely apart after haltime. But, it's still not the sort of thing you can do week in and week out; eventually you're going to fail to make that comeback.
This week, I don't think the Rams can come back if they fall behind early. That guy I was talking about just a second ago, Adrian Peterson? Yeah, he's pretty good. And therein lies the problem: if the Rams get down a couple scores early to the Vikings, Minnesota can go to their biggest strength and simply run the ball down the Rams' collective throat. Playing to try and contain Peterson mandates you have to be ahead, able to accept his ability to move the ball without panicking.
On the other hand, if the Rams are playing from behind, the last thing they want is for the Vikings to lean on their ground game, eating up clock and holding the ball. What needs to happen is for Sam Bradford and the boys on offense to get out of the box fast today and take a lead. Switch gears and hand the ball to Steven Jackson enough to make sure he gets those 71 yards he needs to reach 10,000 for his career. The Vikings are at their best when they're playing conservative on offense and giving the ball to their best player; the Rams need to get a lead and force Minnesota to take chances they don't want to in order to try and come back.
So there are your keys to victory, folks. You have a team in the Minnesota Vikings that struggles on the road and doesn't have the weapons to light up the scoreboard, particularly through the air. The Rams need to take advantage of their home stadium, get out to a fast lead, and then just play to contain Adrian Peterson. They don't even have to stop him, only slow him down. Running plays are rarely the big game-breakers unless something goes wrong for the defense. Easier said than done, of course, but this is a team the Rams are certainly capable of beating.
Final prediction: playing at home for the last time in 2012, the Rams take care of business early and then hold on for the W.