Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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    Mike Zimmer’s first regular season game as a head coach turned out to be a lopsided victory at the expense of the St. Louis Rams. This week’s matchup, however, is sure to be different for a number of reasons.

    I decided to check back in with our friend Nathan Kearns of Turf Show Times to see what we can expect out of this 2015 version of St. Louis.

    ADAM: Last time we talked, you were really high on Shaun Hill’s ability to be the starter in St. Louis. He’s now a backup in Minnesota. After our Week One win in 2014, our readers voted Cordarrelle Patterson as the “Player of the Game.” Obviously, a ton has changed since Minnesota’s 34-6 thrashing of St. Louis, so help get us Minnesota fans up to speed. What has all taken place to make this year’s version of the Rams different than last years?

    NATHAN: The fact that Rams Nation was high on Shaun Hill to start last season (myself included) shows how far we’ve come in a little over a year. In terms of the roster, Jeff Fisher finally got his “Eddie George” in the drafting of Todd Gurley, who just had his jersey enshrined in the Hall of Fame for four consecutive 125+ rushing yard games. The offensive line is also (literally) completely new, with the Rams shifting from the “one-foot-into retirement,” over-paid veterans to green, recent-draftees. The change has brought new energy to the offense, including some much needed speed and versatility. Lastly, Shaun Hill and the hopes and dreams of a healthy Sam Bradford have been replaced with Nick Foles, who has been underwhelming, but efficient, so far this year.

    However, the two more important changes to the “new” Rams aren’t players. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has now had over a full year to install and tweak his complex defense. Last time the Rams played the Vikings, the Mad Scientist had only been around for four or five months. Since then, the Rams defense has posted two shutouts (at the end of 2014), and currently have the top graded defense on Pro Football Focus (PFF), all while allowing the 4th-fewest total points in the league. Finally, arguably the biggest change to the Rams was the release of Offensive Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and the promotion of Frank Cignetti. We’ll certainly touch on this a little more…

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    Brent: Seattle Seahawks | Dec. 6
    The defending NFC Champs just don’t seem like the same team that we saw in 2013 and 2014. Russell Wilson is facing pressure more than any other QB in the league and although he’s fairly good at breaking the pocket and finding ways to get the ball downfield, I feel like the opportunity for the Vikings defense to be disruptive is ripe.

    Getting the Seahawks at home will certainly help the Vikings’ case and as the Seahawks continue to battle through injuries, the opportunity for the Vikings to win is there for the taking.

    Adam: Green Bay Packers | Nov. 22
    The rest of this schedule looks like an emotional nightmare for Vikings fans. I am plenty optimistic about this year’s team, and I know they are capable of beating any of these teams if they play to their potential, but I also assume there are a few heartbreaking losses on tap for us between now and the end of the season. To answer your question, however, I am looking at the Nov. 22 matchup against Green Bay as the game with highest potential for a perceived “upset.”

    First of all, it is a home game for the Vikings, and I think that clearly comes with a little advantage. Second, I think there is a certain lack of predictability that comes with NFC North games. Most of all, however, I think our defense is well suited to follow the blue print laid out by Denver (a somewhat similar defense on a number of levels) and execute a winning game plan. If the weather is nasty, which is very possible, then I would take our ground game over theirs in a heartbeat. So, there you have it: as insane as it might sound, I’m putting it out there that I think the Vikings will upset the Packers in Week 11.

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    The recipe for success in the NFL is hardly consistent; coaches will adjust starting lineups, offensive packages, and personnel groupings to fit their needs on a weekly basis. Like adding more pepper to spice up a dish, for example, changing a defense’s alignment can completely alter the way that unit performs on the field. And like any good chef, the league’s best coaches know what ingredients work exceptionally well together.

    The beauty of football, then, is the fact that the combinations are different for all 32 franchises. In Carolina, the Panthers run the ball on 51.89 percent of their offensive plays. The Patriots, on other hand, run the ball less than nearly every other team in the league, at just 34.76 percent. Each team takes the field on Sunday with a different approach, but each is currently undefeated. They know exactly what works, what doesn’t, and how to maximize the talent on their roster.

    For Mike Zimmer, Norv Turner, and the rest of the Minnesota Vikings, their own formula is becoming clear. On offense, Teddy Bridgewater is doing just enough to win games, while Adrian Peterson continues to carry the unit with powerful running in between the tackles. On the other side of the ball, an aggressive front-seven maintains its discipline in Zimmer’s scheme to suffocate opponents. Their recipe combines a run-first offensive attack with collective speed on defense — ingredients that work well together no matter when or where the Vikings play.

    Against the Chicago Bears last week, Minnesota relied on their strengths to move to 5-2 and win their third straight game. With the victory, the Vikings are 3-0 in the division and on a crash course with the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title. The running game and consistency on defense are this team’s bread and butter, and man, does that combination taste delicious right now.

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    Since their early bye week, the Minnesota Vikings have done nothing but win, and now have three straight victories to their name. Can they make it four? We’ll take a look around the web at everything being said about this team in advance of this week’s big game against the St. Louis Rams.

    First, however, I want to point out that this last week has been a rare one in Minnesota sports in that the Vikings haven’t been the subject of the most important headlines. Really, they haven’t even ranked close to the top storylines in recent weeks. I’d like to use this space to draw your attention to a great article written by our own Lindsey Young.

    Lindsey posted a great piece following the sad news of Flip Saunders’ passing and ahead of the Timberwolves season opener. Basketball fan or not, I’d encourage you all to CLICK HERE and give it a read.

    Okay, on to all things purple…

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    Marcus Sherels spent much of the offseason surrounded by question marks, specifically those addressing his status with the team. Like Cordarrelle Patterson, he’s a backup at his native position whose main contributions come on special teams. Unlike Patterson, though, Sherels is making an impact in the return game and being rewarded for his winning efforts.

    On Monday, Sherels was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against the Chicago Bears. In the first quarter, he returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, putting the Vikings up 7-3 at Soldier Field in a game Minnesota needed to win. Sherels also returned a punt 12 yards on the Vikings’ game-winning drive and led the team with two special teams tackles.

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