KNOW THY ENEMY: The St. Louis Rams

The Vikings open the 2014 season with a much-anticipated matchup against the St. Louis Rams.  The time to obsess only over our Vikings roster is over and we must now be aware of the teams that stand between us and the 2014 playoffs.

With the opener almost upon us, I asked Nathan Kearns to answer a few questions about the Rams and what we can expect to see.  Nathan is an Editor over at the Ramblin Fanas well as a die-hard Rams fan, and helps us understand our first real enemy of 2014.

I asked Nathan to make a prediction at the end of this, but first he was kind enough to answer five questions about this Rams team:

1.  Sam Bradford’s situation is unfortunate on so many levels, and even fans of other teams can sympathize with him and the Rams organization, but what can we expect to see out of the Week One passing attack with Shaun Hill at the helm?
Pop in a tape from Week 8 through Week 17 of the St. Louis Rams 2013 season and you will get a pretty solid idea. Much like when Bradford went down last season, Jeff Fisher and company will revert back to a conservative offense that relies heavily on the running game. Shaun Hill is a more accurate thrower than Kellen Clemens, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams take a few more shots down the field. However, for the most part, it will be a run-oriented offense, with a mix of play-action and short throws to move the football down the field.
2.  For the third season in a row, the Rams are the NFL’s youngest team, which means you are likely to have some surprise players evolve into formidable players.  Is there a current “unknown” type of player that you think has a chance to make a major impact as early as Week One against the Vikings?
I’m not sure about “unknown,” but rookies like Aaron Donald and Lamarcus Joyner will both get plenty of chances to make their presence known early and often versus the Minnesota Vikings. Donald may be particularly interesting, since being sandwiched between Michael Brockers and Chris Long should give him a number of one-on-one opportunities against a suspect offensive line.
3.  Your team continues to look for quarterback help with Mark Sanchez and Terrelle Pryor being mentioned as possibilities (Note: Circumstances changed after this question was originally sent).  Do you think the timing of this opener against Minnesota has prevented Christian Ponder talk, or do you think a trade for Ponder is not an option for other reasons?
I doubt that a trade for anyone is a realistic option for Jeff Fisher and Les Snead. They seem to like Shaun Hill, trust Austin Davis with the offense, and will keep Garrett Gilbert on the practice squad. Case Keenum was recently claimed off waivers, which should end all trade talk for the season, barring some injury to Hill.
4.  Which one-on-one matchup featured in this game will you be watching the closest and why?
Brian Quick versus whoever he is lined up against on the outside. Quick has been the “toast of the preseason,” being praised by players and coaches alike for his improvement from last year. He performed consistently well during the games where he saw ample playing time, suggesting that this could be the “breakout year” that Rams fans have been waiting for since he was drafted in the Top 50 players in the 2012 NFL Draft. Kenny Britt would be the other player to keep an eye on, potentially creating a receiving duo that could carry Shaun Hill (and the rest of the team) through the regular season.
5.  Like the Vikings, St. Louis added two first round selections to their roster this offseason.  Could you talk us through how each of them have looked leading up to September and what type of impact we can expect them to have next weekend?
Greg Robinson has struggled a bit in pass protection, rotating between left tackle and left guard, depending on the personnel grouping. He has shown some improvement, and has certainly impressed in run blocking. However, it will be hard to know his true impact until we’ve seen him in live action, with the starting offensive line, with genuine play-calling.
Aaron Donald, on the other hand, has been arguably the most impressive player on the St. Louis Rams stacked defensive line. During training camp, Donald has been utterly unstoppable, and has been a regular force in the backfield despite typically playing with sub-par talent around him during the games. With Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers on the field at the same time, Donald could truly show off his pass rushing skills, particularly if the Vikings are forced into a one-dimensional offense later in the game.
20-13 Rams over Vikings.  This should be a relatively low-scoring bout between offenses that lack a “starting-caliber” quarterback. Adrian Peterson will undoubtedly get his yards, but should have trouble taking over the game against a very stout St. Louis Rams run defense. The Rams should win the battle in the trenches on both sides of the football, which will end up being the determining factor in the game.
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Adam Warwas

Adam Warwas (Founder) has been writing about the Vikings for a total of eight years. Five of those years have been here at Vikings Territory where he continues to surround himself with enough talented individuals that people keep coming back. As proud as he is of what Vikings Territory has become, his real treasures are in his home... a beautiful wife and three amazing children (and a dog named Percy).

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  1. He sure thinks highly of the Rams… Have to disagree that they will win the battle in the trenches on both sides. Our D-line is shaping up to be pretty formidable and the O-line is not “suspect”

    1. I agree – I scoffed when I saw “suspect” about Minnesota’s offensive line, but that Rams D-line is crazy/scary. The Vikings will need good harmony and execution from the line and Felton/Line to get 100 yards on the ground.

      I like MN’s D-line against their O-line. I think both passing games will be hit and miss, and the rungame will decide. Their run D is better than MN’s, but Peterson is other-worldly. If the team can get a couple of sneaky Patterson plays out of the backfield to move the chains, I think Minnesota wins a scrapper of a game.

    2. Maybe not so highly of the Rams, but just not-so-highly of the Vikings.

      “Suspect” might not be the best term to describe the Vikings offensive line. John Sullivan could be considered a Top 5 center, Brandon Fusco players well for some stretches, and Phil Loadholt has been everything the Vikings has hoped for.

      However, much like the Texans, the Vikings line is filled with road graders that are adequate, at best, in pass protection. Moreover, Adrian Peterson is an absolute monster, so run blocking prowess has to be counter-balanced with his abilities to make defenders look foolish.

      In terms of the defensive line, the universal consensus on Everson Griffen (outside of Minnesota) is that the Vikings pulled a Jerry Jones and paid their defensive end before he actually produced in the league. Jared Allen will be a hard man to replace, not only in terms of production, but leadership and confidence on the football field. Moreover, the Vikings have done little to upgrade the interior of their defensive line, which has been deteriorating for the last couple of seasons. Shariff Floyd was abysmal in his rookie showing, and the rest of the defensive tackles were no better (with the exception of Kevin Williams, who was average, at best).

      There are arguably three defensive lines in the NFC West alone that would out-rank the Vikings’, so “formidable” might not be the right term.

      1. Nathan,

        Granted it was preseason but the Vikings did just fine running the ball without AD. Almost 600 yards in 4 games on the ground. I also have to disagree with your saying that the interior D-line has not been improved. Linval Joseph will have a big part in improving that area and was a key addition to the interior this offseason. They may not be formidable yet, but I said they were shaping up to be. Don’t be such a sour puss.

        1. Nathan? My name is Jake…

          Anyways, not sure how adding another middle-tier defensive linemen to a mix of unproven players equates to “shaping up” to be formidable.

          1. Jake or whatever your name is…. Linval was the second highest rated defensive tackle according to PFF last year… That doesn’t sound like a Middle-tier Lineman…

  2. Our O-Line is fairly streaky in pass coverage at times. If we get into a hole I could see the Rams front four eating Cassel alive if he holds onto the ball longer than a 3-step drop would imply. I just don’t see us getting into said hole.

    24-13, Vikes start 1-0

  3. I know others have commented as well but I just have to say, since when is Minnesota’s O-Line “suspect”? Sorta weird.

    1. Mmmmaybe he meant that the rookie in question would succeed in one-on-one situations against lines that are suspect – not that Minnesota’s line was suspect in particular.

  4. To be fair, the left side of the O Line is still a bit suspect, at least until Matt Khalil returns to pass blocking form, which I read he did NOT do during the pre-season.

    I think NFL Fan is wrong about a number of things with the Vikes’ D Line. Linval Joseph is a significant upgrade over LeTroy Guion at Nose Tackle just because Joseph is a legit, if not outstanding, NT and Guion isn’t. As for Everson Griffin, I don’t have a sub to Pro Football Focus at the moment but I’d guess that he has been in on 1,500 or so defensive snaps over the last four years, maybe closer to two thousand. I think that’s more than enough tape to determine whether he’s actually produced or not and probably at least as much tape as the Vikings had when they chose to re-sign Brian Robsion (13.5 sacks in his first four seasons) over Ray Edwards in 2011. Frankly, this wouldn’t even be an issue if Griffen had had as many sacks last year (5.5) as he had in 2012 (8). As for the amount of money paid to Griffen, we really couldn’t afford to lose him to another team because (A) Allen was due to make a ton of money, (B) it was time to re-build and (C) we didn’t have anyone else waiting in the wings like we did with Edwards and Robison.

    1. I wonder what would happen if they took hair samples, from everyone, on Mondays. Every Monday.

  5. The guy is a Rams homer, but that’s a given. It’s not like he was claiming to provide an unbiased preview of Sunday’s matchup, right? With that being said, he seems awfully confident in a team that was fourth best in their division BEFORE losing their starting quarterback.

    The Rams are a young team with a lot of talent, at least on paper, but until they actually start producing on the field their fans should settle down (especially considering the division they play in). The same could be said of the Vikings and their fans, but unlike the Rams, the Vikings have been largely written off by the national media. I honestly don’t think most national sports writers could name more than 3 players on the Viking’s roster (and it would be Peterson, Bridgewater, and Patterson ever time). 🙂

  6. I like what the Vikings are putting together for 2014 and beyond. Keep in mind… in 2013 with suspect coaching, rotating quarterbacks, and terrible defensive adjustments, they were 5 last minute losses away from being a double-digit win team and winning the division. Coaches Zimmer and Turner seem like a great combo. Both coaches are going to place players in positions that will give them a great opportunity to exel. We have a great group of young, talented players, and the team leadership made the always-hard (but correct) choice to let some older, declining players leave. This team will surprise some people this year. Barring injury and with some good fortune (they sure did not have any last year – think officiating at Baltimore in the snowstorm game), this team could win 10-11 games. With injuries and some bad luck… 6-7. Either way… go VIKES!

  7. @FOZZ44:
    oh heck no, just enough to win, the secret stuff is going to be for the divisional games, best not let on until then,
    No tape.

  8. Khalil and Johnson are average. Griffin displayed a lack of lane discipline during the preseason. The preseason isnt much of a sample but I’d like to see him embrace his assignment. Joseph, sporting a Mohawk, Muslim brotherhood beard and prototypical gut, looks the part. That he’s already taken a bullet speaks volumes. If he can play then that’s my next jersey.

  9. Nathan certainly caught my eye with the “suspect” O-line comment, as well, I’m not going to lie. With that being said, I find myself worrying about the O-line more than any other area of the offense these days… especially that left side. We’ll see if all that investment pays off or not, but at the moment I think “suspect” might actually be a fairly fitting description.

    1. Until Kalil strings together a few good-to-great games I think the left side is a liability in pass coverage. Charlie Johnson is no better than replacement level in that department, in my opinion. I will give him (Charlie J.) credit though; every guy we’ve brought in to replace him hasn’t been able to. Perhaps the continuity along the line will help. I sure hope Kalil turns it around, though. We absolutely need that guy to pan out and be a top 5 or10 LT.

  10. “20-13 Rams over Vikings.”

    Dream on. . .
    Even with our “Suspect O-line”, 28-17 VIKINGS

  11. I’m guessing Nathan Kearns has a slightly different take on the Vikings after today’s game.

    1. I dunno, our o-line is pretty suspect. Kenny Brit and Quick had such breakout games respectively. And we still lack a starting caliber QB who is unable to put up points against one of the most formidable lines in the NFL…Oh wait.