- After an ugly loss to the Bills, can the Vikings hang with the best team in the NFC? The Minnesota defense will need to step up in a major way if it expects to hand Los Angeles its first loss of the season.
Can the Vikings bounce back from a deflating loss against the Bills last week, or will the Rams keep their perfect record alive? Three things to know before the Vikings visit the Rams for Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX, NFLN, Amazon Prime).
1. As covered in Monday’s Extra Point, the Rams offense has more talent and an even more creative scheme than it did when leading the league in scoring last season. But the team has yet to face a defense like Minnesota, which—despite a bizarrely futile showing against the weaponless Bills—remains one of football’s most formidable units. The Vikings held the Rams to seven points and 254 yards in Week 11 last year. Their D-line overpowered a well-coached veteran O-line in the running game and got to Jared Goff several times on passing downs. Expect Rams head coach Sean McVay to either align his receivers tight to the formation or put them in motion in order to slow down Minnesota’s defensive ends by making them think about crack blocks and jet sweep run contain duties.
2. In that Week 11 game, starting Rams corner Kayvon Webster went down with an injury and was replaced by undrafted rookie Dominique Hatfield, who held up until a Cover 0 blitz that Wade Phillips dialed up late in the game. Stud receiver Adam Thielen beat Hatfield on a hook route that, with no safeties to help after the catch, became a 65-yard touchdown. Hatfield was recently just promoted back up from the practice squad, with Aqib Talib hitting I.R. with an ankle injury. Hatfield figures to be at the bottom of the depth chart, with veteran Sam Shields starting for the first time since Week 1 of 2016. (Opposite him could be backup Troy Hill, if Marcus Peters misses the game with a calf injury.) You can bet Phillips remembers Thielen’s play from last year … and you can bet the Vikings do, too. Part of Thielen’s greatness is he can line up anywhere—look for him to choose whatever side L.A.’s weakest corner is on. And look for Phillips to be more cautious with his blitz calls.
3. Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff floundered in pass protection last week against Buffalo. Now, he’s battling a foot injury, and the Vikings could be counting on right tackle Rashod Hill in his spot. This will be a revealing week for the Rams defensive line—yes, it’s tremendous inside with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but it’s still waiting for a natural edge rusher to emerge. Making the mediocrity more painful is that the expensive edge-rusher L.A. traded in the offseason, Robert Quinn, has found the fountain of youth in Miami and looks better than he has in years.
Bold Prediction: Todd Gurley will catch four passes in the first quarter as the Rams try to take advantage of Minnesota’s linebackers in the flats the way Buffalo did.