Vikings vs. Rams: 5 Keys to the Game for St. Louis

Matthew MeltonContributor IIIDecember 13, 2012

Vikings vs. Rams: 5 Keys to the Game for St. Louis

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    The St. Louis Rams compiled their first three victories this season by the end of Week 5.

    While it took it the Rams nine more weeks to rack up their next three wins, there is probably not a more optimistic six-win team in the NFL.

    Jeff Fisher's crew closes out the home schedule this Sunday with a pivotal Week 15 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

    The Rams enter the contest riding a three-game winning streak, the franchise's longest since 2006 and second only to the Washington Redskins' current four-game streak as the longest in the NFC.

    Both teams need a win to maintain their place in the conference playoff picture.

    Here are the five keys to the game for St. Louis against Minnesota.

Slow Down the Pass Rush

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    As much as I love the Rams' defensive end combo of Chris Long and Robert Quinn, the Vikings might have the better DE duo.

    Four-time All-Pro Jared Allen can still bring it, as he has nine sacks through the season's first 13 games. It's not quite the pace of his 22 sacks from last year, but Allen is still a force on the defensive line.

    Don't sleep, however, on Allen's counterpoint on the left side, Brian Robinson.

    Robinson is among the NFL leaders in QB pressures on third and fourth downs with 20, according to Pro Football Focus.

    I don't have to explain the troubles the Rams have had on third down this year. St. Louis ranks 28th in third-down conversion rate (33.3 percent).

    Surprisingly, the Rams are tied for the most fourth-down conversions (11), but the team's failures on third down will be magnified if the Vikings are able to get pressure with just Allen and Robinson.

Funnel Adrian Peterson

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    It's probably too much to expect the Rams to stop or even contain Peterson. Too many NFL teams have tried this year and too many have failed.

    Peterson has broken the 100-yard barrier each of the last seven games. In five of those games, he rushed for over 150 yards.

    Peterson has such a large lead over all other running backs, he could probably sit out the rest of the season and still end the year as the league's most prolific rusher.

    Too many times opposing defenses have allowed Peterson to break through the first line of defenders only to give Peterson the opportunity to make the first move on the secondary.

    The Rams need to figure out how to break the NFL's habit.

    We all know that Peterson is going to find his way into the Rams' secondary several times on Sunday. It's what happens then that will be the difference in the ballgame.

    Instead of over-pursuing and trying to stop AP at the line, I believe the Rams defense should try to push Peterson to the sidelines.

    Force Peterson to pick a direction, make him work to the edge and then funnel him out of bounds. Sure, Peterson might tick off a series of 6- or 7-yard gains, but considering Peterson has twice averaged 10 yards per carry in the last month, it would be a win for the Rams to keep Peterson to only a half dozen.

Attack the Vikings' Offensive Line

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    With all due respect to Peterson in the run game, the Rams can make waves against the Minnesota offensive line.

    Many times, Peterson's yards have come in hollow affairs.

    In the Vikings' last four losses, Peterson has averaged a whopping 8.8 yards a carry, totaling 623 yards.

    A lot of that is to blame on the Vikings O-line.

    According to Football Outsiders, the Minnesota offensive line rank 25th overall in their "Power Success" statistic and 24th in their "Stuffed Rate."

    Power Success refers to the percentage of third- or fourth-down runs, with two yards or less to go, that result in a first down or a score.

    Stuffed Rate refers to the percentage of runs that result in the running back being tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

    What that tells me is that much of Peterson's success is due to his ability to break off long runs, mostly on his own athletic ability.

    The Vikings lead the NFL in rushes over 20 yards (22) and over 40 yards (six).

    But the Vikings also allow defenses to get to the running back at the line of scrimmage, as well as on third down.

    That's where the Rams can make their mark against the Minnesota ground attack. Get at the offensive line.

Control the Tight End

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    The Rams have a habit of sleeping on the opponent's tight end.

    The Lions' Brandon Pettigrew (five receptions, 77 yards) and Bills' Scott Chandler (five receptions for 71 yards) were able to consistently get open. While the the Dolphins' Anthony Fasano (four receptions for 33 yards, one touchdown) and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski (8 receptions for 146 yards, two touchdowns) made pivotal scores.

    Meet the Vikings' Kyle Rudolph.

    Rudolph is capable of getting open and finding the end zone. Rudolph is behind only Gronkowski among tight ends with eight touchdowns.

    Six times this season, Rudolph has hauled in five or more passes. With Percy Harvin out for the season on injured reserve, Rudolph becomes the Vikings' most targeted receiver.

    The Rams must design a game plan to account for Rudolph, otherwise all the work spent controlling the running game will go for naught.

Use the Home Crowd Advantage

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    Back in the Greatest Show days, the Edward Jones Dome was one of the loudest atmospheres in the NFL.

    Nearly 70,000 fans would pack the Dome and scream their hearts out with every play.

    Things have certainly changed over the years at the Dome. Losing begat fan abandonment, which begat more losing.

    But this Rams team is beginning a shift among the fan base. Crowds aren't all the way back to the Warner-Faulk-Bruce-Holt days, but it's getting closer every week it seems.

    I mention the home-crowd advantage because playing on the road is arguably the Vikings' most glaring weakness. 

    Minnesota has gone on the road six times so far this season. They've lost five of those contests. 

    That 1-5 record is on par with the road marks of Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland. Only Arizona is worse at 1-6.

    The Vikings aren't a good road team. In fact, they are a terrible road team. The Rams can beat any of those teams previously mentioned.

    They can beat the Vikings. Especially at home.