Adrian Peterson will be going for his eighth straight 100-yard rushing game.
In order for the Minnesota Vikings to win their second road game of the season, it's going to take one of their best games of the season. Both the Vikings and the St. Louis Rams are holding on to slim hopes of making the playoffs—a ridiculous proposition when you consider last season these two teams were battling with the Colts for the top pick in the draft.
With the loss of Percy Harvin, the Vikings' anemic offense now rotates around Adrian Peterson, who is only 160 yards from matching his best single-season rushing total in his career. Leading the NFL with 1,600 yards, the Vikings' key to winning this game starts and ends with him.
Here are the keys for the Vikings to defeat the Rams on Sunday.
Adrian Peterson is within striking range of 2,000 yards rushing.
On Wednesday Adrian Peterson was on the Dan Patrick Show. When asked if former Los Angeles Ram Eric Dickerson should be concerned about his single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards he set in 1984—Peterson indicated he should.
In order for that to happen, he will need to average 168.3 yards in each of the last three games. If he does that, one might think it would bode well for the Vikings.
Unfortunately it would not.
Over Peterson's seven-game run of 100-plus rushing totals, the Vikings are 3-4. On the season, in the Vikings' seven wins he's averaged 119.7 yards. In the six losses, his average increases to 127 yards. His best game of the season, 210 yards against the Packers in Week 13, the Vikings ended up losing.
Losing more games when Peterson gains more yards rushing defies logic, but it also means that Christian Ponder needs to contribute.
In the Vikings' seven wins this season, Christian Ponder has completed 125 of 189 passes. That's a 66.1 completion percentage. On Sunday against the Bears, Ponder completed 11 of 17 passes in the Vikings' 21-14 win.
In their six losses, he's completed 126 of 212 passes—a 59.4 percent completion percentage.
Ponder needs to complete enough passes to give the Rams something to think about...besides Adrian Peterson.
Adrian Peterson has averaged 13 rushing touchdowns per season. Heading into the Rams game he has 10 touchdowns. He needs to score at least one per game to maintain that average.
Eight of his 10 touchdowns have come in the last seven games—the beginning of his string of 100-yard rushing games. It was behind Peterson that the Vikings built their quick 14-point lead over the Bears. Their first two scoring drive only took nine plays—eight of them were handoffs to Peterson. He accounted for 69 of the Vikings' 85 yards on those drives.
The Vikings are 13-5 in games when Peterson scores two or more touchdowns. This season he has done it three times, and the Vikings are 2-1 in those games.
Rookie safety Harrison Smith is tied for the team lead in interceptions, along with Antoine Winfield, with three. Two of those interceptions he has returned for a touchdown—the first Viking to score two defensive touchdowns in a season since defensive tackle Kevin Williams returned two interceptions for touchdowns in 2007.
The Vikings are 2-1 in games that Smith has an interception.
Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson is next on the team with two interceptions. He recorded the Vikings' first interception of the season in Week 3 against the 49ers.
Against the Bears last Sunday, it was their two interceptions that sealed the win for the Vikings. Robinson picked off Jay Cutler on the Bears' first drive. He returned it 44 yards, giving the Vikings the ball on the Chicago 5-yard line. Three runs by Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings were winning 14-0.
With 3:40 left in the third quarter, and the score 14-7, Smith returned another Cutler interception 56 yards for a touchdown. It gave the Vikings back their 14-point lead. Smith's touchdown would ultimately provide the final margin of victory.
The two interceptions against the Bears gives the Vikings nine for the season—surpassing their NFL-low of eight interceptions last season.
The Vikings have not won a game this season when they lose the turnover battle.
In every one of their seven wins, the Vikings came out ahead in turnovers and are a plus-five.
Conversely, in every one of their six losses, they were on the negative side of the turnover ratio. They are a minus-10 in turnovers in these games.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, between 2008 and 2009, Adrian Peterson had a total of 16 fumbles. In only his third season, he was starting to get a bad reputation for not being able to take care of the football. In 2010 and 2011, he corrected that problem and only coughed up the ball only twice.
If the Vikings are going to rely heavily on Peterson to win on the road in St. Louis, he will need to hang onto the ball.
Not only will Peterson need to protect the ball...
If not for a couple of Christian Ponder interceptions against the Packers in Week 13, the Vikings might be 8-5, and sitting with the sixth playoff seed in the NFC.
With a 14-10 lead, the Vikings opened the third quarter driving to the Packers' 8-yard line with an opportunity to extend their lead with at least a field goal.
Instead, a poorly thrown ball back into the middle of the field was intercepted in the end zone. It resulted in a Green Bay field goal—at least a six-point swing in the score. The next time the Vikings were able to drive into Green Bay territory he threw another interception—again to Burnett, this time on the Packers' 25-yard line.
Needing to win the turnover battle, Ponder needs to protect the ball, especially in the red zone.
The Vikings are 5-1 in games where he does not throw an interception.
Last week against Chicago, Adrian Peterson had a career-high 31 carries. It was the right strategy for the Vikings to defeat the Bears 21-14.
In the Vikings seven wins this season, Peterson averages 23 rushes—in their six losses, his average drops to 17.3 carries.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out it's a good thing to feed Peterson the ball—early and often.
In order for the Vikings to defeat the Rams, they need to stop them on third down, give the ball back to the offense, and then sustain a drive. It's not rocket science to know that if they do that, they will have a better chance of winning the game.
On the season, the Minnesota Vikings offense has converted only 36.1 percent of their third downs. That statistic isn't complemented with their opponents converting 44.0 percent of their third downs.
That combination means the defense is on the field much more than the offense. That leads to the Vikings' time of possession dropping below that of the competition. And that leads to a Vikings loss.
In the Vikings' seven wins, their time of possession is 30:05—in their six losses it drops to 25:21.
Since Adrian Peterson's consecutive string of 100-yard games began in Week 7, he's had five runs of 50 yards or longer.
Christian Ponder's longest pass completion of the season is only 54 yards, caught by Jarius Wright in Week 10 against the Lions.
In seven of the last eight games, Peterson has the longest play on offense for the Vikings. The longest run of his career came against the Packers in Week 13, when he ran 82 yards for a touchdown.
If the Vikings need an explosive play on Sunday against the Rams, their best bet will be to have Ponder turn and give the ball to Peterson.