The game plan for the Vikings was simple last week and it remains so this week.
Run Adrian Peterson. Run him early, run him often, run him inside and out.
That's how you'll beat the St. Louis Rams.
Listen, with the dynamic duo of Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan on the other team, you pretty much want to keep the ball out of Christian Ponder's hands.
Now, that's not necessarily an indictment of Ponder's ability so much as a statement of current reality. Ponder has made some terrible decisions and those decisions have cost the Vikings.
They now have no margin for error. That's not just on Ponder, of course. You can point to some questionable coaching decisions, bad tackling and terrible efforts by most of the wide receivers.
However, Ponder is the one most at risk against this secondary. The rest needs to be fixed, even as soon as right now. This secondary is too opportunistic to risk Ponder throwing a ball into double coverage instead of away, though, and that sort of mistake can turn a game on its ear.
Undoubtedly, it's not that simple because the Rams will know what's coming. Mind you, so has every other team to date and Peterson has shredded most of them.
The key here will be using fullback Jerome Felton and the tight end trio of John Carlson, Rhett Ellison and Kyle Rudolph to help counter the heavy dose of Michael Brockers, James Laurinaitis, Robert Quinn and more that will step up to contain Peterson.
The ground game of the Vikings has faced eight- and nine-man fronts for majority of the season, so this is nothing new.
Peterson has beaten them before and can do it again this weekend. However, the Rams he will be seeing will be a step up from Nick Roach and Geno Hayes, the two Bears linebackers he and his blockers most often abused last Sunday.
The key will be to delay the Rams tacklers long enough for Peterson to get a little speed going and a little room.
Minnesota did a great job, for the most part, on the Chicago Bears. While the Bears lacked Brian Urlacher, they still had Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Julius Peppers and much more.
Still, the Vikings were able to attack a weak point (Roach/Hayes) and apply pressure in a way which will be far more difficult against the Rams.
There are other keys for the Vikings in this game.
On the odd occasions when they have to throw, the routes should be short slants and screen passes, with very rare longer passes thrown in. The long ball has yet to work—a combination of Ponder's issues and the wide receivers'—so there's no point in forcing it and turning the ball over there, either.
Get the ball out of Ponder's hands quick and have him make swift decisions rather than hold the ball as he waits for a perfect pass play to emerge.
Defensively, Minnesota has to get better at tackling. As we mentioned earlier, the front seven's efforts to bring down running backs have been almost laughable, and while it gets penetration, all too often it fails to tackle either the quarterback or running back.
A great deal of this is technique—arm tackling, tackling too high and simply not wrapping ball-carriers up—which is both inexcusable and correctable.
The Vikings have to find away to take advantage of their backfield penetration if they want to stop Sam Bradford.
While Bradford may be short of big-time weapons, he's made a habit of maximizing their abilities. It's unknown how much Danny Amendola will play—he's listed as probable against the Vikings, per Rams Radio Network's Tony Softli.
That doesn't mean that Bradford won't be able to find a receiver to go to.
So it is vital for the defense to not only get in Bradford's face, but to take him down when it is there.
At the end of the day, though, this game will come down to Adrian Peterson and whether or not he can get going.
This is a game the Vikings have to win if they want to remain in contention for a wild-card spot.
If they want to win, Peterson is the guy who will have to carry them to victory.
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