The Minnesota Vikings will meet the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon in a game between two teams that appear to be pretty evenly matched. When the schedules came out back in April, nobody thought that this game would have potential playoff implications for both teams this late in the season, but that's exactly where we stand as of now.
If there has been one stat that has been the harbinger of success or failure for the Minnesota Vikings in this 2012 season, it has been the giveaway/takeaway ratio. Here's how the Vikings have fared in each game this season in the plus/minus, and you can see exactly how crucial this stat has been to this team.
|Game||Vikings Takeaways||Vikings Giveaways||Ratio||Result|
|vs. Jacksonville Jaguars||1||1||0||W, 26-23|
|at Indianapolis Colts||0||1||-1||L, 23-20|
|vs. San Francisco 49ers||3||2||+1||W, 24-13|
|at Detroit Lions||1||0||+1||W, 20-13|
|vs. Tennessee Titans||2||2||0||W, 30-7|
|at Washington Redskins||1||3||-2||L, 38-26|
|vs. Arizona Cardinals||2||2||0||W, 21-14|
|vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0||3||-3||L, 36-17|
|at Seattle Seahawks||0||2||-2||L, 30-20|
|vs. Detroit Lions||2||0||+2||W, 34-24|
|at Chicago Bears||2||3||-1||L, 28-10|
|at Green Bay Packers||1||2||-1||L, 23-14|
|vs. Chicago Bears||2||1||+1||W, 21-14|
Yes, this season for the Vikings, it really has been that simple. Even or better in the turnover ratio game, they win. If the number goes into the negative, they lose. They're +1 overall at home, and -6 on the road. They're +5 in their seven victories, and -10 in their six losses. Their only road victory this season? The only road game they've played this year where they didn't turn the ball over at all and finished in the positive in takeaway/giveaway, back in Week 4 in Detroit.
The St. Louis offense has not been high-powered this season. They currently sit 28th in the National Football League in scoring, putting up an average of just 18.2 points per game. However, their defense has been very good since their bye week, having allowed just 18.6 points per game since that time as the team has gone 3-1-1. They've allowed just 12.5 points/game over the past two weeks in victories over the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills. With points looking to be at a premium in this one, the Vikings can ill afford to give the Rams more opportunities and short fields.
Not long ago, this would have been considered a match-up of premiere running backs, with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson facing off against Steven Jackson of the Rams. However, Jackson has struggled this season, as he's averaging less than four yards per carry and has found the end zone just three times. Peterson, on the other hand. . .well, we all know what he's done this season. There's a very good chance that this will be Jackson's last home game for St. Louis, as he will become a free agent after this season. If that's the case, he'll almost certainly be wanting to end his Rams' career on a high note.
This game also features two quarterbacks that have seen their share of struggles this season. Christian Ponder's issues have been well documented on this site and at other places, but former #1 overall pick Sam Bradford has had his issues for the Rams as well. This season, Bradford is connecting on a shade under 60% of his passes, and has taken 31 sacks. He has a 15/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but gets frazzled when he faces pressure, much like Ponder has. According to Pro Football Focus, Bradford has a QB rating of 90.2 when he has a "clean pocket," but that rating drops to 60.5 when he faces pressure.
While Ponder has been regressing over the past six weeks or so. . .a time that he should be progressing. . .it's worth noting that he was 6-for-7 on third downs with four first-down completions last week against Chicago. I believe that's important because it appears that Leslie Frazier has finally figured out where his bread is buttered offensively. Adrian Peterson has been playing so well despite the ridiculous amount of extra coverage that he's received that all Ponder has to do is, basically, not screw up. He needs to throw better passes when he unleashes his inner Rex Grossman, to be sure. . .see the awful interception on the long pass in the direction of Jarius Wright last week. . .but if the Vikings can continue putting him in third-and-manageable situations, Ponder can make the throws necessary to keep the chains moving for Minnesota.
Oh, and if one of those long passes does make it to the receiver, they have to actually catch the football. (Yes, Devin Aromashodu, I'm looking at you here.)
The indicators all point to this contest being a close, low-scoring football game, and it will likely be the team that makes the fewest mistakes that comes away with the victory. Since the slim playoff hopes that both of these teams currently harbor will completely disappear for the team that loses, here's hoping that our favorite football team can control the tempo, keep their hands on the football (and, hopefully, take it away from the Rams a couple of times) and keep the competitive portion of their season going.