I'll freely admit I thoroughly enjoyed the beat down Green Bay received at the hands of Seattle last night, and I came away with a few quick thoughts as the clock hit zeros:
1) Seattle is really...REALLY...good.
2) I don't know that anyone could've beat Seattle last night in that environment
3) Green Bay was really underwhelming
It's the last point I want to key on for just a minute. Not to relish in Green Bay's misery--OH HEY LOOK LETROY GUION GOT BLOWN OFF THE BALL YET AGAIN--well, okay, maybe a little. In all seriousness, I didn't expect the Packers to win, but I did expect them to play a close game. But the Packers looked anything like a serious contender for the NFC Crown, and they suffered a couple more injuries that could be significant. When you look at the rest of the NFC North and take a lay of the land....you can talk yourself into thinking that the Vikings have a legitimate chance to contend for the division title this year.
But to do that, they need to prove something in St. Louis, and come out of the Edward Jones Dome with a win. If they're going to start 1-0 for the second time in three years, they're going to need to win some key matchups. Let's take a look at them, shall we?
Vikings offensive line vs. Rams defensive line: In my humble opinion, this is the key matchup on either side of the ball. It's one of the better offensive lines in the NFL against one of the best defensive lines, and whoever wins this trench battle will, more than likely, win the game. The Rams have athletic players up and down the line, and the Vikings have quality from left to right, but to me the key matchup within the matchup is Matt Kalil against Robert Quinn. Quinn, who had 19...NINETEEN...sacks last year, has to be neutralized somehow, some way.
Kalil has struggled against speed guys coming off the edge, and Quinn is probably the best in the business at that. If Quinn has a big game, the Vikings are going to have problems getting untracked, but if they can largely keep him in check, they have a great shot here. How do they do that? Screens and draws to help minimize his upfield rush, and give Kalil help with a TE when they need to set up the pocket.
Vikings receivers vs. Rams secondary: This looks to be a great matchup for the Vikings. When I look at the Rams secondary, there's not one guy on that side of the ball that I think can win a one on one matchup with either Greg Jennings of Cordarrelle Patterson. I strongly feel that the Rams will do what every other team has done against the Vikings in recent seasons--bring an eighth man down into the box to stop Adrian Peterson. I also strongly feel that for the first time since 2009, the Vikings have a quarterback and a passing game that can take advantage of those one on one matchups that will be there on the outside when that happens. If the line gives Matt Cassel time, the Vikings will have a golden opportunity to take advantage of this.
Vikings defensive line vs. Rams offensive line: Unlike their counterparts, there's a lot more unknowns for both teams here. The Rams offensive line has been pretty mediocre in recent years,and the Vikings defensive line has undergone an extreme makeover in the off season. I fully expect Minnesota to bring a lot of pressure to bear on Shaun Hill with a fair amount of blitzing and stunting, and if they can be successful in doing that, Hill has a penchant for forcing the ball, giving the Vikes an opportunity to create some turnovers.
Adrian Peterson vs. the Rams defense: In two career games against the Rams, both at the Edward Jones Dome, Peterson has 275 yards rushing and three TD's. In 2012, he blew up for 212 yards, to include an 82 yard TD run. The Rams are going to do everything they can to keep AP in check, and if they can't...yeah, gonna be a long day for them, as it usually is for teams that can't corral him.
Shaun Hill vs. the Vikings defense: With Sam Bradford going down with another ACL injury, all eyes turn to Hill. Hill's a pretty decent backup, but still, there's a reason he's a backup in the NFL, and not a starter. Hill has an okay arm, is pretty accurate, and if he can minimize mistakes and play within himself, the Rams have a good shot. That said, I don't think this is going to be the Vikings defense of old, where they just sit back and let things happen. They're going to try and force the action, and if Hill can counter what the Vikings are going to do, like finding his hot receiver on a blitz, for example, the Rams are going to have a great opportunity to win.
Greg Zuerlein vs. Blair Walsh: This game could very well come down to a field goal, and these two guys are arguably the best in the business. They are both accurate, they both have booming legs, and if you asked me to name two guys I'd want to make a long field goal to win the game, Walsh and Zeurlein are my first two choices. When you consider that this game will be played indoors, the Vikings don't want to give the Rams a chance for a game winning field goal. Conversely, the Rams don't want to give the Vikings the same opportunity.