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Matchup Index: Vikings vs Rams

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In Week 9, the St. Louis Rams travel to Minneapolis to take on the Vikings. The Daily Norseman considers a variety of statistics for both teams.

A blast from the past: Vikings vs Rams 1992.
A blast from the past: Vikings vs Rams 1992.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The 5-2 Vikings suddenly find themselves in the conversation of playoff teams after beating the Bears in Chicago last week.  That win propelled the Vikings to within a game of the division leading Packers, and they now currently sit in 8th place overall, good enough to secure a wildcard spot if the season ended today.  However, a lot has been made over the past few days about the Vikings strength of schedule (or lack thereof).  On the flipside, the St. Louis Rams find themselves close behind with a record of 4-3 after picking up wins against the Browns and 49ers coming out of their BYE week.  The Rams currently sit in 11th place overall and in 2nd place in the NFC-West behind the Arizona Cardinals.  So a lot is at stake for both teams. What follows is a look at how the Vikings and Rams stack up in a variety of rankings and efficiency statistics, or a "matchup index" if you will.

Vikings Offense vs Rams Defense

If the Vikings are going to win this game, they will have to win the battle in the trenches.  When you compare the Vikings offensive line to the Rams defensive line, things look pretty dicey, unfortunately.  Football Outsiders ranks the Vikings offensive line 17th in Adjusted Line Yards on the ground, and 26th in Adjusted Sack Rating.  In other words, they are merely average in run blocking, but leave a lot to be desired in pass protection.  If we dig a little deeper in run blocking, we find that the Vikings are 10th in "Power Success" (runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown).  Our running backs are also still very much getting things done in spite of the offensive line, as the Vikings rank 7th in running back yards (YPC combined by all running backs) and 5th in open field yards (Runs more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries).  The Rams run defense is ranked 9th best allowing an average of 98.1 yards per game, and Football Outsiders ranks them 3rd best in adjusted line yards allowed.  Having said that, the Rams run blocking is least efficient in the very things the Vikings are good at: Power Success and Open Field Yards.  This says to me that the Rams defensive line will make it difficult for the Vikings offensive line to open holes for Peterson and company, but if Peterson can "work his magic" so-to-speak and get to the second level or out on the edge, he could find some success.  And the Vikings should have an edge in short-yardage "power" situations.  All that said, I expect the Vikings run game to struggle a bit.

Our passing game may be partially hindered by the poor adjusted sack rating though, as we currently rank 30th in passing yards per game, and 16th in yards per pass attempt.  Bridgewater's passer rating also only ranks 19th overall.  All that said, the passing game has seen a bit of an uptick the past few weeks ever since Stefon Diggs became a starting wide receiver, and some of our low rankings in yardage are related to a 29th ranking in overall pass attempts.  Our offensive line will have a big test to face as the Rams defensive line ranks 4th overall in adjusted sack rating and is ranked 8th overall in yards per pass attempt allowed.  The Rams still have a great defense against both the pass and the run, and Norv Turner will have his work cut out for him trying to draw up successful plays to counter their strengths.

Vikings Defense vs Rams Offense

Now that Todd Gurley is healthy, he's having a great rookie year and comparisons to Adrian Peterson have already been made.  The Rams have a slightly better overall offensive line than the Vikings, although their strengths and weaknesses are the opposite.  The Rams are ranked 24th on the ground in adjusted line yards, but 12th best in pass protection via Football Outsider's adjusted sack rating.  Even though the Rams offensive line is ranked significantly lower in run-blocking, the evidence of Gurley's strong play can been seen in the same way that Peterson shows through for the Vikings: the Rams rank 1st overall in open field yards, and 4th in running back yards per carry (and 3rd overall in team rushing yards per game).  So Gurley is getting it done in spite of the poor run blocking.  We'll see how Gurley does against our average run blocking defensive line.  Football Outsiders ranks our defensive line 21st in adjusted line yards allowed, and we allow the 21st most rushing yards per game.  While we are average, we do excel in one area: Power Success.  Our defensive line is ranked #1 overall in short-yardage and goal line situations, according to Football Outsiders.  Despite what minor advantages our defensive line may have in specific situations, I would not be surprised to see the Rams find some success on the ground with Todd Gurley.

When it comes to pass blocking, the Rams 12th best ranking in adjusted sack rating looks good. But unfortunately, Nick Foles and company haven't been able to take advantage of their offensive line's blocking efficiency.  The Rams are dead last in passing yards per game, which is mostly due to their dead last ranking in pass attempts per game.  It's easy to understand why the Rams are a run heavy team though, because their yards per attempt is also low, ranked 21st at only 7.0.  The Vikings defensive line is merely average in adjusted sack rating, ranked 16th overall.  But we're getting it done in the back end as our pass defense allows only 229.3 passing yards per game (8th best) and 7.1 yards per attempt (12th best).  While we might struggle with pressure overall, I would not expect Nick Foles and company to find a lot of success through the air.

Vikings Special Teams vs Rams Special Teams

The Special Teams primary function is about field position.  According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings rank 15th in kickoffs and 8th in punting.  That said, we rank 3rd overall in kicking average and 23rd in net punting average.  Our kicking game appears to be pretty average.  That said, our starting field position is ranked 5th best in the NFL as we start on roughly the 30 yard line on average.  On the flipside, Football Outsiders ranks the Rams 7th in kickoffs and 13th in punting.  The Rams rank 2nd in kicking average and 3rd in net punting average.  Their elite kickers however, haven't given them much of an advantage in starting line of scrimmage though, which is ranked 16th.

Coaching

Another element of the game that is often overlooked is the quality of coaching.  Mike Zimmer has an excellent reputation as a defensive coordinator, and his style has already dramatically turned around the Vikings defense in two short years.  Norv Turner has had a long and successful career in the NFL as a coordinator and head coach as well, but our offense in general has struggled to find consistent success the past two years.  On the other side Jeff Fisher is no slouch.  The folks over at QuantCoach have attempted to objectively measure the influence of coaching, and have determined that the Vikings coaches are having a slightly negative effect, ranked 17th overall while the Rams coaches are having a slightly positive effect ranked 13th overall.

So where does all of this leave us?  Well, I've decided to break it all down for you in this handy dandy chart, because who doesn't love a good chart?

Matchup Index

Phase of Game

Advantage

Vikings Run Offense vs Rams Run Defense

St. Louis Rams

Vikings Pass Offense vs Rams Pass Defense

St. Louis Rams

Rams Run Offense vs Vikings Run Defense

St. Louis Rams

Rams Pass Offense vs Vikings Pass Defense

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings Special Teams vs Rams Special Teams

Even

Vikings Coaches vs Rams Coaches

St. Louis Rams

Overall Advantage

St. Louis Rams


When I step back and look at the matchups in the trenches and some of the overall team efficiency stats through the first half of the season, I see the Rams gaining some significant advantages.  That said, the game will be played in Minnesota and that has to swing some momentum towards the Vikings.  It will certainly make it harder on the Rams to execute in a loud, hostile environment. I also like to listen to what the sharps in Vegas think too.  Home Field advantage is essentially viewed as a 3-point advantage, generally speaking.  So if Vegas has both teams as essentially equal, then they'll break the tie by giving the home team a 3-point advantage.  In our case this week, Vegas gives the Vikings a 2.5 point advantage, which is actually slightly less than the standard home field advantage.  In other words, they have our two teams nearly equals with the Rams coming out ahead just a little bit.  But not enough to overcome the home field advantage.  Essentially, it's a coin flip game.  With two strong defenses going at it, and two passing offenses that have struggled overall on the year, I expect a low scoring game, and so does Vegas, giving our game the lowest combined point total of the week.

The very last thing to consider is the relative health of both teams.  The Rams are dealing with some injuries to their star defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, and offensive tackle Robert Havenstein (none of them practiced Wednesday).  While the Vikings have their own injuries to deal with as Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Stefon Diggs and Joe Berger all did not practice.  It's early in the week and we'll get a more clear picture by Friday what the nature of these injuries are, but all are significant for both teams.  So what is my scoring prediction for the game?

I expect a close, low-scoring game: Vikings 17, Rams 20.  My bold prediction is that the Rams win a heart-breaker on a game-winning field goal in overtime.