The Vikings are 5-2 and riding their first three-game winning streak since a four-game playoff charge to end the 2012 regular season. They also return to TCF Bank Stadium, where they’re 3-0 this season and 8-3 under coach Mike Zimmer since the start of last season.
The opponent — St. Louis — should look quite familiar considering two of its greatest strengths are a big, fast, explosive running back and a quarterback-busting pass rush.
Here’s our early look at the Rams …
NEXT UP: St. Louis Rams, noon, TCF Bank Stadium. The Rams (4-3) have won two straight against Cleveland and San Francisco. They opened the season by upsetting the Seahawks 34-31 before losing at Washington (24-10) and at home to Pittsburgh (12-6). Another signature win came at Arizona (24-22) before a mostly lifeless loss at Green Bay (24-10).
KEY INJURIES: Left defensive end Chris Long (knee) has missed the last two games. William Hayes, who was questionable last week with a thigh injury, still started at Long’s spot. … Left guard Rodger Saffold missed the last two games and is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He has been replaced by Garrett Reynolds. … Right defensive end Robert Quinn started last week despite being questionable with a knee injury. Safety T.J. McDonald also started despite being questionable with a shoulder injury.
LAST TIME: The Mike Zimmer Era opened with the 2014 season opener at St. Louis. And what a debut it was. Cordarrelle Patterson had three carries for a team-high 102 yards and a touchdown, Matt Cassel threw two touchdown passes in a turnover-free game and free safety Harrison Smith returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown in a 34-6 win. Adrian Peterson had 75 yards on 21 carries, but his season would end unexpectedly five days later when he became entangled in child-abuse charges.
A LOOK AT THE FILM …
OFFENSE: Wow, these two teams look a lot alike. The most obvious similarity is at running back, where the Rams have a 21-year-old version of Peterson. Todd Gurley, the 10th overall pick, is 6-1, 227 pounds. Peterson, the seventh overall pick, is 6-1, 220. Gurley is lighting up the league a year after suffering a torn ACL. Peterson lit up the league for 2,097 yards in 2012, the year after he tore an ACL. Gurley missed the first two games, didn’t start in the third game and then posted 566 yards in four starts, the most in a player’s first four starts since the merger in 1970. Gurley is a power back with breakaway speed. And, well, you get the idea. The Rams’ offense ranks 30th overall, third in rushing, 32nd in passing and 28th in scoring. The Vikings rank 29th overall, fifth in rushing, 30th in passing and 24th in scoring. Both teams have former big-name receivers (Kenny Britt/Cordarrelle Patterson) who have faded down the depth chart. Both have new preferred targets who have emerged this year (Tavon Austin/Stefon Diggs). Both have had to deal with injuries on the line. And both have quarterbacks who aren’t flashy but understand their teams, perform with poise, make good decisions for the most part and can lead successful late-game comebacks if they have to. Teddy Bridgewater ranks 31st in passer rating (85.5) while Nick Foles ranks 38th (81.6). Bridgewater has thrown six touchdown passes and five interceptions. Foles has thrown seven TDs and five interceptions. Bridgwater is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt. Foles is averaging 7.0.
DEFENSE: The teams are similar here as well. The Rams rank sixth defensively, while the Vikings rank seventh. The Rams do stop the run more consistently, ranking ninth while the Vikings rank 15th but have improved while holding three straight opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing since their bye week. Both teams rush the passer very well with extraordinary athletes and sound schemes. The Rams’ Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald rank second among end-tackle tandems with 29 sacks since the start of last season. The Vikings’ Everson Griffen and Tom Johnson rank fifth on that list with 25 sacks. The Rams have 13 takeaways and 10 giveaways. The Vikings have nine takeaways and eight giveaways. The Rams have allowed only four field goals the past two weeks and rank fourth in points allowed (17.9). The Vikings are second in points allowed (17.4).
RANKINGS: Offense: 30th (3 rushing, 32 passing). Defense 6 (9 rushing, 10 passing). Scoring: 28th (19.3). Scoring defense: 4th (17.4).
STORYLINE: By kickoff, Peterson will have had his fill of being referred to as the second-best running back in the game. Or the old running back in the game. Meanwhile, Gurley will be extra motivated to wrestle the so-called torch from Peterson’s vice grip in his own stadium in front of his own fans. This should be a special showdown, especially for those old enough to remember when great running backs shared the league spotlight with quarterbacks.
STAT OF THE WEEK:
The combined record of the teams the Vikings have beaten this season. They’ve yet to beat a team with a winning record. The Rams have beaten four teams with a combined record of 14-18, including Arizona (6-2) on the road.
TURNOVER MARGIN: Plus-3 (T-8)
They have 13 takeaways and 10 giveaways.