Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.

Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.

Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.

Behind Enemy Lines: Fisher, Bradford have Rams on the rise

Posted by: under Quarterbacks, Vikings Updated: December 13, 2012 - 5:32 PM

As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome, we asked Kathleen Nelson, who covers the Rams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, to give us her up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …

1) Under the direction of new coach Jeff Fisher, the Rams sure seem pointed in the right direction.

In a 15-day span, Fisher’s team delivered a decisive 31-17 win in Arizona, rallied to upset San Francisco 16-13, then scored a last-minute touchdown for a 15-12 road win in Buffalo last weekend.

That gives the Rams momentum heading for Sunday’s game. For perspective, they’re enjoying their first three-game winning streak since 2006. In fact, from 2007-2011, the Rams averaged three victories per season.

So yeah, this three-game surge has been invigorating.

“It’s been hard to remember what it’s like in St. Louis,” Nelson said. “It’s like trying on a pair of old jeans to see if they fit. After six years. Sometimes they don’t. But this team has been energized.”

Fisher has gone on record to laud his team’s combination of work ethic and spirit. Nelson says the head coach’s presence has made a big difference too with players responding to his no-nonsense but still approachable manner.

“His biggest impact, I think, has been his ability to gather a coaching staff that has been there, done that and knows how to coach up players,” Nelson said. “That was a huge void last year. This was a team looking for leadership and looking for direction. And I don’t think the previous coaching staff did a very good job with that. This staff does.”

2) Quarterback Sam Bradford has shown encouraging progress to indicate he could be the leader of the St. Louis huddle for a long time to come.

Bradford’s solid 3,512-yard, 18-TD rookie season in 2010 was followed by a bit of a stumble last season when an ankle issue caused him to miss six games and his overall numbers were below average at best: 51.5 completion percentage, 2,164 yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions and a 70.5 rating.

There were other contributing factors to the slump. The Rams’ offensive line and receiving corps just weren’t very good. The 2011 lockout disrupted Bradford’s continuity and development. And he never quite got comfortable working under new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel, who was also doubling as the quarterbacks coach.

“It was a bit of a rudderless ship,” Nelson said. “I don’t think Sam got all the help he could have used and the help that I’m sure he wanted at times.”

The worry over Bradford’s slow progress was only exacerbated when Cam Newton set the league on fire during his rookie year. And now this season, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck have also had significant early success.

Still, Bradford seems to be feeling more confident these days, has settled in under the tutelage of new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and has had unwavering support from Fisher.

“Last winter whenever Jeff Fisher was asked why he took this job, answer number 1 or 2 for him was always ‘I believe strongly in Sam Bradford,’” Nelson said. “That belief is there. And they wouldn’t have traded away the No. 2 pick and the chance to draft RG3 if they didn’t have that kind of faith in Sam."

3) St. Louis’ defensive line is stacked with talent. And the Rams have 39 sacks to prove it.

Robert Quinn, the team-leader right now with 9.5 sacks was the No. 14 draft pick in 2011. Chris Long, who has 7.5 sacks of his own, was the second overall pick in 2008. And now rookie tackle Michael Brockers, who was picked 14th last April, is beginning to emerge as a disruptive force up front.

Brockers’ production will always be notable. He was the Rams’ top selection this season after they twice traded down in the first round. So far, he has fit very well with an active St. Louis defense, now coming on strong after being hobbled early in the season by an ankle sprain.

“Brockers is really, really quick,” Nelson said. “He has an explosiveness about him that’s really starting to show.”

Quinn’s and Long’s talents are obvious as well. But Nelson believes their production has been even more potent thanks to the depth at defensive end with Eugene Sims and Williams Hayes able to fill in nicely.

“Quinn and Long are getting valuable breaks from time to time,” Nelson said. “Which in turn makes them fresher and more effective when they’re in there.”

4) Even with all the encouraging signs, the Rams still have a way to go.

The past two weeks, the defense has come up with huge final-drive stops to seal wins over the 49ers and Bills, something they were unable to get done at key points earlier in the season.

The Rams’ secondary is much improved over last year with veteran cornerback Cortland Finnegan – signed to a five-year, $50 million deal in March – serving as the leader. But as good as rookie corner Janoris Jenkins has been at times, he can also be mistake-prone. The Rams also have a safety unit (Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell start) that is solid against the run but just OK in pass coverage.

Lastly, a top offseason priority will likely be to get Bradford more receiving help. St. Louis drafted two receivers (Brian Quick and Chris Givens) last April. They also are getting production from Brandon Gibson, now in his third year. But now they need to find Bradford a legitimate go-to guy. Danny Amendola has been productive when healthy. But injuries have kept Amendola out of 20 games the past two years.

“So,” Nelson said, “how much do you want to bank on him? Overall, they still need that big-time receiver.”


Tennessee 12/18/14 7:25 PM
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Atlanta 6:00 PM
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Dallas 6:30 PM
Utah 6:30 PM
Orlando 6:30 PM
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Memphis 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Houston 9:30 PM
Indiana 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Ottawa 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Boston 7:00 PM
Dallas 9:00 PM
Langston 65 FINAL
North Texas 78
Delaware State 36 1st Half 0:41
St Francis-NY 24
James Madison 6:00 PM
Ball State
SIU Edwardsville 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida State
Catawba 6:00 PM
George Mason
Ferrum 6:00 PM
High Point
Hampton 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb 6:00 PM
Longwood 6:00 PM
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Miss State
Tennessee 6:00 PM
NC State
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Manhattan 6:00 PM
Robert Morris 6:00 PM
Char Southern 6:00 PM
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Youngstown St
Barber-Scotia 6:00 PM
NC Central
Detroit 6:30 PM
Liberty 6:30 PM
TX A&M-CC 7:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Illinois State
Milligan 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
USC Upstate 7:00 PM
Alcorn State 7:00 PM
Murray State
Central Mich 7:00 PM
Georgia State 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
TX-Pan American 7:00 PM
Saint Louis
Ill-Chicago 7:00 PM
Texas State 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
SC State 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Missouri State 7:00 PM
Chicago State 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Green Bay
Northern Colorado 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
Winthrop 8:00 PM
New Mexico St 8:00 PM
San Diego St 8:00 PM
Eastern Mich 8:00 PM
Michigan State
Loyola Marymount 8:00 PM
Incarnate Word 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Northeastern 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Central Arkansas 9:00 PM
New Mexico
Howard 9:00 PM
Portland 9:30 PM
CS-Northridge 10:00 PM
Grambling St 10:00 PM
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Western Carolina 79 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 66
(21) Miss State 66 FINAL
Louisiana 51
(25) DePaul 109 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 84
Liberty 64 FINAL
NC State 67
Elon 77 2nd Half 0:02
Campbell 51
Akron 5 1st Half 15:38
Richmond 10 1st Half 15:48
UNC-Wilmington 5
Montana 4:00 PM
(7) Stanford 5:00 PM
Florida A&M 5:30 PM
Southern U
Oklahoma 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
Savannah State 5:30 PM
Northern Colorado 6:00 PM
South Florida
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Siena 6:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Vermont 6:00 PM
St Francis-NY
(1) South Carolina 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast 6:00 PM
Texas Southern 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
Northwestern 6:00 PM
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Appalachian St
NC Central 6:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Drexel 6:00 PM
Cincinnati 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Alabama State 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Morehead St 6:00 PM
USC Upstate
Arkansas State 6:00 PM
Kent State
American Univ 6:00 PM
UNC Greensboro 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Arkansas-Monticello 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Prairie View 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
McNeese State 7:00 PM
(3) Texas
Yale 7:00 PM
Oakland 7:00 PM
Eastern Kentucky 7:00 PM
Alabama A&M
SIU-Edwardsville 7:00 PM
Northern Ill
McMurry 7:00 PM
Portland 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
North Texas 9:00 PM
San Francisco
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon




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