PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt will have to hold up Sunday in a pivotal matchup against Rams end Chris Long. Long has 7 1/2 sacks and continues to be disruptive with his speed and power.
Loadholt is coming off a shaky effort in last week's victory over Chicago. He was flagged three times for false starts -- though a couple were not entirely his fault.
Said coach Leslie Frazier: "There were some things we have to do between our center and quarterback that can help with that. We think we've got that corrected."
The Vikings will need Loadholt to be sturdy Sunday. But in truth, the entire offensive line will have its hands full. Rookie Matt Kalil faces a potentially entertaining battle against Rams sack leader Robert Quinn. And on the interior, the Vikings will have to find ways to neutralize both Kendall Langford and emerging rookie Michael Brockers.
Three of St. Louis' four starters up front were top 15 draft choices: Long (No. 8 in 2008), Quinn (No. 14 in 2011) and Brockers (14th this year). As a team, St. Louis has 39 sacks, second most in the NFL.
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
Will quarterback Christian Ponder be able to slow himself down?
There was plenty of chatter at Winter Park this week about cleaning up Ponder's mechanics. Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave each acknowledged the young quarterback's obvious recent lapses, particularly with his footwork and balance.
"That's one of the areas we need to tighten up," Musgrave said.
Sure, Ponder may be in only his second season. But with many of his mistakes seeming so elementary -- his tendency to throw without setting, his habit of exiting the pocket before finishing his progressions -- there's heightening concern whether he can transport all the things he works on at practice into the chaos of a game.
Frazier, meanwhile, dismissed the theory that he and the coaching staff have been too easy on Ponder with their unwavering public support of him.
Behind closed doors, Frazier said, Ponder is not being pampered.
"We make it clear what has to happen at the quarterback position for us to be successful as a team," Frazier said. "He's well aware. We think we're demanding the most and the best out of him. ... It's just that it's not as overt sometimes."
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
The Vikings defense was far from flawless last week, allowing Chicago to rack up 438 total yards. But when big plays were needed, big plays were made. And the defense retained an edge from start to finish.
Said defensive end Jared Allen: "The mindset was we didn't care what happened on the offensive side of the ball. We were going out every series trying to stop them. You could feel that. You could feel the energy and the focus of the guys. We've got to carry that over."
St. Louis has lost just once since October and, if the Rams beat the Vikings, they would enjoy their first four-game winning streak since 2003. Key to that success has been an upgraded secondary that's taking its lead from cornerback Cortland Finnegan, whose blanket coverage outside will test the Vikings' struggling passing attack. Meanwhile, rookie corner Janoris Jenkins has scored three touchdowns, showing clear signs of his long-term potential.
On offense, St. Louis ranks near the bottom of the league in points per game (18.2) and total offense (324.3). But quarterback Sam Bradford has produced when it matters, leading go-ahead scoring drives in the fourth quarter of five games. Seven of Bradford's 15 TD passes have come in the fourth quarter.
INJURIES AND FINES
The Vikings have few injury worries, especially after cornerback A.J. Jefferson returned quickly from a concussion. He had a strong week of practice.
Jefferson should start Sunday and is one of nine starters listed as probable. The others: Adrian Peterson (abdomen), Allen (shoulder), Kyle Rudolph (shoulder), Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), Charlie Johnson (ankle), Loadholt (knee), Letroy Guion (shin) and Chris Kluwe (knee and groin).
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is questionable because of a knee issue, but Frazier had little worry Winfield wouldn't play.
In the fine department, neither Allen nor Everson Griffen were fined for their personal fouls last game. Allen delivered a late hit out of bounds on Bears running back Matt Forte. Griffen drew an unnecessary-roughness penalty for his fourth-quarter hit on quarterback Jay Cutler.