To stop Jared Goff and the Rams’ No. 1-ranked scoring offense Sunday, the Vikings felt they needed to stop the man next to Goff — running back Todd Gurley.
They did just that in the Vikings’ 24-7 drubbing of Los Angeles.
“We stopped the run,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said. “At the end of the day, I feel like they are based off the bootleg and the run. If you stop the run, then you stop the bootleg. You pretty much have them bottled up.”
“Bottled up” is a nice way of putting it. Goff and the high-flying Los Angeles offense were effectively grounded. That’s because Gurley, who looked on the cusp of a big game in the opening drive with 31 yards and a touchdown, fell silent after his strong first impression.
After that first possession, the Vikings held Gurley to 25 yards on 13 touches.
“It was just simmering down,” defensive tackle Tom Johnson said after the first drive. “Guys were trying to be too aggressive and [Gurley] was able to hit some soft spots. They wanted to run downhill, so once we were able to [shore] up the interior, they had to bounce it outside. So we made them do things they didn’t want to do and our secondary was able to come in and make big plays.”
So the Vikings run defense will surge even higher up the rankings; it entered Sunday ranked third in the league, allowing 81.3 rushing yards per game.
The Rams managed just 45 rushing yards, impeded in part by intense crowd noise that helped lead to one Rams delay-of-game penalty.
The crowd noise caught the Vikings, too, early in the game, according to Johnson. The Vikings defensive communication was stifled early, when Gurley picked up most of his yards, while all 11 of Minnesota’s defenders needed to adjust and spread the calls from the sideline.
“We had a little trouble with the crowd noise, also,” Johnson said. “They were doing a lot of adjustments. [Vikings] coaches wait until the last second to give us adjustments on the defense, and we were checking also. That caught us off guard the first and second series.”
Rams coach Sean McVay, who started his news conference by praising Mike Zimmer’s defense, shouldered the blame for drifting away from Gurley and the running game. However, McVay didn’t have many chances as the Rams’ play-caller. The Vikings defense surrendered just two Rams first downs in the second half, before Zimmer shifted it into a prevent scheme with the game in hand.
That pushed the game into Goff’s hands, which the Vikings wanted. The Rams picked up just one of their 15 first downs by running the ball.
“Absolutely, and just having a little better balance and rhythm and continuity,” McVay said of not getting Gurley involved enough. “I don’t think I ever really gave us a chance to do that.”