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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Making their point: Vikings defense overcomes rocky start, nearly blanks Rams

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS – The Los Angeles Rams arrived at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday averaging an NFL-high 32.9 points under wunderkind head coach Sean McVay.

Mike Zimmer wasn’t impressed.

The Vikings coach elected to defer after his team won the opening toss, figuring his defense, tied for fifth in the NFL in points given up per game, had a chance to make an early statement in the marquee matchup of two 7-2 teams.

Los Angeles began on its own 25 and over the next 4 minutes, 18 seconds put on a clinic on how to dissect the Vikings defense. Jared Goff, the Rams’ second-year quarterback, went right at Vikings Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes and completed a 7-yard pass to Sammy Watkins.

A 23-yard completion to Cooper Kupp moved the ball to the Vikings 19 and a holding call on cornerback Mackensie Alexander on a second-and-5 play put the ball on the Vikings 9. Two plays later, Rams star running back Todd Gurley scored on a 6-yard run and the Rams had taken an early lead while sucking much of the enthusiasm out of the stadium.

The Rams’ success on that nine-play, 75-yard drive – Goff completed four of five passes for 50 yard and Gurley rushed for 17 yards on four carries – was somewhat reminiscent of how New England came into the Metrodome in 2006 and gave the rest of the NFL a blue print for how to beat that Vikings defense.

Only this defense is superior and having success on one series doesn’t mean that much. That was why one game after surrendering a season-high 30 points at Washington, a Minnesota defense that is shaping up as one of the best in franchise history gave up only that one score to the Rams in a 24-7 win.

It was the Vikings’ sixth-consecutive victory and the fewest points they have given up this season.

“They did a few things different, but we just didn’t play good in that first series to be honest with you,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know. We played much better after that. We played the run much better, we covered better, we pressured the quarterback a lot better. … It’s nice to say you made adjustments but the players played their butts off.”

Goff’s day got off to a good start but that ended rather abruptly. The Rams’ second drive went three-and-out and they only had 68 yards the rest of the opening half.

“At the end of the day when we play an offense, the first 15 plays are scripted,” Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. “They started very fast and after the first 15 (plays) everything mellowed out a little bit.”

Try, a lot.

The Rams entered Sunday fourth in the NFL in total offense, averaging 260.1 yards passing and 128.8 yards rushing. Goff finished with 225 passing yards as he was pressured much of the day and sacked twice, and the Rams had a season-low 45 yards on the ground, breaking a streak of seven games in which they had rushed for at least 100 yards. Gurley added only 20 yards on 11 carries after the first drive.

This wasn’t good, it was dominant and it came in a game in which Rhodes continued to play despite suffering a calf injury in the second quarter.

“That’s our goal every week,” safety Harrison Smith said of stopping the run. “When you have guys up front like we do and backers like us. Guys like (cornerback Terence Newman) coming in and making plays in the run game, it makes it easier.”

Smith, who broke up a team-high two passes on Sunday, wasn’t the only Vikings safety to make a key play. Anthony Harris, starting in place of injured Andrew Sendejo, made a crucial play with the score tied 7-7 in the second quarter.

The Rams had moved from their own 38 to the Vikings 11 – thanks in part to a roughing the passer penalty against Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr – when Goff found Kupp over the middle. Harris got to Kupp as he approached the goal line and managed to strip the fumble out of his grasp, just before the receiver’s knee hit the ground, and then recovered it at the Vikings 1.

“I saw there was an opportunity to get the ball out, the first thing was to make the tackle, and the second was try to punch the ball out,” Harris said. “I gave a punch, felt the ball come loose a little bit and there was a recovery.”

The high-flying Rams offense would get into Vikings’ territory only twice in the second half and once was near the end of the game with many of Minnesota’s backups playing.

“From our side of it,” Goff said, “seeing their defense and seeing all the different looks they do and all the talent they have, especially up front with the pass rush, (it) makes that team special and tough to beat.”

The post Zulgad: Making their point: Vikings defense overcomes rocky start, nearly blanks Rams appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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