Two NFC hopefuls will do battle at TCF Bank Stadium in Week 9, as the St. Louis Rams (4-3) are slated to take on the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) this Sunday. Both the Rams and the Vikings are in second place in their respective divisions, so this showdown could help decide which squad eventually earns a playoff berth as a Wild Card team at the end of the regular season.
Will St. Louis' Todd Gurley usher in a new era and lead the Rams to victory with another impressive day on the ground, or will Minnesota's Adrian Peterson defend the old guard deliver the Vikings a win with a strong day of his own?
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Rams and the Vikings.
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1. Slow Peterson before he gets started
The Rams have quality depth all along the defensive line and are tied for second in the league with 23 sacks. Their best chances of slowing Peterson will come from their tackles disrupting the Vikings at the point of attack. Michael Brockers relies on pure power while emerging star Aaron Donald is one of the league's quickest at getting into the backfield.
2. Complement Gurley with the passing game.
The Rams are the only team in the NFL not averaging at least 200 yards passing and quarterback Nick Foles hasn't hit that number since Week 1. St. Louis has done a superb job of utilizing Tavon Austin, who lines up in the backfield at times and has scored a career-high seven TDs. However, No. 1 wideout Kenny Britt has one catch in the past four games.
3. Stay out of third-and-long situations
The Rams have been too dependent on Gurley breaking off long runs to set up scoring chances, but they have been unable to string together sustained drives. St. Louis is last in the league on third-down conversions at 25.9 percent and its struggles have become more acute. The Rams were 1-for-12 last week after converting 1-for-9 in Week 6.
1. Give Peterson a chance to put Gurley in his place
Peterson and Gurley won't be on the field at the same time, but this will be the head-to-head matchup on everybody's mind this Sunday. Peterson can help limit Gurley's impact by running hard and keeping the Rams offense off the field. St. Louis has a top-10 run defense, so efficiency will be the key to keep the chains moving. If Peterson can control the pace of the game with at least 20 offensive touches, the Vikings will maintain possession for most of the game and his yardage total will dwarf Gurley's by the end of the day.
2. Get Stefon Diggs the ball early
The Minnesota Vikings struggled to get much going on offense against the Chicago Bears last week until quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started connecting with rookie wideout Stefon Diggs. With most of his production coming in the fourth quarter, Diggs finished the game with six catches for 95 yards. His game-breaking play was a 40-yard touchdown reception, which tied the game with less than two minutes left to play. Minnesota won't have to rely on one of its young pass-catchers to bail the team out again this week, so long as he's making a consistent impact from start to finish this time.
3. Let Harrison Smith play the role of punisher
Harrison Smith is emerging as a true star in Minnesota's secondary. He's gaining a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting safeties across the league, so pass-catchers should fear the thought of running routes in his vicinity. His impact should not end there, though. The Vikings should send Smith on some blitzes, too, in an attempt to rattle Rams quarterback Nick Foles, who's completing less than 60 percent of his pass attempts this season. The intimidating defensive back should be utilized all over the field this Sunday.