By Joseph Gunther
With three games remaining in the season and the Minnesota Vikings trailing the two wild card teams by one game, it may have to win out to get into the playoffs.
That road to the playoffs begins Sunday with a trip to face the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams enter Sunday’s contest with a 6-6-1 record; 4-3 at home. The Rams have defeated the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills in its last three games, including two on the road.
Rams on Offense
The Rams like to use three wide receiver formations and move the ball through the air. Despite tendencies, the Rams have the 22nd best passing offense and 16th best rushing offense.
The best matchup is Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield vs. Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola. The Rams’ best receiver works out of the slot and is the man that moves the ball downfield. The Vikings’ best corner usually plays opposite the slot receiver. The best players on each side in the passing game should go head-to-head on more than one occasion Sunday.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison vs. Rams offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson. The Rams have allowed 31 sacks, which is tied for the 10th most in the NFL. Allen and Robison can be a dominating pair and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is not the fleetest of foot.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its cornerbacks vs. Austin Pettis. The Vikings have struggled against big receivers and Pettis is one of the Rams biggest. The big question is whether or not he can take advantage of the smaller Viking corners.
Rams on Defense
The Rams try to generate a pass rush with its front four while playing coverage behind it. They can be creative with their coverages and will blitz their linebackers on occasion.
The best matchup is Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil vs. Rams right defensive end Robert Quinn. The Rams’ second-year pass rusher is big and has 9.5 sacks on the year. Vikings’ rookie left tackle has been very good this season.
The matchup the Vikings need to exploit is running back Adrian Peterson vs. the interior Rams defense. According to Paul Allen of KFAN Radio, true running teams averaged 162 yards on the ground against the Rams defense this season. Those teams are the Seattle Seahawks, 49ers (twice), Washington Redskins and New York Jets.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its wide receivers vs. the Rams cornerbacks. The Vikings have struggled to throw the ball and the Rams have a pair of good corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
Rams Players to Watch
Wide receiver Danny Amendola: When healthy, he is the Rams’ biggest threat. However, he missed last week’s game with an ankle injury. He is expected to be back. Bradford has a 100.8 quarterback rating and completed 72.9 percent of passes thrown to Amendola.
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers: The rookie has burst on the scene in recent weeks. He has three sacks in the last five weeks and is bigger and stronger than most linemen. He had his best game to date in Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Both teams are surprisingly in the thick of the playoff push. The Rams are half a game behind the Vikings in the standings. The Vikings are a full game behind the Chicago Bears and Seahawks. Christian Ponder’s future with the Vikings may be tied to these last three games of the season. The Rams had two key players in their back seven, including Finnegan and Wayzata High School graduate James Laurinaitis, miss practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Vikings news, see CBS Sports Minnesota.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.