A look at how the Rams (3-0) and the Vikings (1-1-1) match up for their game on Thursday night:
When Rams have the ball
The maturation of quarterback Jared Goff was evident in each successive game of the Rams’ 3-0 start. He was good against the Oakland Raiders, very good against the Arizona Cardinals and outstanding last week against the Chargers. Goff’s 941 yards passing rank fifth in the NFL. The tough part for the Vikings: No telling who will be Goff’s favorite target. A week after receiver Brandin Cooks starred against the Cardinals, receiver Robert Woods caught 10 passes. And Todd Gurley remains a threat on screen passes. Rams receivers will be working against a secondary that includes cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes. The unheralded key to the Rams’ success has been the offensive line, which has cleared the way for Gurley and provided Goff plenty of time on most attempts. The line handled Melvin Ingram against the Chargers, but the Vikings’ 10th-rankeddefense is much better than the Chargers’ 24th-ranked unit, even without end Everson Griffen, who is sidelined while undergoing a mental-health evaluation. End Danielle Hunter has two sacks, and tackle Sheldon Richardson can be a handful. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are stalwarts of the front, with safety Harrison Smith tough against the run and the pass.
When Vikings have the ball
Kirk Cousins beat the Rams and mentor Sean McVay last season when he was playing for the Washington Redskins. The Vikings gave him $84 million guaranteed to help bring a Super Bowl title to Minneapolis. Cousins ranks fourth in the NFL with 965 yards passing. Receivers Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph caught a break when Rams cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib suffered leg injuries against the Chargers. Nickell Robey-Coleman, Sam Shields and Troy Hill are expected to play in rotation in place of Talib and Peters. Shields had a key pass breakup against the Chargers, but with Talib and Peters sidelined, the pressure will be on the Rams’ front to hurry Cousins into mistakes. Tackle Ndamukong Suh got his first sack for the Rams last week. Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Ethan Westbrooks also must step up against aVikings line that gave up four sacks against the Bills. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips anticipates that the Vikings will try to run against the Rams. They have two good weapons: Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, both dual threats out of the backfield.
When they kick
Sam Ficken converted four extra points, but he missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt and shanked a kickoff out of bounds against the Chargers. It was not a confidence-inspiring start for the player brought in to replace injured Greg Zuerlein. Returner JoJo Natson is sidelined because of a broken left hand, so safety Blake Countess will return kickoffs and receiver Cooper Kupp will return punts. The Vikings released kicker Daniel Carlson two weeks ago after multiple missed field-goal attempts. They signed Dan Bailey, who has made 88.2% of hisattempts during seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Vikings are coming off a bad loss to the Buffalo Bills, and traveled to Los Angeles on Tuesday to try to offset the change in time zones. That will not be enough against a Rams team that is rolling, even if it is depleted because of injuries suffered by Talib and Peters.
RAMS 34, VIKINGS 27
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