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NFL Preview - Minnesota (4-0) at St. Louis (0-4)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Given the change in atmosphere that the Minnesota Vikings are about to encounter, Brad Childress might want to invest in a decompression chamber.
Following an emotional Monday night victory over the hated Green Bay Packers at a raucous Metrodome, the Vikes will now be asked to answer the bell at what figures to be a stone-silent Edward Jones Dome, against the St. Louis Rams, arguably the NFL's worst team through the season's first four weeks.
The Vikings seemed to answer most of the lingering questions about their Super Bowl viability on Monday, when both sides of the ball contributed to a hard- earned victory in a major way.
Brett Favre was terrific in the triumph, completing 24-of-31 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover or sack absorbed against his former employer. The much-hyped victory made Favre the first NFL quarterback to beat all 32 teams, and also helped the now-40-year-old exact a measure of revenge against the Green Bay brain trust of GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy, who had moved on without the briefly-retired Favre following the 2007 season.
On a night when Green Bay took away Adrian Peterson (25 carries, 55 yards), Favre threw the ball downfield with accuracy to wideouts Bernard Berrian (6 receptions, 75 yards) and Sidney Rice (5 receptions, 70 yards), tossing pretty touchdown passes to both players to help fuel the winning effort, as well as another TD strike to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
Had the dramatic setup not been in place, the NFL world would have been talking not about Favre but Vikings defensive end Jared Allen on Tuesday morning.
Allen offered up one of the most dominating defensive performances in Monday Night Football history, logging seven tackles, 4.5 sacks including a safety, and a forced fumble to lead the team's 60-minute onslaught of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Pro Bowler had more than half of the Vikings' total of eight sacks on the night.
It would be an understatement to say that things did not go quite as well for the Rams in Week 4.
St. Louis came home from San Francisco a 35-0 loser, the second time Steve Spagnuolo's club had been shut out by an NFC West opponent this season.
Making his first start as a Ram in the absence of the injured Marc Bulger (bruised rotator cuff), Kyle Boller completed 13-of-24 passes for just 108 yards in the game while turning the ball over twice (one fumble, one INT) and being sacked five times behind St. Louis' makeshift line.
With Bulger questionable again for Sunday, Boller could be in line for his first home start as a Ram, in a game in which the team will be seeking its initial win of the Spagnuolo era.
The Rams, who have scored just 24 points through their first four games of 2009, have lost 14 straight games dating back to last season, and are 5-31 in their last 36 games dating back to 2007.
Minnesota has a 17-14-2 advantage in its all-time series against St. Louis, but was a 41-21 home loser when the teams last met, in Week 17 of the 2006 season. Minnesota won the previous meeting, a 27-13 home victory in 2005. The Rams have won the last two regular season meetings in St. Louis, most recently in 2003, and Minnesota's last win in the Gateway City during the regular season came in 1998.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams met in the playoffs seven times between 1969 and 1999. Minnesota has a 5-2 edge in the postseason series, beating the then-Los Angeles Rams for the NFC Championship in 1974 and 1976, and also taking playoff victories in 1969, 1977, and 1988. The Rams defeated Minnesota in NFC Divisional Playoff contests in 1978 and 1999.
Childress is 0-1 in his career against the Rams, while St. Louis' Spagnuolo will be meeting both Childress and Minnesota for the first time as a head coach. Childress and Spagnuolo were both members of Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia from 1999 through 2005.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Despite their bevy of offensive weapons, including Peterson (412 rushing yards, 5 TD), arguably the top back in the NFL at the moment, and Favre (837 passing yards, 8 TD, 1 INT), the leading passer in NFL history, the Vikings enter Week 5 ranked just 19th in NFL total offense (321.5 yards per game). Some of that number could be attributed to what has largely been a run-first approach for Minnesota through the first four weeks, but Favre's growing comfort level in the offense could prompt the attack to be a bit more balanced going forward. Peterson is expected to be in the lineup on Sunday despite what Childress described as a "tweak" of his leg on Monday night, but he could yield more than the usual number of carries to backup Chester Taylor (49 rushing yards, 18 receptions), who caught three passes for 35 yards against the Pack. Also somewhat quiet was rookie phenom Percy Harvin (14 receptions, 3 TD), who logged two catches for 39 yards in the win. Favre has been sacked nine times as a Viking, but ranks among league leaders in both completion percentage (68.0) and passer rating (104.7).
Say what you will about the Rams, but the defense has shown greater intensity since the former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over as the team's head coach. Even on a day when they fell by 35 points, the defense did some good things in keeping the 49ers rushing game under 100 yards (29 carries, 96 yards) and limiting the Niners aerial attack to 152 yards while sacking quarterback Shaun Hill four times. Ends James Hall (16 tackles, 2 sacks) and Leonard Little (9 tackles, 3 sacks) both had sacks in the loss, and will have to keep the heat on Favre given the Rams' injury situation in the secondary. Cornerback Ron Bartell (thigh) and safeties Craig Dahl (concussion), Anthony Smith (Achilles), and James Butler (knee) are all listed on the injury report, placing additional pressure on the likes of safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (24 tackles, 1 INT) and cornerback Jonathan Wade (10 tackles), among others. In the run-stopping game, rookie middle linebacker James Lauranaitis (34 tackles) has quietly done a nice job while playing behind starting tackles Clifton Ryan (9 tackles) and Gary Gibson (10 tackles). St. Louis enters Week 5 ranked a not- horrible 19th in NFL total defense (359.5 yards per game).
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
Whether Bulger (339 passing yards, 1 TD) or Boller (272 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) plays quarterback for St. Louis on Sunday, both will be confronted with the same problem. Namely, a porous offensive line that has surrendered 10 sacks and countless hurries through the first four games, and the absence of a single consistent receiving target. Complicating matters for the Rams are injuries to first-round tackle Jason Smith (knee) and starting receivers Donnie Avery (hamstring) and Keenan Burton (hamstring) that could either sideline or limit all three. Avery (13 receptions) was the only Ram with more than 17 receiving yards against the 49ers, coming up with three grabs for 47 yards on the day. Tight ends Randy McMichael (10 receptions) and Daniel Fells (4 receptions, 2 TD) have also been a part of the pass-catching game through three weeks, and should continue to see passes thrown their way on Sunday. The strength of the offense remains running back Steven Jackson (367 rushing yards, 12 receptions), who will see defenses geared to stop him until St. Louis proves it can throw the ball down the field. Jackson had 26 touches (23 rushes, 3 receptions) totaling 85 yards (79 rushing, 6 receiving) in San Francisco last week. The Rams are a distant 30th in NFL total offense (251.2 yards per game).
Given the play of the St. Louis offensive line, you can believe that Allen (18 tackles, 6.5 sacks) is licking his chops to get a piece of whoever plays quarterback for the Rams. Though the Idaho State product was the main defensive story against the Packers, he was by no means the only one, as situational pass rusher Brian Robison ended up with a sack-and-a-half in the game as well. That effort is helpful given the shaky play of the secondary group, particularly poor-tackling safeties Madieu Williams (17 tackles) and Tyrell Johnson (17 tackles). Cornerback Antoine Winfield (28 tackles, 1 INT) had nine tackles and an interception to pace the secondary. The Minnesota run-stopping group enters Sunday ranked a relatively disappointing ninth in NFL rushing defense (89.5 yards per game), though the Vikes are one of two teams that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown on the ground (San Francisco). Pat Williams (9 tackles) and Kevin Williams (8 tackles, 1 sack) will try to bottle up Jackson at the line of scrimmage, with linebackers E.J. Henderson (35 tackles, 1 sack), Ben Leber (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks), and Chad Greenway (19 tackles, 1 INT) working behind them.
After back-to-back strong passing outings, it might be time to discuss whether Favre is worthy of starting consideration in your fantasy lineup. Conventional wisdom says "probably not," as Peterson still stirs the team's offensive drink and should have a good chance to have a huge day on Sunday against a weak Rams defense. That situation makes the emerging Berrian, Rice, and Shiancoe risky plays as well. The best bet for the Vikings on Sunday is undoubtedly the defense, which has a good chance to terrorize the struggling St. Louis attack.
Despite the state of their offense, the Rams' Jackson continues to get the number of touches you want from your starting running back, and will remain a go-to guy in the absence of anyone else capable of taking on the role. Stick with him unless and until he gets hurt, and stay well clear of anyone else wearing a Rams uniform until further notice.
It wouldn't be accurate to call this a trap game for Minnesota, since there's really little chance that the punchless Rams will be able to compete with the exponentially more talented Vikings for four quarters. But on a short week, in a sterile environment, and following an emotional victory, it would not be at all surprising to see Minnesota come out flat. Also, say what you will about the Rams, but they have played hard for Spagnuolo, and that effort could help them hang around a bit longer than expected on Sunday. They don't match up well enough to make a serious upset bid here, but look for St. Louis to be in this one until the second half.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 20, Rams 10
10/08 15:28:43 ET