History doesn't support Mike Tice's optimism of how well the Vikings match up against St. Louis, but he thinks his game plan will work. And get all the key stats for the matchups to watch.
VIKINGS GAME PLAN
The plan of attack will be similar to last week against Detroit, when the Vikings shut down the run and then racked up four interceptions, two for touchdowns, in a 24-14 victory at the Metrodome.
There are two differences between this game and last week's. They're huge, too.
No. 1, the game is at the Edward Jones Dome, where the Rams are fast and undefeated this season, and where the Vikings are usually shell-shocked. No. 2, the Rams are 8-3 and lead the NFC West, while the Lions are 3-8 and haven't won a road game in 22 consecutive attempts.
Coach Mike Tice
, however, likes the matchups. Even with Marshall Faulk
, the Rams are 30th in the NFL in rushing. And quarterback Marc Bulger
has thrown 17 interceptions, including four in last week's 30-27 overtime victory at Arizona.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have regained confidence against the run (they held Detroit to 74 yards), and they lead the NFL in interceptions with 22.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Cornerbacks Ken Irvin
and Brian Williams
against receivers Torry Holt
and Isaac Bruce
. Holt and Bruce have combined for 145 receptions this season, and play very fast on their home turf. Holt leads the NFL with 84 receptions for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. Irvin, a teammate of Bruce's at Memphis, is third on the team with 11 passes defensed. Williams, the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, had three interceptions in last week's 24-14 victory over Detroit. He returned one of them 42 yards for a touchdown.
Safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell against quarterback Marc Bulger. The past two times the Vikings have traveled to St. Louis, they've given up 984 total net yards, 737 yards passing and 89 points. They lost 49-37 in a 1999 NFC Divisional playoff game as Kurt Warner threw five touchdown passes. They also lost 40-29 during the 2000 regular season. But neither time did the Vikings have a pair of safeties like they have now. Chavous leads the NFL with eight interceptions, while Russell is tied for second with six. Bulger has thrown 17 interceptions, including four in last week's 30-27 overtime victory at Arizona.
Vikings defensive front seven against the Rams offensive line and RB Marshall Faulk. The Rams have given up 33 sacks, more than 10 above the league average. The Vikings have 24 sacks, which ranks 16th in sacks per pass play. The Vikings are much more physical up front than when they last played the Rams. Rookie left end Kevin Williams is 6-5, 311 and a rookie of the year candidate. He'll match up with right tackle Kyle Turley, a 6-4, 300-pound sixth-year pro. Faulk is having an off year with only a 3.5-yard average per carry and 5.5 per reception. But he destroyed the Vikings in the previous two meetings, racking up 279 yards from scrimmage on 47 touches (37 rushes, 11 receptions).
Vikings offensive line against the Rams front seven. The Vikings are more physical up front. They're eighth in the NFL in rushing. The Rams are 30th in stopping the run. Vikings C Matt Birk is having a Pro Bowl season. LG Chris Liwienski, a 325-pounder, might be having an even better season. With RB Michael Bennett returning to the backfield, the Vikings don't have to sustain their run blocks as long.
RB Michael Bennett against the Rams defense. In the first half against Detroit, the Vikings blocked an off-tackle play perfectly. The line and tight end Jim Kleinsasser did their jobs. Bennett cut the corner and made the safety miss about eight yards off the line of scrimmage. He turned the play into a 25-yard touchdown. Bennett has never played against the Rams. He's the kind of explosive player the Rams have used against the Vikings in the past two meetings. Middle linebacker Robert Thomas leads the Rams in tackles with 93. Outside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, a rookie second-round draft pick from Hawaii, is second with 83, and tied for first in forced fumbles with three.
WR Randy Moss against Rams cornerbacks Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler. The Vikings attempted five deep passes to Moss against the Lions. None was completed. The Lions were physical with Moss, especially on the deep balls. Twice, they pushed him to the ground, and no penalties were called. Moss caught five passes for 56 yards and no touchdowns. He's also playing with a sprained ankle suffered in the Detroit game.
QB Daunte Culpepper against the Rams' defense. Culpepper has been secure with the football for the most part this season. But he has thrown four interceptions the past two games. The Rams have 16 interceptions, led by second-year cornerback Travis Fisher, who has three, including two returns for touchdowns. The Rams also have forced 17 fumbles, recovering 14 of them. Culpepper has 10 fumbles this season, losing five of them.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Randy Moss isn't on this week's injury report, but he's playing with a sprained right ankle. Moss plays through pain well.
WR D'Wayne Bates still is battling through a hamstring injury. He's listed as probable, but that's what he was last week when he missed the Detroit game. The Vikings have moved on without Bates because he's missed so many games this season. But it would be nice to have his size and experience back in the lineup and healthy.
LB Raonall Smith was inactive for the fifth consecutive game because of a hamstring injury. He is probable for the St. Louis game. Smith is a speedy linebacker and special teams player, but the Vikings have more than made up for him with rookie LBs E.J. Henderson and Mike Nattiel.
LB Chris Claiborne is probable with a sore Achilles' tendon. He has been bothered for weeks by that, as well as a sore knee and shoulder. He's playing better since being replaced by Mike Nattiel in passing situations.
RAMS GAME PLAN
The Rams want to be able to run the football and create short-yardage situations when they reach third down. That will make it more difficult for the Vikings' secondary to create turnovers. RB Marshall Faulk has rushed for at least 100 yards in two straight games. Still, QB Marc Bulger will likely challenge the Vikings downfield.
Defensively, the Rams obviously will try and minimize big plays to WR Randy Moss. Last week, Arizona wide receiver Anquan Boldin had receptions for 42 and 54 yards. But the Rams also have to be cognizant of RB Michael Bennett, who is back as the team's starter.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce vs. Vikings secondary — Holt and Bruce are as good a one-two punch as there is in the NFL, and despite the Vikings' propensity for interceptions, it won't stop those two from making plays. Certainly, coach Mike Martz hopes the officials make sure that defenders keep their hands off them down the field.
Rams secondary vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss — The Vikings have also noted that Moss gets manhandled by defensive backs in an effort to contain him. He has a distinct height advantage over the Rams' defensive backs, and QB Daunte Culpepper will try to exploit that.
INJURY IMPACT: DT Damione Lewis took a full turn in practice Wednesday and will play Sunday as long as he doesn't have a bad reaction Thursday and Friday to his extended work. Coach Mike Martz said Lewis "looked tremendous." Lewis hasn't played since suffering a high ankle sprain against Pittsburgh on Oct. 26.
DE Leonard Little took limited reps with the first unit Wednesday, but is expected to get a lot more snaps Thursday and Friday. Not knowing how he'll react, coach Mike Martz said it "was a little suspicious" until Friday to know whether he'll be able to play Sunday. Little hasn't played since suffering a torn pectoral muscle against Pittsburgh on Oct. 26.
RB Marshall Faulk took more snaps than usual in Wednesday's practice because he been feeling fine following earlier knee surgery. Faulk has reached 100 yards rushing each of the last two weeks, and asked whether Faulk looks as good as he has in the past, coach Mike Martz said, "He does to me."