Scouts Inc. article on Vikes vs. Rams
O.K., youse mugs, dis is sumpin' I saw on ESPN Insider, witch I done got.
Rams must run to protect Fitzpatrick
By Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
St. Louis' lack of offensive balance has put too much pressure on rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Rams really need to show a greater commitment to the run. Getting RB Steven Jackson more carries should give the Rams their best opportunity to extend drives and keep the Minnesota front four on its heels. However, consistently handing the ball off to Jackson will prove difficult if St. Louis' offensive line doesn't play better or the Vikings build an early lead.
Keeping that in mind, Minnesota will look to generate big plays both on the ground and in the passing game. The Vikings will look to get RB Michael Bennett outside against a Rams' run defense that has done a poor job of tackling and has been hurt by players not taking sound pursuit angles. If St. Louis doesn't play with better technique and discipline, the always-dangerous Bennett should have some success getting into the open field. With the Rams' focused on shoring up their weak run defense, Minnesota also should look to throw deep off play-action. QB Brad Johnson is doing a good job of taking his time and selling the handoff before getting set, so the Rams' secondary will have a difficult time ignoring his play fakes.
When the Rams have the ball
Rushing: The Rams have to put Fitzpatrick in manageable third-down situations. They must hold up in pass protection when he does drop back to pass. And they have to avoid falling behind early, so he isn't forced to throw to win the game. Besides all that, the Rams also need to protect a defense that is struggling mightily by winning the time of possession battle and limiting Minnesota's opportunities to put points on the board.
Obviously, consistently handing the ball off to Jackson gives the Rams the best opportunity to get that done. Jackson is a powerful runner capable of picking up positive yards whenever he gets a seam, and staying committed to the run will help keep Minnesota's front four on its heels. It also gives the big back an opportunity to wear the Vikings' front seven down over the course of the game. He has the speed to take advantage when defenders start to get caught out of position because of fatigue.
The only problem is that the Rams are struggling to create any running room for Jackson, and Minnesota has played good run defense over the past three games. A St. Louis offensive line that is dealing with a number of injuries simply isn't executing the called play right now. The front five isn't consistently getting into position at the line of scrimmage or at the second level. It should have problems creating running lanes between the tackles against NT Pat Williams, who is doing an excellent job of occupying multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage. As a result, there is reason to believe Jackson won't be productive enough to keep Fitzpatrick out of situations with pass-heavy tendencies.
Passing: There are three reasons to believe Minnesota will play primarily two-deep zone coverage on downs with pass-heavy tendencies. First, Fitzpatrick has good quickness and is elusive enough to make the first defender miss once he gets into the open field. Dropping seven men into zone coverage makes it harder for him to run, because defenders are generally facing the line of scrimmage and not vacating areas of the field by turning and running with receivers.
Second, playing two safeties deep will allow the corners to be more aggressive on the outside, because they know they have help over the top. St. Louis' passing attack is predicated on timing, and the corners can disrupt that timing by getting their hands into the frames of the Rams' receivers. In addition, Fitzpatrick lacks ideal arm strength, so he has problems throwing into tight coverage.
Third, St. Louis' offensive line isn't holding up well in pass protection. LOT Orlando Pace has been hindered by a hamstring injury, and ROG Adam Timmerman has struggled when left on an island. Making matters worse, ROT Alex Barron missed last week's game because of a broken bone in his right hand. At this point, it's unknown whether or not Barron will be able to play, and backup Rex Tucker is far more effective at driving defenders off the ball than he is pass blocking.
The one concern with this approach is that Fitzpatrick is accurate and smart, so he generally finds the open man if given enough time. If the Vikings' front four has problems getting to him for any reason at all, they will have to blitz. Expect them to play Cover 1 when they rush five. This coverage allows playmaking FS Darren Sharper to roam the middle of the field, and he has the ball skills to take advantage if any of Fitzpatrick's downfield throws sail.
It's also worth noting that DC Fred Smoot, who has missed the past four games with a fractured collarbone, could return to the starting lineup this week. Smoot would greatly improve Minnesota's ability to match up in man coverage, giving the Vikings the freedom to blitz more frequently, but he may throw off some of the cohesiveness the unit has gained in his absence.
When the Vikings have the ball
Rushing: One of the biggest reasons the Rams' run defense has been the worst in the NFC in terms of average yards allowed per game is poor tackling, and it's unlikely to improve this week. Although SS Adam Archuleta could return to the lineup after missing the past two games recovering from a concussion, WLB Dexter Coakley will mist the rest of the season. He sustained a leg injury last week, and Brandon Chillar is expected to replace him. Chillar isn't taking good angles to the ball and has frequently failed to wrap up when he's been in position to make a play.
The front seven shouldn't shoulder all of the blame for the porous run defense, as the safeties and corners aren't doing a good job of fighting off blocks or wrapping up in the open field. That doesn't bode well for St. Louis for two reasons. First, the Vikings' interior offensive line isn't playing well. As a result, Minnesota will want to get outside the tackles and should have an easier team sealing the edge against the Rams' corners.
The second reason is that RB Mewelde Moore, who has been hindered by ankle problems for much of the season, sprained his left ankle last week, so Bennett should get the bulk of the carries. Bennett doesn't have great size or power, but he has the burst to turn the corner and shows a second gear in the open field.
Passing: QB Johnson no longer has great arm strength, so he doesn't put ideal zip on his downfield passes, but he is accurate and puts good touch on those passes. More importantly, he does an excellent job of selling play-action, so look for Minnesota to try to take advantage early for three reasons. First, St. Louis FS Mike Furrey is raw and will bite on play fakes. Once he starts towards the line of scrimmage, he'll have a difficult time recovering in time to cover the deep half of the field when the Rams drop into Cover 2.
Second, WR Koren Robinson is coming off his strongest game of the year and is always a threat to make the big play. Getting him involved early will stretch the defense vertically, opening up the short-to-intermediate routes, as well as the running game. Third, attacking deep off play-action could produce an early lead that forces St. Louis to abandon the run and gets the crowd more involved in the game. However, it won't matter how open his receivers are if Johnson doesn't get enough time to find them.
With the interior offensive line having even more problems holding up in pass protection than it is opening up holes for the backs, the Vikings have been moving Johnson outside of the pocket. Although he has adequate quickness and throws well on the move, Johnson lacks ideal mobility and doesn't get great velocity on throws across his body. That's a concern, because Minnesota doesn't want to roll the right-handed Johnson out to the left, and ROT Marcus Johnson will have problems preventing penetration against LDE Leonard Little. Little should have some success keeping Johnson in the pocket, effectively giving the interior defensive line more time to get to him.
"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!"
-- From a monestary in Ireland.