3TFO: Vikings @ Rams, Week 15
This is what we look forward to at the end of the year — a couple of teams fighting for their playoff lives. While the winner will stay alive for at least one more week, the losing team will more than likely have its hopes dashed. On the back of a three-game winning streak, the Rams have reached .500, and their final three games are all against teams in the NFC playoff mix. Three more wins to round out the season won’t guarantee a spot in the postseason, but it’s St. Louis’ only realistic shot.
Meanwhile, the Vikings capitalized on the slumping Bears last week and once again leaned on the hard running of Adrian Peterson. Like the Rams, Minnesota may need to win out to make the playoffs, and they don’t have an easy schedule ahead of them. The best teams always take the season one game at a time though, and with that in mind, let’s look at how they’ll try to deal the killer blow to the Rams this Sunday.
AP vs. Rams Defensive Line
It’s safe to say at this point that with Percy Harvin sidelined for good, Peterson is going to once again be responsible for carrying the load on offense. He has already accumulated a league-leading 1,600 rushing yards, more than 1,000 of which have come after first contact with a defender. The 49 missed tackles that he’s forced on those rushes are also tops at the position, and all that adds up to an Elusive Rating of 72.7, best among runners with at least 150 attempts. He’s racked up 364 rushing yards over the past two weeks alone, and a few more games like that just might see him get the Vikings into the playoffs.
The first line of defense against Peterson will be St. Louis’ defensive line. Coming off an absolutely dominating display, first-rounder Michael Brockers will look to continue his success. He recorded six defensive stops last week, and he hasn’t missed a tackle since his NFL debut in Week 4. Unfortunately for Brockers, the man to his left hasn’t quite had the same success. Despite spending 51 more plays in run defense, Kendall Langford has actually recorded fewer tackles and fewer stops than his rookie teammate. The Rams’ defensive line has missed only seven tackles on the year though, so they have a good chance of taking down Peterson if they can shed blocks.
Will Saffold hold form?
Maybe it’s due to his continued injury troubles, or perhaps because the rest of the line has struggled, but it’s gone virtually unnoticed how much Rodger Saffold has improved this year. In 2011, Saffold surrendered 11 sacks and 32 total pressures in less than 10 full games, leading to a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 92.5, near the bottom of the tackle rankings. Fast forward a year and Saffold has given up just seven total pressures in roughly six full games. How much of an improvement is that? His PBE now stands at 97.4, fourth-best out of 72 qualifying tackles. Quite the turnaround, especially considering how much of a mess that offensive line has been at times.
This week Saffold will draw one of his toughest assignments of the year. Jared Allen has nine sacks on the season, and while it’s a far cry from his gaudy sack total of a year ago, Allen is just five QB disruptions short of the 66 pressures he tallied in 2011. He’s managed only a couple of sacks in the past five weeks, but Allen’s been the model of consistency this year, recording at least two pressures in every game. And if you think that sacks are all that matter, consider this — Sam Bradford’s QB rating drops from 90.2 with a clean pocket, to 60.5 when he’s faced with pressure.
Can the Rams’ Achieve Balance on Offense?
A few years back, no one would be questioning the Rams’ ability to run the ball. But Steven Jackson and company have had a harder time of it this year. The 15 missed tackles that Jackson has forced on runs aren’t far off the 23 he had in each of the past two years, but he’s on pace for far fewer rushing yards than in past seasons. The offensive line has been the primary culprit here, and though injuries have taken their toll, even the starters have struggled. If there’s one bright spot in the running game it’s that seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson has made significant contributions, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and forcing 10 missed tackles.
It will be up to the Minnesota’s linebacker trio of Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, and Erin Henderson to shut those two down. Collectively, they have played over 97 percent of the Vikings’ snaps at linebacker, but both Greenway and Brinkley have missed their share of tackles. Henderson has seen the least playing time of the three, but he’s the best run defender of the group, missing just one of his 39 attempted tackles in the run game. Compared to Greenway (one in every eight) and Brinkley (one in every five), Henderson may have some cleaning up to do if his comrades can’t reverse their recent tackling woes.