Thursday, Sept. 27, the Minnesota Vikings traveled to Los Angeles to take on the L.A. Rams, losing the contest by a final score of 38-31. The game featured two of the deepest rosters in the National Football Conference, and before the season began the two teams looked to be contenders deep into January per their performances from last year.
After a historical three-game stretch to open the season, third-year starting quarterback Jared Goff had a career night for the Rams, completing 26 of his 33 attempted passes for 465 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been developing into quite the elite quarterback under second year head coach Sean McVay. McVay, the youngest head coach in league history, has transformed the Rams from an annual 6-10 mess into one of the most well-rounded teams in the league.
The key to McVay’s success thus far has been to let Todd Gurley tear his way through opposing defenses and allowing Goff to drop back and hit any of the plethora of receivers at his disposal. Goff’s lead receiver, second-year wideout Cooper Kupp, finished the day with nine receptions for 162 yards and two scores. This level of performance from Kupp, along with his mastery of his route tree, is propelling him up to the level expected of a Pro Bowl caliber player. With the Patriots’ slot receiver not being on the field in over a year, Kupp is slowly fighting his way into the conversation as the league’s best slot receiver.
Gurley’s rushing statistics, 17 rushing attempts for 83 yards and no touchdowns, were just around his average for the year, as he’s currently averaging 20 for 85 yards and one touchdown per game this season. Though Gurley’s role in the Rams’ offense may appear to be diminishing, McVay has just been using Gurley in a more efficient manner.
After depending on Gurley to put up at least 125 yards per game last year on 25 plus carries per game, McVay now has the trust in his third year signal caller to allow Goff to drop back to pass more often.
The addition of free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth last offseason helped Goff blossom, as Goff’s rookie season saw him being pressured on the majority of his drop backs to pass. Whitworth, a 35-year-old veteran, is actually four years older than head coach McVay.
Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins had quite the outing himself, dropping back to pass a remarkable 50 times, completing 36 of those throws for 422 yards and three touchdowns. Cousins was forced to carry the Vikings’ offense, as their ground attack was abysmal on the day, only putting up 54 yards on 17 attempts.
One of the scariest defensive pairings on paper in NFL history, All-Pro defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were pressuring Cousins all day, tearing through the Vikings’ offensive line. The duo combined to sack Cousins three times on the day, while rookie defensive end John Franklin-Myers also sacked Cousins once.
Arguably the best wide receiver combination in the league, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs both had stellar performances, but they weren’t enough to propel the Vikings to victory. The duo combined for 19 catches, 258 yards, and one touchdown.
Cousins just couldn’t keep up with the balance of the Rams’ offense, nor could he avoid the pressure from the Rams’ defensive line. A lack of depth along the offensive line and a non-existent run game have been the tale of the tape for the Vikings, as they’ve yet to win a game since week one of the regular season. With their bye week scheduled for week 10, head coach Mike Zimmer will have to head back to the drawing board during practice this week to try to save Cousins from having to carry the offense.
The Rams, now cruising into the quarter season mark with a 4-0 record, have looked unstoppable no matter what opponents have thrown at them. The only suspect part of the team is currently the undermanned secondary, which Cousins took advantage of on Thursday night. Missing starting cornerback Aqib Talib and having fellow starting cornerback Marcus Peters playing through a calf injury, the Rams secondary looked quite thin as veteran cornerback Sam Shields was forced to take on either Diggs or Thielen alone on a majority of the Vikings’ offensive downs.
With a young offensive nucleus of Goff, Gurley, Kupp and McVay, along with incredible depth on defense with Suh, Donald, Talib and Peters, the Rams have built a strong team that will be a force for the foreseeable future. The Rams next tough schedule matchup is back to back weeks, hosting the Green Bay Packers in week eight before traveling to New Orleans to take on the Saints in week nine.