By Cedric Williams
The 2014 NFL regular season will kick off this Sunday for the St. Louis Rams, who will open at home for the fourth time in the last five years, with a matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
Sunday’s matchup will mark the seventh time St. Louis has hosted Minnesota at the Edward Jones Dome since the club moved from Los Angeles to the Gateway City in 1995.
Rams fans probably most fondly remember the 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff game the clubs played at the Dome, which St. Louis won 49-37, as the group known as “The Greatest Show on Turf” steamrolled its way to the first and only Super Bowl title in St. Louis football history.
Vikings fans probably best remember their team’s last visit to St. Louis, when eventual NFL MVP Adrian Peterson ran up, down, and all around the Rams to the tune of 212 yards. That included a dazzling 82-yard touchdown scamper right through the heart of the Rams defense, leading Minnesota to a 36-22 victory. It proved pivotal for the Purple People Eaters, who went on to earn their first NFL playoff berth since 2009.
Minnesota on Offense
The Vikings are still led by Peterson, the player most consider the best running back in football.
For his career, Peterson has rushed for 10,115 yards, which makes the 29-year-old superstar from the University of Oklahoma – whose entering his eighth pro season – the third-quickest player in NFL history to eclipse the 10,000-yard rushing mark.
At quarterback, Minnesota drafted Louisville star and Heisman trophy finalist Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick in the first round (No. 32 overall), but it will be veteran Matt Cassel who will start for the Vikes on Sunday.
In 2013, Cassel took over as Minnesota’s starting signal-caller at the end of the season, starting the final five games and posting a 3-2 record in those outings.
For the season, Cassel passed for 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns, and posted a respectable 81.6 passer rating for the Vikes.
Minnesota’s most significant addition could be its new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, the mastermind behind those championship Dallas Cowboy offenses of the 1990s, whose gone on record stating that he believes Cassel can be an elite player with the right cast around him.
The Vikings’ receiving corps is a bit unheralded, with former Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings expected to lead a very young group. Second-year player Cordarelle Patterson is a potentially explosive performer, who didn’t quite live up to his hype last season.
Cassel’s favorite target this season might be tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was having a solid season in 2013 before a fractured foot ended his campaign in early November.
Minnesota’s offensive line is big, fierce and might be one of the best run-blocking groups in the league. But they aren’t especially adept at pass-blocking, which could pose a problem going against St. Louis’ new “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line, which will feature four No. 1 draft picks among its starting lineup.
Minnesota on Defense
New head coach Mike Zimmer was brought in specifically to revive the Viking defense, which seemed to grow stagnant the last few seasons under former head coach Lesley Frazier.
Zimmer likes to move his front line around and blitz a lot.
That’s a scheme players seem to love to play in, but it might take some time for the Vikes to get truly comfortable in Zimmer’s new system.
Minnesota let longtime sack master Jared Allen leave via free agency, so except for four-year veteran Everson Griffen, almost all of Minnesota’s starters on defense are players still looking to establish themselves as viable professional football players.
First-round pick Anthony Barr (No. 9 overall) will jump right in and start at strongside linebacker, joining veterans Jasper Brinkley (middle) and Chad Greenway (weakside), to form a potentially athletic and exciting group.
Minnesota’s best defensive unit is probably its secondary, which features corners Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn and safeties Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith.
The Viking defense gave up more than its share of big plays last season, but Zimmer is hoping a more aggressive style might lead to more sacks and turnovers and less long pass plays and first downs given up to opposing offenses.
Minnesota on Special Teams
The Vikings have one of the best kickers in the game in Blair Walsh, who connected on an NFL-record 10 field goals of 50-yards or more in 2012.
Walsh wasn’t quite that good again last year, but he still remains one of the best long range kickers in the league, which could prove to be a strong weapon for a Minnesota club that struggled in the red-zone last season.
Punter Jeff Locke was a middle of the pack performer last season, and figures to be the same this year.
Where Minnesota excelled though, was in its return game, where Patterson led the league in kickoff return average (32.4 yards/return) and backup cornerback Marcus Sherels was second in the league in punt returns, with a 15.2 yards/return average.
The Vikings lead the all-time series with the Rams 24-16-2, including wins three of the last four times these two clubs have matched up.
Minnesota has won the last two times its visited St. Louis, and boasts a 4-3 record in regular season matchups since the Rams moved from L.A.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.