The Minnesota Vikings have to rely on the run game against the Los Angeles Rams

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 12: Running back Latavius Murray
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 12: Running back Latavius Murray /

If the Minnesota Vikings establish a run game with Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, they set themselves up for a huge win over the Los Angeles Rams.

The Minnesota Vikings face their toughest test yet when the Los Angeles Rams visit U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Nevertheless, the Vikings look to continue their winning ways after earning their fifth straight win over the Washington Redskins last week. Although, the Rams, who carry a four-game win streak of their own, will have plenty to say about that.

As leaders of the NFC West, Los Angeles has been quite the story in Sean McVay’s first season as coach. Through nine games, McVay leads a third-ranked Rams offense that finished last in 2016. Essentially, he’s helped second-year quarterback Jared Goff emerge into one of the top young QBs in the game, reshaped a poor offensive line into one of the league’s best, and found more ways to feature star running back Todd Gurley II in the offense. As a result, the Rams make up one of the most potent offenses out there.

On the other side of the ball, the Rams have one of the league’s top defenses. Thus far, they only rank 14th in the NFL, but they are more dangerous than their ranking suggests. In fact, they lead the league in takeaways with 19 and are tied for fifth in sacks with 28. Led by a cast of defensive stars including Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Trumaine Johnson, the Rams don’t seem to have many weaknesses. At least… one would think.

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In reality, the Los Angeles defense has one clear weakness: stopping the run.

As matter of fact, they rank 24th in the league, giving up 118 yards per game. Not to mention, they’ve allowed eight rushing touchdowns, tying them for sixth most in the NFL. Of course, the Rams have the defensive pieces to shut down an opposing team’s rushing attack. Just three weeks ago, they held Adrian Peterson to 21 yards on 11 carries. That being said, they’ve struggled consistently shutting it down, especially in close games against good backs.

In one of the Rams’ two losses this season, they gave up 229 rushing yards to the Redskins. Dynamic back Chris Thompson was responsible for 77 of the yards along with two touchdowns, while fellow backs Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine rushed for a combined 145 yards on 33 carries. In other games Los Angeles struggled against the run, it’s been against the likes of top backs Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, and Carlos Hyde. Additionally, Lamar Miller was heading towards a great day last week before the game got out of hand in the second half.

Given Minnesota’s strong duo of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, who have combined for over 600 rushing yards, the Vikings should take advantage of a weak Rams run defense early and often. Ideally, they play similarly to how Washington attacked Los Angeles with Kelley and Perine pounding the ball up the middle while mixing in Thompson as the change-of-pace back.

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In this case, Murray plays the role of Kelley/Perine, while McKinnon plays Thompson’s role. Although, I’d still like to see McKinnon get more touches than a typical change-of-pace back, definitely more than the 12 total touches he received last week.

All things considered, an offensive game plan centered around McKinnon and Murray is the best way to attack. Not only are they more likely to find success running the ball, but they also can limit the opportunities the Rams offense gets by controlling the clock. While Minnesota’s elite defense should match up well against the Rams, keeping their offense off the field is still the best kind of defense.

It’s also worth noting that when the Vikings rush 30 times or more, they are 7-0. When they don’t, they are 0-2. So, there’s reason to stick with the run even if it’s not working the way Minnesota would like it too.

In the end, it’s worked out more often than not behind a much improved offensive line and the Vikings’ eleventh-ranked rushing offense is proof of that. Even when it hasn’t worked out well, it’s at least opened up the passing offense.

Next: 5 takeaways from Vikings win over the Redskins!

With all the hype around the quarterback position, as well as receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the duo of McKinnon and Murray may just be the most important players on the field come Sunday. If they run the ball 30-plus times for 100-plus yards combined, they should set the Vikings up well for their sixth straight win of the season! Skol Vikes!