Banged-up Rams look to stay perfect vs. Vikings
To say things have been going well for the Los Angeles Rams is an understatement. The same can't be said for the Minnesota Vikings as the two teams prepare to play Thursday night on the West Coast.
The Rams are 3-0 for the first time since 2001, Jared Goff is playing like an upper-echelon quarterback, wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have essentially been unstoppable and running back Todd Gurley II looks every bit as good this year as he did last year.
Defensively, they have played solid to downright dominant football while giving the offense as much time as needed to run away from opponents.
But that doesn't mean things are perfect, and from an injury standpoint, things are beginning to add up in a bad way.
In Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Rams lost cornerbacks Aqib Talib (high ankle sprain) and Marcus Peters (calf) and punt returner JoJo Natson (broken hand), who was replacing the injured Pharoh Cooper. Prior to that game, kicker Greg Zuerlein was sidelined by a groin injury.
Talib is scheduled for surgery Thursday.
They have been able to manage the injuries to stay on the winning side of things, but the Rams will be tested to the fullest on Thursday against a potentially powerful Vikings pass attack that features quarterback Kirk Cousins, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Rams will have to dip into their cornerback depth and rely on backups Sam Shields, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Troy Hill, among others.
Said head coach Sean McVay, "I think it's going to be a combination. Nickell Robey has played excellent for us this year. Then, I think guys like Sam Shields and Troy Hill will be asked to step up. But we do have confidence that we're going to get those other guys ready to go and they played a lot of meaningful snaps (Sunday)."
Meanwhile, an already turbulent week for the Vikings took a distressing turn Monday with the news that defensive end Everson Griffen has had two separate off-field incidents and is being evaluated for mental health concerns.
The Vikings were handed an inexplicable 27-6 home loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and now turn around for Thursday night's game on the road in which the Vikings will travel two time zones to face the undefeated Rams. They traveled to Los Angeles without Griffen, who is at a mental health facility for "evaluation and treatment."
A road game against one of the favorites in the NFC would have been tough enough on a short turnaround, but Griffen has been one of the team's inspirational leaders since he became a full-time starter in 2014. He's tallied 44.5 sacks in 64 games in that time.
Without Griffen, Minnesota has to face a Rams offense that is tied for third in the NFL at 34.0 points per game. Los Angeles is third in yards with 439.3 yards per game. Stephen Weatherly, a seventh-round draft pick in 2016, made his first career start in place of Griffen last week and had seven tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. With Griffen out, Danielle Hunter takes his spot at right end with Weatherly starting on the left side.
"Yeah it's a problem," Zimmer said of the Vikings traveling west on a short week. "We haven't had a home game on a short week since I've been here in five years. But it is what it is. You play the schedule how it is. I know the statistics about going to the West Coast on a short week and all that."
Road teams traveling through two time zones are winless in 10 previous Thursday games.
The Vikings departed Minneapolis after practice Tuesday, and Zimmer said, "We did a study on preparing for a game on a short week and all those things and that's why we're going out tonight after practice."
Trying to control the Rams defensive line led by Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers will also be a challenge, as Zimmer acknowledged. The Vikings do hope to have running back Dalvin Cook available. He missed Sunday's game because of a hamstring injury.
"Their front guys, obviously Donald and Suh and Brockers, they're get-going-up-the-field guys," Zimmer said. "Suh is explosive, powerful. They get to the spot on the quarterback. And then Donald is the quick, side-to-side (guy) and then use power to get to it. Yeah, it makes it difficult."
Goff has played well, completing better than 70 percent of his passes, and that will also be a challenge for Minnesota's defense.
Goff credits his supporting cast. "They're all great," he said. Woody (Woods) getting 10 catches, it was awesome. "very week, it seems like another guy steps up. It kind of cycles. (Sunday) it was Robert, Brandin. Cooper played great. I mean they all played great. It's good to have all three of them and then Todd in the pass game is good as well."
Updated September 25, 2018