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Opponent Preview 2009 – Week Five: St. Louis Rams

Leading up to the beginning of the NFL Season I’ll start looking at the Vikings upcoming opponents for the year and offer both a Good, Bad, and Ugly scenario for each opponent.

Consider this a level headed opponent preview done in an effort to not pump any sunshine to the Viking reader base and to hopefully prepare your expectations for reality. Today, we continue with their week five opponent, the feeble Saint Louis Rams …

The Good: Uh … well, this is a stretch, but the Rams were able to pry away former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to be their head coach in 2009. Spagnuolo brings with him an impressive pedigree. He led the Giants defense in 2008 to a top five unit in points allowed despite injuries to his most impressive player Osi Unemyiora. The Giants defense has returned to the fabled big hitting and intimidating unit once made fashionable by Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor, and a big reason for that is the tenacity and hard nosed playing style that Spagnuolo demands from his players.

The other good thing about the Rams is some of their younger players, most notably Steven Jackson and Donnie Avery. Jackson had over 1,000 yards in 2008 as well as seven touchdowns, all behind a beaten and bruised offensive line. Avery, a second year receiver who was second on the team in receptions behind since departed leader Torry Holt, returns as the baby faced veteran of the receiving corps. Expect continued success for this impressive young receiver.

The Bad: Holy cow, this team is terrible. I am surprised I was able to write two positive paragraphs about them. This team is young, inexperienced, has holes at several spots on the defense, and is being run by a brittle quarterback who’s best days may be behind him.

Although Avery is a gifted receiver, he is only in his second year. Currently, the Rams depth chart at the receiving position reads Avery, Laurent Robinson, Derek Stanely and Keenan Burton. Behind Jackson you have Keneth Darby and Samkon Gado. Remember him? If two key injuries on offense occur to, say, Marc Bulger (possible) and Jackson, you’re looking at a starting backfield of Kyle Boller and Darby. Wow. Even drafting elite tackle Jason Smith, who is still only listed as a second stringer, won’t be enough to save the bodies of the Rams starting line up. Prepare for some hurt.

The defensive side of the ball doesn’t get much better. While defensive end Chris Long had an impressive rookie season last year (four sacks, 32 tackles), Leonard Little is a shell of his former self and the leaders they had at linebacker and safety, namely Pisa Tinoisamoa and Corey Chavous, are now absent. They have some nice pieces that can contribute in their base 4-3 set (Will Witherspoon, O.J. Atogwe, Ron Bartell) but not enough that they’ll be able to take over a defensive unit that ranked 31st in the NFL last season. Not even Spagnuolo can work his magic that fast.

The Ugly: Ugly may be the best way to describe this team when the Vikings travel to Saint Louis in week five to face off with them. If Marc Bulger is still conscious by this point in the season, they may be able to quick strike the Vikings defense and put some points up. Chances are though that the Vikings great run stopping will shut down the threat of Steven Jackson and their pass rush will exhaust their mediocre offensive line. With only one real solid receiving threat in Avery – their tight ends nearly as scary as Lindsay Lohan is – the Vikings’ defensive backfield should easily dominate their passing attack.

The Vikings offense will also cause nightmares for the Rams. While the Rams may be able to utilize their pass rush and get to the quarterback for the Vikings, whoever that might be, unless lightning is caught in a bottle their defense will have trouble slowing down Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. Visanthe Shiancoe may also have a big game as he’ll most likely be matched up with rookie linebacker James Laurinitas, who has the potential for being a good linebacker in the NFL, but will undoubtedly have some rookie moments in this game against an emerging tight end in Shiancoe.

Yet despite all these mismatches I find that I still have a dreaded feeling about this potentially being a trap game for the Vikings. I could see them coming off of a big win against the Packers at home in Brett Favre’s Revenge Tour and then falling flat on their face as they hit the road. While the Rams have many, many holes on both sides of the ball, they do have enough talent in key positions that they are almost built to eek out a win against a team like the Vikings sometime during the season. Traditionally, Brad Childress has been known to lay an egg in games like this (think 49ers a few years ago) so it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened again. It’ll be a good test for him to show the fans how far he’s come as a coach.

I fully expect a win in week five for the Vikings, as they are far and away the superior team. But that nagging trap game feeling won’t quit. Mark it down as a low scoring affair with the Rams squeaking out a 17-13 win in surprising fashion.

And for the record, I dislike typing that as much as you dislike reading it.

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