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Vikings face consecutive tests from top teams, quarterbacks

September 27, 2018

The Vikings were undone by surprising rookie quarterback Josh Allen in their 27-6 loss to the Bills on Sunday, and now they will face against even tougher competition in the next two weeks from two of the NFLs best young quarterbacks and two of the top teams in the league.

Thursday night they face Jared Goff, who has led Los Angeles to the lone 3-0 start in the NFC and helped the Rams become a Super Bowl contender. Next Sunday, they battle the Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz, who was the MVP favorite last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee in Week 14.

Goffs 111.0 quarterback rating is third in the NFC behind the Buccaneers Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Saints Drew Brees. He has thrown six touchdowns against two interceptions and has been sacked only four times.

You have to hope the Las Vegas oddsmakers are more accurate this time, after picking the Vikings as 17-point favorites against Buffalo. Heading into Thursday night the host Rams are only seven-point favorites, which normally points to a road team having a good chance to win the game.

There has to be a lot of concern with the Vikings defense, after it gave up 62 points in the final six quarters of the playoffs last season and has given up 72 more in three games this season.

Yes, the Vikings did a good job of defending 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in their first two games, but now they will face two great back-to-back challenges in Goff and Wentz.

If they lose both road games, the Vikings will have a 1-3-1 record a big disadvantage when competing for a postseason berth or home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is coming off maybe the worst first half of his career and will have a big challenge against the Rams defense, which ranks sixth against the pass (199.3 yards per game) in the NFL.

Los Angeles might have a good understanding of his tendencies because Rams coach Sean McVay was Cousins offensive coordinator with the Redskins from 2014-2016, a stretch including his first two seasons as a full-time starter.

In those two years the Redskins went 17-14-1 and Cousins threw for 9,083 yards, 54 touchdowns, 23 interceptions and posted a 99.3 QB rating.

McVay was hired by the Rams after the 2016 season.

He had a big impact on my development as a player, and Im sure thats well-documented, Cousins said. Im very grateful for having crossed paths with him. Im always rooting for him, certainly though we want to get the W this week.

Pro Football Focus has the Eagles at No. 1 in their NFL power rankings and the Rams at No. 2. The Vikings have stumbled to No. 11, two spots above the Packers. The Bears are ranked No. 14, the Lions at 22.

Green Bay is tied with the Vikings in the NFC North at 1-1-1. Detroit defeated the Patriots this week, but they remain 1-2. Chicago is the division leader at 2-1, but they have yet to face any stiff competition.

The race for the division title remains wide open.

Need running game

The Rams and Vikings battled last season in Week 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium, when both teams were 7-2 and the Rams were one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

The Vikings controlled the game by running the ball in a dominant fashion in the 24-7 victory, and that was without Dalvin Cook, who was out for the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in Week 4.

Latavius Murray finished with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Jerick McKinnon, Case Keenum and C.J. Ham contributed to 171 rushing yards compared to 45 for the Rams.

But this year has been a different story. The Vikings rank second-to-last in rushing yards per game (66.0) and had one of the worst rushing days in franchise history against the Bills with 14 yards on six carries.

Pro Football Focus said that during Week 2, Cousins was the most pressured quarterback in the NFL with 32 pressures on 60 dropbacks. There is no doubt the Vikings need to establish the run early against the Rams.

Will Cook be ready? After missing the Bills game because of a sore hamstring, he said the injury is feeling better and he should be able to play. He is listed as questionable on the Vikings injury report.

It feels great at this point, he said. Im still taking this thing day to day and going to see how it feels. There is a good chance [Ill play].

Roster turnover

If you want an idea of how fast NFL teams turn over their rosters, consider that from 2013 when Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was in his final year as Vikings head coach to Sunday, only six players are still with the team: Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Kyle Rudolph, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels and Harrison Smith.

That goes to show that Fraziers familiarity with the Vikings probably didnt have a ton to do with his great game plan.

That 2013 squad finished 5-10-1, including a 26-26 tie with the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Jottings

Chanhassen native and former Arkansas standout Frank Ragnow played a key role in the Lions surprising 26-10 victory over the Patriots on Sunday. Ragnow, the 20th pick in this years draft, had been under fire for poor pass protection in the first two weeks, but he was the lead blocker in helping the Lions Kerryon Johnson rush for 101 yards. That was Detroits first 100-yard rusher in 70 games. During the broadcast, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said Ragnow deserved a game ball.

Former Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison is in his second year with the Giants and is thriving in their offense under new coach Pat Shurmur, the former Vikings offensive coordinator. Ellison had three receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown in a 27-22 victory over the Texans on Sunday. In his seven-year career, Ellison has 81 receptions for 810 yards and six scores.

Former Timberwolves player and coach Sam Mitchell was at Park Center on Monday to see 2020 four-star recruit Dain Dainja, a 6-8 center. Mitchell is now an assistant for the University of Memphis under head coach Anfernee Penny Hardaway. Also on the Memphis staff is former Wolves guard Mike Miller. Dainja is ranked 43rd in the Class of 2020 by Rivals.com.

Jesper Horsted, the former all-state wide receiver from Roseville, has put together an incredible career at Princeton. Last week the senior set the school record for career touchdown receptions with 20. He has 15 receptions for 290 yards and five scores in two games this season. Horsted was All-Ivy League last season.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. shartman@startribune.com

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