Top 10 NFL Games of 2018: #3 Minnesota Vikings @ Los Angeles Rams Week 4

The Minnesota Vikings traveled to Los Angeles in Week 4 on a Thursday night to take on the Los Angeles Rams. An air show broke out.

Kirk Cousins showcased his skills as a passer in the number eight game of 2018 when the Vikings faced the Green Bay Packers in week 2. The Vikings had a tough matchup in week 3 against the Buffalo Bills, who crushed them 27-6. Coming off of a short week to play the Rams, the Vikings were hoping to get back to their winning ways.

The Los Angeles Rams were off to a blistering start in 2018. They scored more than 30 points in each of their first three games and were looking to continue the trend. Jared Goff had just come off his first stellar game of the 2018 season in a win against the Los Angeles Chargers, passing for 354 yards and three touchdowns on 29/36 passing.

First Quarter

The Rams win the toss and defer the ball until the second half.

Minnesota starts from their own 25-yard line and it did not take long for the Cousins to Adam Thielen connection to take effect.

Minnesota is in a 12 personnel set with Thielen (#19) split out in the slot to the field. Because of Thielen’s tight split, there’s a ton of space for him to work his route, an out-and-up with a comeback break at the top. Marcus Peters (#22) is guarding Thielen and doing his best to make sure that the WR doesn’t beat him deep. John Johnson (#43) is playing coverage underneath Thielen, but Cousins does not mind. Cousins slings a throw over to Thielen that drops in beautifully over the top of Johnson and underneath Peters. The gain of 16 yards has the Vikings moving into Rams’ territory.

Another big completion to Laquon Treadwell two plays later has the Vikings knocking on the door of the red zone. The next series, the Vikings move to the Los Angeles 16-yard line and face a 3rd and 10.

The Vikings are in an 11-personnel spread formation. Cousins motions Kyle Rudolph (#82) left to right across the formation and Marqui Christian (#41) follows him, indicating man coverage. But when the Rams drop into coverage off the snap, it’s a Cover 4 zone. Cousins confirms the coverage and looks to his right, where Aldrick Robinson (#17) was split wide. Robinson has Marcus Peters covering him when he runs a fade-curl route at the pylon in the end zone. Cousins delivers another perfect ball as he sails a rocket over Peters’ head into the leaping hands of Robinson. A very successful opening drive, and the Vikings are up 7-0.

Now it’s the Rams’ turn to respond.

Goff, Todd Gurley, and the rest of the high-powered Rams offense take the field and waste no time. Goff looks sharp early, hitting everything underneath. The biggest play of the drive was a 13-yard catch and run by Gerald Everett that helps the Rams work into the Minnesota red zone.

Los Angeles is facing a 2nd and 7 from the Minnesota 8-yard line. The Rams are in an 11-personnel formation with all three wide receivers in a trips formation to the field. Goff (#16) gets the snap and looks towards the trips formation, moving Harrison Smith (#22) from his spot in the middle of the field. Goff comes back to his left and has Gurley (#30) running a seam route one-on-one against Anthony Barr (#55). Gurley blazes past Barr and Goff delivers a perfect ball that breezes by the linebacker’s ear: Touchdown, Rams. A quick and efficient response from the home team puts the game at 7-7.

Second Quarter

The Vikings gained a quick first down before the end of the first quarter and find themselves at their own 35-yard line for the start of the second.

The Vikings spread the field in this 11-personnel empty backfield look. Thielen is playing in the outside slot position to the field. Los Angeles rushes five and run old fashioned Cover 1 on the back end. Thielen gets an outside release against Peters and fades up the sideline. Cousins holds the safety with his eyes for a moment then chucks the ball deep at Thielen. Peters doesn’t even get a chance to locate the ball before it shoots past his helmet into the diving arms of Thielen. The officials ruled Thielen down by contact at the Los Angeles 38-yard line.

Minnesota would begin to struggle after the big play downfield. Cousins and the offense faced a fourth and one trying to work the ball deep into Los Angeles territory. After converting on fourth down, the Vikings are forced to kick a 37-yard field goal that Dan Bailey nails. Vikings go up 10-7.

It didn’t take long for the potent Rams offense to respond.

On the second play of this drive, Los Angeles is facing a 2nd and 5 from their own 30-yard line. Cooper Kupp is playing the closest slot to the offensive line on the field side. Rams Head Coach, Sean McVay, has built an incredibly powerful offense based on his zone running scheme. On this play, McVay dials up play-action to the boundary. Kupp is essential in this play fake with how he sells a block once the ball is snapped. Once Goff pulls the ball back and stands tall in the pocket to pass, Kupp takes off, crossing the face of the linebackers before he bends his route vertical. The Vikings are playing their base Cover 3, and McVay’s playcall attacks that scheme’s weak spots. The key player on this play is Robert Woods (#17), the slot receiver to the boundary. Woods takes off across the field, bringing cornerback Trae Waynes (#26) with him because of Waynes’ responsibilities to cover the outside receiver in man-to-man in Cover 3. This opens up a huge hole deep down the boundary that Kupp runs right through. Barr gets burned again and the Goff to Kupp connection goes 70 yards for a touchdown.

After the Rams quick response, the Vikings offense turns it up a notch.

A pass of 34 yards goes to Stefon Diggs on first down and then a completion for 24 yards to Rudolph puts the Vikings at the Los Angeles 17-yard line.

Minnesota is in 12-personnel and the Rams are expecting run. Cousins runs a play-action fake to the boundary and then sprints back to the field on a naked bootleg. Rolling to his right off his back foot, Cousins drops another dime into the bucket of Robinson. Rudolph ran a corner route and Robinson a deep over route, putting both receivers in the same spot on the field, which is usually a recipe for disaster. But Rudolph’s route sets a natural downfield pick on Sam Shields (#37), who was covering Robinson. The quick response has this game rolling offensively with a score of 17-14, Minnesota.

The ensuing Rams and Vikings drives would not last long as the teams trade punts. Eventually, Los Angeles ends up with the ball at their own 29-yard line.

A Gurley run and Kupp reception gain the Rams a first down. The next play, Goff finds Woods crossing the field for 36 yards. This sets the Rams up with 1st and 10 from the Vikings’ 19-yard line.

The Rams are in 11-personnel with an empty backfield. Woods, Kupp and Brandin Cooks are in a trips set to the boundary. Gurley comes across Goff in jet-motion for a play fake. Goff rolls to his right and just as the pressure is coming in, Goff throws on the run towards the end zone. Kupp is running a deep crossing route and picks up double coverage as he crosses the field, from Waynes and Mike Hughes (#21). Goff’s accuracy is perfect. The ball drops over the Vikings defenders into Kupp’s lap. A beautiful play in the corner of the end zone, the Rams take the lead 21-17.

The Vikings are in a track meet and are trying to keep up with the Rams. Their next drive goes over the two minute warning, but shortly after Minnesota trots out Matt Wile to punt the ball away.

The first play of the next Los Angeles drive Goff finds Kupp again for a gain of 11. Xavier Rhodes was called for a defensive holding penalty that would be declined, but earned an extra unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play, moving the Rams to Minnesota’s 47-yard line.

Los Angeles is in 11-personnel with Cooks (#12) split wide alone to the field. Kupp and Woods are split out to the boundary, both receivers run dig routes deep down the field. The dig routes draw the attention of Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo (#34). This puts Cooks in one-on-one coverage with Waynes. Cooks runs a skinny post route and burns Waynes, Goff in an almost heat-check like fashion chucks the ball deep. Another perfect ball from Goff, another touchdown, and the quarterback is on fire with four touchdown passes in the first half.

Minnesota is only left with 1:26 when they get the ball back but they’re efficient with time they’re given. Cousins moved the offense down field into Dan Bailey field goal range. As the clock hit zeroes, Dan Bailey sent a kick through the uprights from 39 yards out to make the score 28-20 Los Angeles at half.

Third Quarter

Los Angeles started the half with the ball, but stalled before they could reach scoring territory. Minnesota’s first drive of the half didn’t go very far either before they were forced to punt. On Los Angeles’ second drive of the half, they were lethal and efficient.

The tight formations that McVay frequently uses allow for the Rams offense to make a lot of things look the same—up until the second they aren’t. Los Angeles is in another 11-personnel tight formation. The play is a screen with jet-motion from Woods and a play fake to Gurley. The jet-motion and play-action fake are absolutely essential to this play. The jet-motion from Woods draws Mackensie Alexander (#20) across the formation, taking him out of the play. Harrison Smith is blitzing but the play-action fake forces him to hesitate. Gurley sneaks out to the left of Smith, where a wall of Rams’ offensive lineman are waiting to get downhill. Gurley catches the Goff pass and is off to the races. Danielle Hunter (#99) nearly runs down Gurley 45 yards down field before Hughes comes in and finally gets Gurley down. A catch and run for 56-yards and the Rams are in the red zone.

Despite the big play, the Los Angeles drive would stall in the red zone, forcing the Rams to settle for a 34-yard Sam Ficken field goal.

The Vikings needed a big drive, having just gone down by double digits. Two incompletions had things off to a rocky start, but Minnesota eventually found the gas pedal.

Minnesota is in an 11-personnel formation with a tight bunch to the field and Diggs (#14) the lone receiver split into the boundary. Los Angeles is playing Man Cover 2. Cousins takes his drop, stands tall in the pocket, and throws a strike. Diggs is running a post route with Shields guarding him in man coverage underneath. Shields is in great position and is able to make a play on the ball, but it bounces behind him into the hands of Diggs. Lamarcus Joyner (#20) is playing safety over the top of Diggs but isn’t able to make contact with Diggs before the catch is secured. Minnesota converts a big 3rd and 10 and are at midfield.

Two plays later the Vikings find pay dirt.

The Vikings are still in 11-personnel; Thielen is in the slot to the field. Los Angeles is running Cover 3. Robinson motions from his wide split down to the slot with Thielen. Shields is guarding Robinson, who runs a whip route. The route is short but it has a purpose. Shields is forced to pay attention to Robinson’s route and widens closer to the sideline when Robinson breaks out. This also keeps Shields from getting into a full-speed backpedal. Thielen is running a seam route. Cousins drops back, looks to his right and gives a pump fake which pulls safety John Johnson to the boundary. Because of the spacing created by Robinson and Cousins, Thielen’s seam route is wide open. Cousins hits Thielen in stride and Thielen fights through contact to score.

Now down five points, Minnesota elects to go for two. Cousins finds Latavius Murray in the flat to convert the attempt. The deficit is back down to a field goal.

On their next possession, Los Angeles moved down the field again.

In four plays, the Rams are at the Vikings 31-yard line.

In the same fashion Minnesota just scored, Los Angeles gets them back. Before the snap, the Rams came out in an I-formation in their 13-personnel set. Minnesota matched the personnel by going with 4-3-4 defensive personnel. Los Angeles resets into this empty spread formation and have the Vikings on the ropes already. Minnesota is running a version of Cover 3. The personnel and formation reset gets Barr on Woods, a clear mismatch. Gurley and Woods are lined up to the boundary and run vertical routes. Just like Cousins’ last touchdown, Goff moves the safety (Sendejo) with his eyes, opening up an alley for Woods to run up the seam. Goff delivers another beautiful ball as Woods runs past Barr for Goff’s fifth touchdown pass of the night. The Rams are back up by ten.

Fourth Quarter

Minnesota’s next drive got off to a fast start with a quick first down, but came to screeching halt when they went three-and-out the next series.

The Rams are taking over at their own 15-yard line.

Los Angeles is in 11 personnel in a tight formation. Cooks is lined up in the slot to the field. The Rams are in max protection, the offensive line along with a tight end and running back in pass protection. Goff drops back, slides to his left, and fires down field towards Cooks on an out route. The ball hits Cooks right in the chest on the sideline, another big completion for the Rams. Goff was on fire all night. The ball was arriving quickly and on time with pin-point accuracy on nearly every single throw.

Goff drove the Rams deep into Vikings territory and had his team threatening to score again.

Kupp and Cooks are in a twins formation to the field. Los Angeles is running a screen to Cooks. Goff quickly gets the ball out to Cooks and the wide receiver looks to make a move into the end zone. Hughes gets downhill quickly and delivers a big hit to Cooks behind the line of scrimmage. The ball is forced out and a scramble takes place. Somewhere at the bottom of the pile, center John Sullivan (#65) has the ball.

The Rams drive would result in nothing as the offense stalls inside the 10-yard line and Sam Ficken misses a 28-yard field goal.

Minnesota’s next drive resulted in a field goal bringing the deficit back down to seven.

The Vikings defense finally stops Goff, forcing a three and out with just over two minutes remaining.

Cousins is in position to lead a game-tying drive for his team.

1st and 10 from their own 34-yard line, Minnesota takes the field in an 11-personnel set. Aaron Donald (#99) is playing 3-tech towards the field and is lined up on guard Tom Compton (#79). Donald is explosive off the line, gives Compton a swipe and rip and he’s in the backfield. Before Cousins can even avoid the rush or throw the ball away, Donald leaps at Cousins and throws him down for a sack.

The two minute warning hits and the Vikings are able to reset. Cousins digs the Vikings out of the hole they were in from the Donald sack and has his team near midfield.

Minnesota is at their own 48-yard line in 11-personnel. The Vikings refuse to let Donald beat them and they double team the defensive tackle on this play. The double team on Donald gets his teammates on the defensive line into a one-on-one situation. John Franklin-Myers (#94) is rushing against left tackle Riley Reiff (#71). Franklin-Myers gets his hands inside on Reiff, pushing the tackle back. Franklin-Myers stumbles but turns it into a shoulder dip. Cousins is already at the top of his drop and is about to make a throw when Franklin-Myers gets his paw on Cousins’ arm, knocking the ball loose. Ndamukong Suh (#93) falls on the ball, effectively ending the game.

MVP of the Game

Jared Goff played the best game of his career against the Vikings in 2018. A stat line of 465 yards for five touchdowns on 26/33 passing earned Goff a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The play from both quarterbacks this game was impressive, but Goff was on another level compared to Cousins. A huge performance for a quarterback that was labeled to be a bust by some in his rookie year. Kirk Cousins gave Goff high praise after the game, saying it was “the best quarterback performance I’ve seen in my seven years in the league in person.”

Re-live this game and watch the highlights here.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeSchwanitz. Check out the rest of this series and Jake’s archive here, including his look at the #4 NFL Game of 2018, #5 NFL Game of 2018, #6 NFL Game of 2018, UTEP corner back Nik Needham, and how Sony Michel was eased into his rookie season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *