When Rams have the ball: With the return of tight end Tyler Higbee and right tackle Rob Havenstein from the reserve/COVID-19 list, the offense is back to full strength. That is welcome news for quarterback Matthew Stafford as the Rams face a Vikings defense that leads the league with 44 sacks. End D.J. Wonnum has a team-best six sacks and is one of five players with at least five. Stafford passed for two touchdowns with an interception in the Rams’ 20-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday. The 13th-year pro has passed for 35 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Sony Michel has been solid as the starting running back the last three games, and Darrell Henderson also contributed against the Seahawks after working through a thigh issue. Pro Bowl receiver Cooper Kupp is chasing a triple crown of sorts. He leads the NFL with 122 catches for 1,625 yards and 14 touchdowns. Van Jefferson has six touchdowns, Odell Beckham Jr. three. Linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the Vikings in tackles. He also has five sacks and two interceptions. Linebacker Anthony Barr and safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods also are standouts for a unit that includes corner Patrick Peterson and Cameron Danztler.
When Vikings have the ball: Rams coach Sean McVay knows Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. McVay was Washington’s offensive coordinator when Cousins played his way into earning what at the time was one of the largest contracts in NFL history with the Vikings. Cousins has passed for 29 touchdowns with six interceptions. But the Vikings will be without Dalvin Cook, one of the NFL’s top backs. Cook, who has rushed for 1,067 yards and six touchdowns, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday. Alexander Mattison could step in for Cook. Mattison has rushed for 112, 113 and 90 yards in three starts this season. Receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are Cousins’ top targets. Jefferson has 89 catches for 1,335 yards and nine touchdowns. Thielen, who is questionable because of an ankle injury, has 64 catches, 10 for touchdowns. Safety Jordan Fuller, the Rams’ defensive signal-caller, returns after sitting out against the Seahawks because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Eight-time Pro Bowl lineman Aaron Donald and five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey are cornerstones. Donald has a team-best 11 sacks. He leads a front that is coming together with outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller.
When they kick: Rams kicker Matt Gay is riding high, having made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts and earning Pro Bowl recognition for the first time. Johnny Hekker averages 41.6 net yards per punt. Kene Nwangwu of the Vikings returned kickoffs for touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. Greg Joseph has made 28 of 33 field-goal attempts.
Gary Klein’s prediction: Making a trip to play the day after Christmas won’t be easy, but for a team that weathered a coronavirus outbreak, it will serve as another rallying point as the Rams clinch a playoff spot.
RAMS 27, VIKINGS 20
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.