MINNEAPOLIS -- A member of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office visited the Los Angeles Rams' facility four times in a span of three days this week -- twice Wednesday, once Thursday and once Friday. The department kept hearing noise complaints from residents who live within earshot of the Rams' practice fields at Cal Lutheran University, and there was a distinct reason for it.
The Rams, 7-2 for the first time since 2001, were doing their best to simulate the raucous atmosphere they are about to experience.
They'll be at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Sunday for a highly anticipated matchup against the 7-2 Minnesota Vikings, and they're bringing earplugs. The Vikings' two-year-old, 66,000-seat enclosed stadium can get mind-numbingly loud. The ETFE roof -- made up of the same translucent ethylene tetrafluoroethylene plastic the Rams will incorporate into their new stadium in Inglewood, California -- is composed of acoustically reflective material that has helped make it one of the NFL's loudest venues.
To mimic that noise, the Rams turned the volume all the way up on their giant speakers while the offense navigated through practice and worked on silent counts during the week. Rather than pipe in fake crowd noise, though, the Rams blared hip-hop, from modern-day hits to old-school classics.
As Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson pointed out, "We have a young coaching staff."
"We've tried to make it as loud as possible out there," Rams head coach Sean McVay, 31, said. "I don't think you can ever truly mimic exactly what that's going to be like. It's a great atmosphere. It's going to be a very challenging environment, especially for us offensively, but one that hopefully we'll be able to handle with poise and concentration."
The Rams lead the NFL with an average of 32.9 points per game, one year after ranking dead last in that department by averaging 14.0 points. But they'll face a tough test against a Vikings defense that is allowing the fifth-fewest yards and the fifth-fewest points per game.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, expected to play after missing last Sunday's contest with a foot injury, has 10 sacks in eight games. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph is one of few players who even comes close to matching Aaron Donald's disruption along the interior. Xavier Rhodes is a shutdown corner, Anthony Barr is one of the game's better outside linebackers, Harrison Smith is an elite safety, and head coach Mike Zimmer is about as well-regarded as they come for his defensive scheme.
"Tremendous," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said of the Vikings' defense, which will have to make do without strong safety Andrew Sendejo. "No weaknesses, really, at every spot. Up front, the D-line, their linebackers are really good, and the secondary, they're real special, too. It'll be a really good challenge for us and something we're excited for."
The focus heading into this game has been mostly on Goff's matchup against his former teammate, Case Keenum. But the Rams' defense -- giving up the NFL's fewest points and forcing the most turnovers over the past six weeks -- has serious challenges outside of Keenum. None greater than Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, quite possibly the best receiver duo in the NFL.
"They're a handful, but the tight end gives you problems, too," Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, referencing Kyle Rudolph. "It's hard to double-cover everybody. We're going to have to win some one-on-ones or play good zone coverage in certain downs."
This game marks the first time since 2015 that two teams with at least seven wins and no more than two losses will meet, and the storylines are tantalizing.
The two starting quarterbacks, Goff and Keenum, have accounted for the two largest improvements in Total QBR since the end of last season. Todd Gurley leads the NFC in scrimmage yards, but he'll face a Vikings defense that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. The Rams' front seven boasts the NFL's third-best sack rate, but the Vikings' offensive line -- which will be without right tackle Mike Remmers -- has allowed the second-fewest sacks per pass attempt. The Rams are 5-0 and averaging 37.4 points away from L.A., but the Vikings have allowed a combined 76 points in five home games.
They're fueled largely by the peerless energy in their building, which is why the Rams have spent all week embracing the noise.
“We were cranking that music pretty heavily," Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said. "Really just trying to make it a little bit harder than the game for our players, because if they can operate in the toughest of conditions, then you have confidence that they’ll be able to go out there on Sunday and get it done as well. But that communication is going to be pivotal to our success on Sunday.”