The idea was simple: ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long and defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers can't sack the quarterback if he doesn't have the ball. So Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel rarely took anything more than a three-step drop as he got the ball out quickly and efficiently all day long.
By the time the day was done, Cassel had dropped back to pass 26 times with 25 pass attempts. Of those 25 pass attempts, only three traveled 10 yards or further in the air, with the only completion going to receiver Greg Jennings for 18 yards. That means Cassel was 16-of-22 on throws of less than 10 yards for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Of all 32 starting quarterbacks in week 1, Cassel averaged the fewest yards in the air per attempt, with each throw traveling just 4.36 yards in the air. It wasn't overly exciting, but it sure was effective.
"When you have a great pass rusher like we have with Robert on the edge, you are going to get stuff like that, so we have to be prepared for stuff like that all season," Brockers said.
Indeed, there's little reason to think that any team would willingly put its quarterback in harm's way. Along the way, the Rams certainly figure to play some teams with better lines, better quarterbacks and better receivers available to push the ball down the field. But in most cases, the Vikings offered a strong blueprint on how to run the ball and mix in the short passing game to have success against Gregg Williams' defense.
With Cassel getting the ball out so quickly, ESPN Stats & Information had the Rams down for just three disruptions on Cassel's 26 drop backs, with the lone sack coming from a missed snap exchange. Likewise, Cassel's average pass was coming out in just 2.24 seconds, fourth fastest in the league in week 1.
"We knew going in that we were going to be challenged with their rush, so I think that we were trying to slow that rush down throughout the course of the first half," Cassel said. "Obviously, we had our hiccups as an offensive unit, but all in all we made some big plays. We took advantage of some situations and like I said, any time the defense plays the way that they do, it usually goes pretty well for us altogether.”
For the Rams to rev the pass rush, they'll have to be more aggressive in coverage near the line of scrimmage and more aware of screens and quick dumpoffs as the weeks roll on. Teams around the NFL love to play copycat when something works, so until the Rams prove they can stop the short passing game, it's safe to assume other teams will continue to try it.