Ravens (3-2) @ Vikings (5-0)
The Ravens will try to end their 2-game losing skid on Sunday in Minneapolis, the only city in which the purple and black have never played a regular season game. The Ravens lead the all time series between the two clubs, 2-1, with all three contests having been played in B’More, the last in 2005.
If I were to tell you that, one team enters this game with the 10th ranked defense and the 5th ranked offense, and the other with the 14th ranked defense and the 19th ranked offense, and one of those teams was undefeated – you would probably assume it was the 10/5 team right? Wrong. As you can see above, the 5-0 Vikings lag behind the Ravens in most statistical categories. Nonetheless, they remain perfect, while the Ravens are scuffling.
When looking around the web at all the “expert’s” picks, I was curious how so many could be going with the Ravens this week, until I looked closer at the Vikes’ numbers and schedule to date. When I thought about this game on Monday, back when the sky was falling after the Bengals loss, I was thinking something like 27-13 Minnesota. Four days of clearer thinking, along with the added optimism that comes with every impending weekend though, have me backing away from the ledge.
Let’s dive into the game a little further.
While “5-0 is 5-0,” and “you can only play the teams on your schedule,” and blah, blah, blah…closer inspection reveals that the Vikes haven’t exactly been tearing through playoff teams so far in 2009. Their victories?
Week 1: Browns (1-4)
Week 2: Lions (1-4)
Week 3: 49ers (3-2, a game they needed a miracle to win)
Week 4: Packers (2-2, and Brett’s Super Bowl)
Week 5: Rams (0-5)
I’m not taking anything away from Minnesota; just pointing out that the Ravens will be, by far, the best team they have faced this season.
One area where the Vikings do unquestionably dominate is in getting to the quarterback. They lead the league with 18 sacks, and DE Jared Allen has racked up 6.5 (4.5 of those coming two weeks ago against Green Bay). Allen will be a handful for either Jared Gaither (who is still trying to come back from the neck injury suffered in New England and is yet to practice since) or rookie Michael Oher. As I said a few weeks ago, I am confident in Oher 1-on-1 against pretty much anybody in the NFL – an assertion that is likely to be put to quite the test in the Metrodome.
I’d like to see Cam Cameron and the Ravens’ offense approach this contest with a similar game plan to the one they used against another top-notch pass rusher in an extremely loud stadium last season – Demarcus Ware and Dallas in Week 16. Despite the fact that Joe Flacco was sacked five times in that game, the Ravens were still able to rack up 388 yards of total offense; and they did it by showing the kind of BALANCE (30 passes, 31 rushes) that we have yet to see in 2009.
I agree completely with what Luke Jones at WNST wrote earlier this week. It’s time for the Ravens offense to swallow their pride about “we’re not just a running team any more,” and get back to the formula that served them so well in 2008 – controlling the clock and the pace of the game with Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain, and Ray Rice.
The Ravens are currently 15th in the NFL in time of possession, holding the ball 30:07 per game. In 2008, they were #1 in that category, at 33:22. While Greg Mattison’s defense tries to work out their issues, which include pressuring the quarterback, coverage in the secondary, and tackling, it would be a tremendous help to them if the offense could stay on the field 2-3 additional minutes every game.
Running the ball against the Vikings is no small task, especially inside where they feature DTs Kevin and Pat Williams. However, even those two will get tired of tackling “Pain Train” McClain at some point.
Please, Cam…we’re begging you. We know you and Joe Cool can throw the ball now if you want to…we know. So does everybody else. But right now it’s time to get back to basics and find our offensive identity – as a run-first team that can move the ball through the air when needed.
And what about that Ravens defense? The one that just had their “no 100-yard rusher” streak ended by Cedric (expletive) Benson. How in the world, if they can’t stop Benson, do they plan on stopping Adrian “All Day” Peterson, possibly the best runner of this generation? Well, if it makes you feel any better, Benson is currently the NFL’s leading rusher, while AD is #2. Peterson, though, is still averaging 4.9 yards per carry (nearly a full yard less than Ray Rice, mind you) and leads the NFL with 7 rushing scores. Keeping him in check will be no small task, but as Ray Lewis is always quick to tell us, “it’s just football.” As in, enough missing tackles – it’s as simple (and as complicated) as that. Let’s hope that Ray-Ray and company will take last week’s embarrassment and use it as motivation to prove that they are still a dominant run defense – a claim nobody will be able to dispute, should they shut down #28.
As far as the pass defense – well, that’s quite another story. Even assuming the Ravens are able to hold down Peterson, and force Brett Favre to beat them through the air, who’s to say that the back end will be able to hold up? Especially after the way we’ve seen them get torched by Rivers, Brady, and Palmer in recent weeks? All I can say is, I hope Greg Mattison has made some adjustments this week. For starters, Chris Carr should not be “covering” anybody – put Ledarius Webb out there as the nickel back. Perhaps convince Dominique Foxworth that he isn’t Jared Gaither, and he can, in fact, turn his head to look for the ball. And don’t just tell us that “the pass rush needs to get better,” make it happen!
Favre has thrown 9 TDs and only 2 picks so far this year. Last year with the Jets, he was at 13/6 after five games, showing that he is, indeed, accepting his role as “game manager” a bit more in his old age. We know the old gunslinger is still in there though, and he is due for one of his patented 3-pick days. Fast Eddie Reed, fresh off his best performance of the season, is just the man to help Favre get there. It all starts up front – defensive line and backers stop the run and get pressure, secondary cleans up the Vikes’ mistakes.
Not saying it WILL happen…just that it CAN.
I’m not jumping off the bandwagon just yet. The Ravens have their backs against the wall, and have no desire to take a 3-game losing streak into the bye. I believe they can, and will, respond. If not…well, I’ll see you at the ledge.
Ravens 24 Vikings 23