Two weeks, two late losses for the Ravens to drop them to 3-2. It does not get any easier for Baltimore as they travel to the 5-0 Vikings on Sunday.
Minnesota has gotten its legs under them after QB Brett Favre’s signing very late in training camp. The Vikings, despite Favre’s strong passing in the revenge game against Green Bay two weeks ago, are still primarily built to run the ball first. But as the Packers’ game proved, if you stuff the box with seven or eight men trying to stop RB Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ speedy receivers will make you pay downfield.
A lot of national media are calling this one for the Ravens, and the Vegas oddsmakers give the Vikings just the customary home-field number of 3 points, which means they see it going either way.
(By the way, we’ll discuss this game and every other result in Week 6 in the Sunday Night Purple Haze on WNST.net. We had well over 250 folks last Sunday — join WNST hosts and analysts at 7 pm until halftime of the Bears-Falcons game. Click here for more info: http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/live-chat/ Look forward to seeing you there.)
The problems that the Ravens defense has had over the course of the season are well-documented. No push on the quarterback by the defensive line means time to find receivers against a secondary that has struggled at times. Runners who can get to the outside or cut back slash for big yards. Penalties (including the $25k hit by Ray Lewis) have been costly in both losses.
The decision the Ravens (and every Minnesota opponent) will make is: Which player we choose to stop is the most crucial to the Vikings’ success? The answer for the Ravens is Peterson. Stronger and quicker than Cedric Benson, Peterson is a nightmare for defenses because of his explosive gains. Defending Peterson is like defending the Wildcat formation. Stay in lanes and don’t freelance. When run coverage breaks down, Peterson is at his best in finding gaps.
He hasn’t rushed for over 100 yards since the opener, so he’s due to see the ball a lot in this one. The Vikings like to run to the left side, and not so much up the middle (into the Ravens’ strength).
Baltimore’s defense has to slow Peterson down as much as possible to put the ball in the hands of Favre to win. Ed Reed is a veteran who has proven, especially against Cincy, that he still has radar to get to a poorly-thrown pass. Favre isn’t perfect, but has been effective because he’s had time. He has been interception-prone, but not as much so far this season (only two in 149 attempts).
Farve has found six different receivers for 10 or more catches this season, led by RB Chester Taylor out of the backfield (21 rec., 187 yds.). Favre has thrown 65 passes short right, eighth-most in the league. The veteran QB has only tried 28 deep passes (15+ yards) downfield. His bread-and-butter is finding receivers in the soft zone between the linemen geared to stop the run and the defensive backs.
Baltimore’s defensive line must not allow Favre to get set in the pocket, but also guard against play-action runs against agressive pass-rushing. Favre has only been hit 24 times and sacked 11 times. The Ravens’ D has 19 QB hits and 11 sacks.
Offensively, Ravens QB Joe Flacco completed 71 percent of his passes against Cincy, but averaged just six yards per attempt and was intercepted twice. Ball control and a strong run game will help those averages come up. Control the line of scrimmage, win the game. C Matt Birk knows how loud the Metrodome can be when the opponents have the ball. The only advantage the offense has in a situation like is the snap count, audible or (in this case) silent.
The Ravens have to take their chances against the Vikings’ “Williams Wall.” If the offensive line can push open holes, RBs Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and maybe even Le’Ron McClain can get big yards and keep some pressure off Flacco.
Ultimately, the Vikings will dare Flacco to throw when he is not being harassed by the interior linemen. The Ravens have to try to play-action and stretch the defense at times to slow down the run-stuffing Minnesota D.
PREDICTION: You’ll see the same gameplan from both defenses: Stop the run, and make the quarterback throw to win. The Vikings receiving corps is better against a Ravens’ secondary that has struggled because of pash-rush problems. The more Favre gets knocked down, the better chance the Ravens have of winning, but I see Minnesota holding down Flacco’s production and getting Peterson loose. The Ravens will cut down on penalties, but they have to play catch-up through the air in the second half, and it won’t be enough. Minnesota 23, Baltimore 17.