The Baltimore Ravens will face off against the Minnesota Vikings this week. So what do they need to do to ensure a win?
Last week, I wrote about how the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears were remarkably similar teams despite their not-so-similar records.
The only factor that could potentially set the Ravens apart from the Bears in last Sunday’s matchup was Joe Flacco, but the often criticized Ravens quarterback failed to perform like a Super Bowl MVP he once was. Instead, the Bears’ tandem of a dominant running game and a lightly-used, but effective, rookie quarterback led them a statement win in Baltimore.
Now sitting at a mediocre 3-3 record after a home loss to an underwhelming team, the Ravens will head to Minnesota this week for a date with the Vikings in another inter-conference battle. Hopefully, for the Ravens, this NFC team won’t cause quite as much trouble as the one they just faced.
The Past, Present, and Future
The Minnesota Vikings lost their promising, young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a dislocated knee and a torn ACL at the beginning of last preseason and are yet to see him back on the field since. In an attempt to fill the quarterback position with someone viable, the Vikings traded for Philadelphia’s Sam Bradford. Bradford led the team to a 5-0 start in 2016 only to crash and burn down the stretch, as the Vikings finished with an 8-8 record.
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Despite all of these challenges and sore memories, the Vikings have a 4-2 record so far this season and have defeated worthy opponents such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers.
After facing the Ravens at home, the Vikings will head to Cleveland to do battle with the currently winless Browns before their Week 9 bye week. Beyond that, the Vikings have the Washington Redskins and upstart Los Angeles Rams to look forward to during Weeks 10 and 11.
Biggest Weakness: Rushing
Some would expect the Vikings’ biggest weakness to be their quarterback position, considering they’re currently starting third-string backup Case Keenum, but Keenum has been remarkably reliable during each of his four starts. He has only thrown one interception over the course of the aforementioned four games, in contrast to five touchdown passes.
It may seem odd to label ‘rushing’ as the biggest weakness for a team that currently has the eighth-most rushing yards in the league, but the majority of those yards came from Dalvin Cook, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
Still, the tandem of Jerick McKinnon, who is questionable for Sunday’s game, and Latavius Murray is formable and should not be ignored by any means. McKinnon has been a perennially reliable backup while Murray is a former starter, having spent his first years in the league with the Oakland Raiders. The truth of the matter is that this team is good at too many things for their biggest weakness to be as glaring as teams from prior weeks.
Biggest Strength: Pass Rush
The Minnesota Vikings know how to get to the quarterback, and they do it quite often. The Vikings’ pass rushing unit currently sits tied for fourth-most total sacks on the season, sporting an impressive tally of sixteen since this year’s campaign began.
Leading the charge on the defensive line is the veteran Everson Griffen, who has already notched seven sacks this season. To put that into perspective, Griffen sacked the quarterback eight times last year, which, in conjunction with thirty-six tackles, was enough for him to be named to the Pro Bowl.
Griffen has no shortage of help, as Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph join Griffen on the defensive line at the end and nose tackle positions respectively. Hunter is coming off twelve-and-a-half sack season and, at the young age of twenty-two, is already in his third year of playing professional football.
Meanwhile, Joseph continues to bring his consistency and durability to the field every single week, as the veteran defensive tackle has only missed four games during his four-year tenure with the Vikings.
QB Teddy Bridgewater (Torn ACL & Dislocated Knee) – Out
- The seriously injured Louisville product hasn’t played in a regular season game since the 2015 season, during which he threw for over 3,000 yards. However, he returned to practice this week.
QB Sam Bradford (Knee) – Out
- Since stepping in for Teddy Bridgewater at the beginning of last season, Bradford has thrown 23 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.
DT Sharrif Floyd (Meniscus) – Injured Reserve
- The former Florida Gator is yet to eclipse the ten professional sacks and is apparently facing career-endangering complications in his recovery from surgery.
RB Dalvin Cook (Torn ACL) – Injured Reserve
- The rookie running back out of Florida State ran for 354 yards and 2 touchdowns during his first games in the National Football League.
WR Stefon Diggs (Groin) – Out
- Once a prolific Maryland Terrapin, Diggs now calls Minnesota home and has contributed to the Vikings in a major way since being picked in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
The Bottom Line
The Ravens absolutely must protect Joe Flacco from the formidable Vikings pass rush if the Ravens have any hope of walking out of Minnesota with a win.
But the key for a Baltimore victory goes even further than that because just as the Ravens’ offensive line needs to protect Joe Flacco, Joe Flacco needs to protect himself.
That means Flacco needs to protect the ball and make better reads downfield. The fact of the matter is that a large reason the Ravens fell short last week against Chicago was because of Joe Flacco playing mediocrely, even if some unfortunate tipped balls led to interceptions.
If Flacco can’t throw the ball with efficiency, accuracy, and consistency, then any protection that his offensive line gives him will be null and void.