Final Thoughts: Vikings vs. Ravens

Posted Dec 8, 2013

In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings at Ravens preview content we provided on this week.

As we sit here just hours before kickoff, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Ravens.

Vikings response to Ravens single-high safety look will key this game
Don’t be surprised to see Baltimore play a lot of single-high safety, with strong safety James Ihedigbo in the box and rookie free safety Matt Elam playing center field. This is a look Baltimore prefers regardless of opponent because it fits Ihedigbo’s skill set best – he’s a hard-hitting run-stopping safety – and because it puts Elam in the “Ed Reed” role. But it’s also a look that makes sense for Baltimore this week because they are lining up against Adrian Peterson. The Vikings are used to seeing opponents flood the box in an attempt to slow down Peterson, and that’s what they’re going to see today.

How the Vikings are able to respond to this alignment will key the game. Specifically, it’s important for the Vikings to diagnose man or zone coverage behind the single-high safety and call the appropriate routes to attack that coverage. If the Ravens play man coverage behind the look, then it will be up to Vikings pass catchers to win their matchups. If they do, and if quarterback Matt Cassel is protected, Baltimore could be in trouble. If Baltimore plays zone behind this look, then it’s up to Vikings pass catchers to find soft spots in that zone, settle in them and wait for Cassel to fire.

Joe Flacco is 40-8 at home
Winning on the road is always a tall task. But beating Joe Flacco in his home stadium is an especially tall task. Flacco is 40-8 in the regular season and postseason at home, and he’s the only starting quarterback in NFL history (since the 1970 merger) to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons (2008-12). In those 48 home games, Flacco’s completion percentage is 61.3 and his touchdown-interception ratio is 65-27. At home, Flacco’s performances are sharper and clean. He doesn’t make many mistakes and he’s protected much better – he’s sacked 2.6 times per game on the road and just 1.8 times per game at home.

To beat Flacco on his home stadium, the Vikings must pressure him and force early and inaccurate throws. If they can do that, then the mistakes will start to come and the Vikings will have a better shot to upend the Ravens, a notoriously strong home team.

Matchup to watch: DE Brian Robison vs. RT Michael Oher
In order to pressure Flacco, the Vikings top weapon may be Brian Robison. Obviously Jared Allen keys the Vikings pass rush, but his running mate on the other end of the line of scrimmage could play an important role in the game. Robison has 5.0 sacks in his last five games and has recorded a sack in three consecutive games, and today he’ll look to continue that impressive string of games against Michael Oher, a first-round pick from 2009 who has played both left tackle and right tackle for the Ravens. Will Robison’s combination of power and speed give Oher problems today?

Curious on Dumervil
The Ravens leading pass rusher is outside linebacker Elvis Durmervil, who has 9.5 sacks on the season. Good news for the Vikings: Dumervil is listed as doubtful for the game with an ankle injury. Dumervil suffered the injury last week against Pittsburgh. He was able to finish the game, but wasn’t able to practice this week. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said this week that Dumervil will be a game-time decision.

If Dumervil cannot go, it doesn’t just mean the loss of a serious pass-rushing threat. It also means the Vikings will be freer to help on the other side against Terrell Suggs, another talented pass rusher with 9.0 sacks this season.

Chess match on special teams should unfold
The Vikings have one of the best special teams groups in the NFL, coordinated by Mike Priefer. The Ravens are coached by a former special teams coordinator in Harbaugh, who was expert in that role for the Philadelphia Eagles before becoming head coach of the Ravens. Priefer and Harbaugh (and Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg) will have an interesting chess match on their hands this week, as both teams have a kickoff and punt returner that ranks in the Top 10, and both teams have a returner that ranks #1 in the NFL – the Vikings Cordarrelle Patterson is tops with a 34.0-yard kickoff return average and Baltimore’s Tandon Doss is tops with a 15.6-yard punt return average. How each team responds to their adversary’s strength will be fun to watch.