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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Wary of Opportunistic Ravens Defense

Posted Oct 20, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — NFL coaches routinely say that whichever team wins the turnover battle is likely to be victorious at the end of the game.

That could certainly be the case Sunday when the Vikings and Ravens square off at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Both teams are currently plus-2 in turnover ratio, although they have taken different paths to get there.

Minnesota has eight takeaways, including seven interceptions, three of which have come from safety Harrison Smith.

The Vikings also have six giveaways, with five of them being fumbles recovered by an opponent.

The Vikings offense knows that eliminating turnovers will allow them to sustain longer drives, while also forcing opponents to try to drive longer distances against Minnesota’s defense.

“We have to cut the turnovers out,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said earlier this week. “If we don’t give them the ball and play a true team game, I like our chances.

“You look and take the Detroit game out, where we just gave them the ball three times, you go to the Pittsburgh game and we got behind, not only in the chains but on the scoreboard, and that’s not the way we want to play football around here,” Rudolph added. 

The Vikings will need to protect the ball against a Baltimore defense that is among the league’s best at taking the ball away.

The Ravens have forced 14 takeaways, which is tied for the second-most in the league. Baltimore has recovered five fumbles and snagged nine interceptions, which is tied for second in the NFL.

“I think they have like nine interceptions on tipped balls or something crazy,” Rudolph said. “Like I said, they have a big, physical front, and obviously they’re going to put pressure on [offensive] lines, get their hands up. They’ve created a ton of turnovers.

“So like I said, it’s important for us to stop turning the ball over,” Rudolph added. “As long as we maintain drives, we usually like where things end up around the fourth quarter.”

Rudolph is somewhat right on Baltimore being opportunistic on tipped passes.

Of the Ravens nine picks, two came when a Baltimore defender got his hand on the ball and deflected it to a teammate. Five of the Ravens interceptions were caught cleanly by a defender. 

And two of the interceptions were bobbled or controlled by an opposing wide receiver before landing into the hands of a Baltimore defender.

Defensive backs Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb and Brandon Carr each have a pair of interceptions for Baltimore. Three other players have one pick.

With an opportunistic Ravens defense lurking on Sunday, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer knows possession will be at a premium.

“Well, they’re aggressive. If they get in some of these third-down situations they attack the football,” Zimmer said. “They got a bunch different looks in the coverage as far as some of their fire zones, and zone blitzes, and things they do.

“They’ve got some excellent edge rushers … and then their corners play aggressive, tight,” Zimmer added.

Barr clears protocol

Anthony Barr passed the NFL’s concussion protocol on Friday. He was not listed with a designation on the final injury report, so he is likely to play in Sunday’s game.

Barr suffered a concussion before halftime against the Packers and was replaced by Emmanuel Lamur, who played a season-high 38 defensive snaps. Minnesota played nickel defense with two linebackers and five defensive backs throughout the day against Green Bay.

Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said Lamur’s experience in the defense showed last Sunday.

“He did a good job. He’s been in this defense a while, so he understands the concepts and the different things that we’re trying to do,” Edwards said. “We know he’s able to step in there and play with a short week of practice or whatever, not getting all the reps and those kinds of things. It’s always the next man up mentality with us, and he’s the next guy up and he went in and did a good job.”

Lamur played Baltimore four times while he was in Cincinnati and recorded 20 tackles and both of his career interceptions against the Ravens.

The threats of Suggs

Terrell Suggs, who was born in Minneapolis and grew up in Saint Paul before moving to Arizona in middle school, is scheduled to appear in his 204th regular-season NFL game for Baltimore (188th start).

Suggs was selected 10th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft — five picks after Dallas picked current Vikings cornerback Terence Newman, who made his 200th start last week.

Suggs ranks second among active players with 119 career sacks (behind Carolina’s Julius Peppers, 150) and 21st all-time.

“He’s a good player,” Zimmer said. “He’s smart, very instinctive, sees things really well, adjusts on the move. He’s always been a great rusher.”

In addition to the sacks, Suggs has seven career interceptions, 55 passes defended, 30 forced fumbles and 13 fumble recoveries. The six-time Pro Bowler returned the two interceptions he recorded in 2008 for 44- and 42-yard touchdowns.

Suggs missed just three games in his first nine seasons before he was held from eight games in 2012. He suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of 2015 but returned to start all 15 games he played last season.