Vikings vs. Ravens: 5 Storylines To Watch

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Fresh off a thrilling overtime victory against the Chicago Bears, the Vikings will hit the road in Week 14 to visit the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday. After opening the season in Super Bowl hangover-like fashion with just three wins in their first eight games, the Ravens have come on of late with three wins in the past four weeks. Baltimore now sits at 6-6 and in second place in the AFC North.

This weekend marks the fifth matchup between the Vikings and Ravens and the fourth contest in Baltimore between the two franchises. The Vikings are 2-2 all-time against the Ravens, including a win in the last contest thanks to a 147-yard effort from Adrian Peterson and a missed Ravens field goal in the final moments.

Let’s take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Ravens prepare to battle…


Who will start at QB for the Vikings?
The Vikings came out victorious last weekend, but that hasn’t provided stability at the quarterback position. Starter Christian Ponder left the game just before halftime with concussion-like symptoms, which set the stage for Matt Cassel to come on in relief and pass for 243 yards and a touchdown while helping the Vikings win in overtime. More about Ponder’s status for this Sunday may be known after Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier’s press conference later this morning, but for now the situation is fluid and it’s not known who will start.


Vikings ground game is taking off
Over the last three weeks, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings ground game have taken off. Since Week 11, the Vikings have rushed for 610 yards and a per-carry average of 5.3 yards with two touchdowns, and since Week 8 the Vikings have rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and they have nine scores on the ground. Peterson is battling through injury, fullback Jerome Felton continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, and the offensive line has clearly gained a rhythm. This week, though, the Vikings face a stiff challenge because Baltimore has surrendered just two rushing scores all season and they rank sixth in the NFL against the run (100.1 yards per game) and fifth in the NFL in per-carry average allowed (3.7).


Young defenders look to continue hot streak
Over the last three weeks, the Vikings rank first in the NFL in 3rd down defense, having allowed just nine conversions in 38 attempts (23.7%). The reasoning for this likely varies from game-to-game, but generally speaking one would have to assume the performance of a handful of young defenders has been at least partially, if not largely, responsible for the Vikings improvement in this key area of the game. Brian Robison has played well all season, and he currently leads the team with 32 quarterback hurries, is tied for the team lead with 6.0 sacks and is second on the team with 9.0 tackles for loss. Linebacker Audie Cole has been stellar in Erin Henderson’s stead, tallying a team-high 18 tackles two weeks ago in Green Bay and adding 10 more in last week’s game. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd continues to be a key cog in the rotation up front and has been particularly disruptive the past couple weeks; he was key in the double fumble play last week against Chicago that resulted in a Marvin Mitchell recovery. Robert Blanton has stepped up as injuries continue to mount in the secondary, even playing in the slot against the likes of Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall. And of course Xavier Rhodes, who leads the Vikings in pass breakups with 16, twice as many as the second-leading defender (Marcus Sherels with eight).


Pass protection vital vs. Ravens linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs
Either a reason for or a function of the Vikings rushing attack clicking on all cylinders of late has been the Vikings ability to strike through the air at times, as well. The Vikings have completed 62% of their passes for an average of 258 yards per game with a two-to-one touchdown interception ratio over the past two games. One negative statistic related to the passing game of late, however, has been sacks allowed. The Vikings gave up six sacks at Green Bay two weeks ago and another five last week against Chicago. Whatever the reason is for the high sack numbers, the Vikings would be wise to figure it out and correct the issue because a pair of talented pass rushers awaits them this Sunday in Baltimore. Outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil (9.5 sacks) and Terrell Suggs (9.0) have been terrorizing opposing quarterback all season, presenting a tall task for the Vikings pair of talented offensive tackles, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt.

Month of playing spoiler begins for the Vikings
As the Vikings look to win their final four games of the 2013 season, they will also play the role of spoiler for four teams who are zeroing in on the 2013 postseason. Beginning this week in Baltimore (6-6, 2nd place AFC North), continuing next week at home against Philadelphia (7-5, 2nd place NFC East) and the following week on the road in Cincinnati (8-4, 1st place AFC North), and then concluding in Week 17 against the Detroit Lions (7-5, 1st place NFC North), the Vikings will play four teams who are battling for a spot in the playoffs and will need wins to either secure a spot in the postseason or even better their seed within the bracket. This will provide a true test for the Vikings players who are on the field and are trying to prove to scouts and coaches that they belong on this team for the long haul.