The Vikings kept rolling on Sunday, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 24-16 at U.S. Bank Stadium to move to 5-2 for the season. The Vikings have won four of their last five games and now have a 4-1 mark at home in 2017.
Here are five observations from Sunday's win over Baltimore.
1. Defense dominated (again)
There has not been a letdown by the Vikings defense in 2017. Sunday's win over Baltimore was yet another illustration of how stout a group head coach Mike Zimmer has developed in Minnesota. Baltimore netted negative yardage on two of their first three drives and on four drives total for the game, and they tallied zero or only one 1st down on six of 11 possessions. Quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times, was held to 5.8 yards per passing attempt and was relegated to using the quick game to avoid a fierce Vikings pass rush and suffocating coverage. Baltimore ran 63 offensive plays and generated 208 yards, averaging out to 3.3 yards per play. And that includes the final drive of the game, which proved to be inconsequential but which also netted the Ravens a game high 78-yard drive. That last series was the only time in the entire game the Ravens entered the red zone. Certainly Zimmer and his staff will find errors to correct, but from the 10,000-foot view it was a complete performance from one of the best defenses in the League.
2. Another win, another solid special teams performance
Another solid outing for the Vikings special teams unit was important in Sunday's win. Given the low-scoring nature of the game, executing on special teams was critical and the Vikings did that consistently. Kicker Kai Forbath led the way by going six of six on field goal tries and also booting three touchbacks to help neutralizes one of the best kickoff return groups in the League. Speaking of return groups, Marcus Sherels made his presence felt by zig-zagging through the Ravens punt coverage team for 83 yards on three returns. His first return was of the 46-yard vareity but was spoiled by an interception on the next play. Sherels' second return was for 19 yards and helped set up Latavius Murray's 29-yard touchdown scamper, and Sherels' third return was good for 18 yards and eventually led to Forbath's 34-yard field goal early in the final quarter to extend the Vikings lead to 21-9. It was hard for both teams to move the ball on offense, so the explosive returns by Sherels were a big boost to the Vikings winning effort.
3. Vikings offensive line paves the way
Quality offensive line play has been the norm for the Vikings, a franchise that has dealt with injury and turmoil at that position for a few seasons before 2017. Adversity struck in this game, too, with injuries to starting left tackle Riley Reiff and backup left guard Jeremiah Sirles, but the Minnesota Moving Company powered through that thanks to admirable performances from reserve Rashod Hill at left tackle and rookie Danny Isidora at left guard. For the game, the Vikings offensive line kept quarterback Case Keenum clean with no sacks allowed and helped open up running lanes to the tune of 169 yards rushing on 33 attempts (5.2 per attempt) for Murray, Jerick McKinnon and Keenum. Murray had his best day as a Viking, toting the ball 18 times for 133 yards, including the 29-yard burst in the 3rd quarter that put the Vikings out in front by a score of 18-6.
4. Keenum keeps a steady hand
It will be easy to overlook Keenum's performance from Sunday's win given the dominant outing by the defense, Murray's first touchdown in purple and Forbath going six for six on field goals. But Keenum played as important a role as any player by virtue of managing the offense, helping the team win the field position battle and protecting the football. His first pass attempt of the day was a deep one down the left side intended for Laquon Treadwell but intercepted by Baltimore cornerback Brandon Carr. After that, though, Keenum was in command of the offense and helped put the team in a position to win. The Vikings lost a possession on the interception and were forced to punt twice, but they put up points on seven of 10 total possessions. Keenum finished the game completing 20 of 31 passes (64.5%) for 188 yards, completing key passes on 3rd downs to extend drives and get into Forbath field goal range.
5. Griffen, Thielen keep streaks alive
Everson Griffen and Adam Thielen each entered Sunday's game with impressive streaks in tack. Griffen had tallied at least one sack in each game this season and had 7.0 overall, and that streak was continued when he took down Flacco on the first play of the 4th quarter to end a Ravens offensive series. On 1st and 10 from the Baltimore 45 on the first play after the two-minute warning, Griffen beat left tackle Ronnie Stanley and chased down a scrambling Flacco once again, this time also stripping the ball from the quarterback's grasp. That gave Griffen 2.0 for the game and increases his season-long total to 9.0. Thielen entered Week 7 as the only NFL wide receiver with at least five catches in every game this season, and he continued that streak by hauling in five catches for 41 yards; Thielen was also singled out by Vikings Radio Network analyst Pete Bercich for his effort and effectiveness as a blocker in the run game.
6. Rushing, 3rd down defense flex muscle
Entering the game, the Vikings ranked No. 1 in 3rd down defense (25%) and No. 3 in run defense (78.7 rushing yards allowed per game). Entering next week, the Vikings will likely maintain their standing in both categories and possibly improve it in run defense. Baltimore converted only six of 16 3rd downs (38%) and they faced an average of 7.5 yards to go on those attempts. Perhaps a big reason for the long to-go distances on 3rd downs is the Vikings success against the run. The Vikings held Baltimore to 64 yards on 20 carries and tallied six tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Baltimore Ravens at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday.
7. The Vikings are alone in 1st place
First and foremost, the Vikings took care of their own business by defending their home turf and winning for the fifth time this season. That hard work was pared with some fortune on Sunday, as the Green Bay Packers came out on the short end of a 26-17 decision to the New Orleans Saints, which puts the Vikings a full game up on Green Bay. The Packers can't win next week because they are on a bye, which gives the Vikings a chance to create more space atop the division before they go on a Week 9 bye following their game against the Browns in London.