EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —With a banged-up receiving corps and unable to get much going in the running game, Baltimore turned to running back Javorius Allen for screens and dump-off passes on Sunday.
Vikings linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were more than ready and kept the gains by Allen minimal.
Allen caught eight passes on 11 targets but averaged just 3.6 yards per reception.
Kendricks was tasked with 1-on-1 coverage of Allen, who served as a safety valve on a third-and-6 pass play from the Minnesota 38 less than five minutes into the second quarter.
The third-year pro quickly closed in on Allen, swept his legs with a tackle and smoothly transitioned into a slide. He put one leg over the other and gave a finger wag to the air in celebration.
Asked about the celebration, Kendricks laughed.
"Hahaha. I just fell into that," Kendricks said. "I don't really make up my celebrations. I just kind of feel it out."
Kendricks' effort on the play resulted in a 1-yard loss and forced Baltimore to settle for a 57-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
Barr delivered the beginning of the end five minutes into the fourth quarter when the Ravens tried to set up a screen from Joe Flacco to Allen on a third-and-9 from the Baltimore 46-yard line. Barr was in 1-on-1 coverage of Allen on the play.
He quickly diagnosed the screen, zoomed past center Ryan Jensen and tackled Allen for a 2-yard loss to force a punt.
The Vikings offense was then able to run nearly seven minutes of clock before adding Kai Forbath's career-best sixth field goal of the game.* *
"Their receivers are kind of banged up," Barr said after the game. "I figured they would try to get the ball in a playmaker's hands, easy catches, easy throws so there was an emphasis to try and slow down the running attack and the running backs."
Kendricks and Barr have been flying around the field all season. They enter Sunday's game with 67 and 53 tackles (coaches' tally), respectively. Kendricks has six tackles for loss, and Barr has eight. They rank only behind Everson Griffen (11) in the category among Vikings.
"I feel like some of it is the film study and preparation during the week," Kendricks said. "The other half of it is we're starting to become experienced. This is his fourth year and my third year, so we're starting to see a lot of different looks and are recognizing it a little bit quicker."
Combine that with the way the defensive line has been controlling the line of scrimmage and strong play at all levels of the defense, and the result is a Vikings squad that is fourth in total defense (283 yards per game), third in rushing (76.6 yards per game), 12th against the pass (206.4 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (17 points allowed per game).
"Our D-line has been playing outstanding all year, and that makes it easy for us at linebackers to fill in the gaps," Barr said. "You're not going to be able to run it very well between the tackles; it's going to be tough. We might let a couple slip here and there, but for the most part, in those 60 minutes it's going to be tough to do that."
Barr, a first-round pick in 2014, and Kendricks, a second-rounder in 2015, impressively teamed together at UCLA and are in their third season together in the Vikings defense.
Is this the best they've ever played together?
"I'm just going to take it game-by-game," Kendricks said. "We've played together a lot and know what we're capable of, so I'm not going to sit here and call it out or anything. I'm just going to take it game-by-game and try to do as best as I can. I know he's going to do that, too."
Asked what he likes the most about Minnesota's defensive performance through seven games, Kendricks said, "Just the way we stay together."
"We've been through a lot the past couple of years," Kendricks said. "Everyone stays together and has been very focused, very determined. Everyone knows what we want, so we're going to go get it without any outside noise."
The Vikings (5-2) are scheduled to play the Browns (0-7) on Sunday at Twickenham Stadium in London.
Kendricks, Barr and Harrison Smith visited the United Kingdom last February to promote this game and American football. The players received a sneak peek of Twickenham Stadium during their tour.
"It's finally here. We promoted it this offseason," Kendricks said Wednesday before the team left for London. "They have a lot of great fans out there, are a lot more knowledgeable than we thought. We're excited. We've seen the stadium where we're going to play. It's beautiful, and we're excited to go out there."