NFL Week 14 preview. Vikings @ Ravens
In a Battle of purple the 3-8-1 Minnesota Vikings head to Baltimore to play the 6-6 Ravens. If the season ended today the Ravens would be playing in a wild card game sitting two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals while the Vikings would be somewhere among the top 5 picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
Both teams are having a letdown season and struggling to find consistency. The defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens’ golden-boy Joe Flacco went from an 87.7 Quarterback Rating last year to a mediocre 78.5 thus far. He has also thrown more interceptions this year than any previous season (14).
Questions about the Ravens receiving core, and a non existent running game, have been looming throughout the year. They’re still a top 10 defense in passing yards allowed per game, opponents are only passing for 228 yards through the air, and Baltimore still boasts a rush defense that ranks in the league’s top 5 — allowing only100 yards per game.
Somehow the Ravens depreciated defense -who underwent a huge roster turnover in the offseason- has come together with new pieces that are playing within their roles quite well. Former Pro Bowler Ray Rice has been obsolete this year and that’s a huge issue when an offense is trying to move the ball down the field.
Rice is averaging 2.9 yards per carry, that’s the lowest average of his career — he’s maintained a 4.3YPC average until this season. Head Coach John Harbaugh remains optimistic about the run game all season, it’s his bread-and-butter. He presumes things will eventually click, but, going into week 14 that has hardly been the case. Maybe it’s run-blocking or the lack of respect for Flacco’s arm, but opposing defenses are stacking the box and allowing corners to work in man-to-man coverage with Ravens receivers all season long.
It’s not going to surprise anyone when I tell them that the Vikings have had issues at quarterback — all.season.long. They’re the sixth worst passing offense in the NFL, averaging 210 yards a game, and because of the constant debate and inconsistency -regarding who’s the best of the worst; Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman- there’s not a drop of chemistry between any of the quarterbacks and the receivers.
There’s been no, true, number one receiver since the departure of Sidney Rice. Though Percy Harvin was productive in Minnesota last season, he was more of a slot-presence that works complimentary with a deep-ball threat (then he left, so that doesn’t matter). If the Vikings are able to snatch-up a top wideout in the upcoming draft, I expect them to do so — and they better.
That’s just the problem with the offense, the defense is a mess too.
Minnesota is the third worst in terms of yards allowed per game. Opposing offenses, either prolific or lackluster, are somehow managing to travel an average of 407 yards during the course of a game. I’m going to say this as it should be, and has been, said before — the Vikings are bad right now. They’re a team reeling, struggling to get anything going.
Anyone who doesn’t know football would wonder how they’ve won three games. Those same people, however, could probably guess that All-Day, All-Everything running back Adrian Peterson has carried this team offensively. The Vikings are averaging 132 rush yard per game. Peterson rushed for 211 yards on 35 carries in last week’s victory over the Bears, averaging six yards per carry. That’s the monster Viking fans are used to seeing.
However, Peterson is averaging 4.6YPC this season — while that’s good by ‘normal’ standards, it’s not for 28. AP has averaged five-yards per carry over the course of his career. Peterson’s degression can be blamed, obviously, by the passing offense I touched on before.
Ponder has a Touchdown to interception ratio of 7/9, which is bad, but there’s been no signs of improvement or anything that proved he’s developed since entering the league. His completion percentage, yards per pass, and yards per game are essentially the same as last season, remember? That’s when the Vikings qualified for the playoffs despite Ponder’s inability to become a solid starting NFL quarterback.
If we’re going to make excuses for Ponder, the lack of offensive firepower, outside Peterson, isn’t helping his cause. Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph has missed time and has only produced three touchdowns this season, he’s capable of more. Last year Ponder and Rudolph connected on nine touchdown passes.Rudolph’s tall, reliable and somewhat unstoppable presence in the redzone is what the Vikings miss most. Minnesota is struggling to convert redzone possessions into touchdowns and settling for field-goals, not something that will win games in this league.
Both the Ravens and the Vikings recorded victories last week in dramatic fashion. The Vikings defeated the Bears, on the road in Soldier Field, in what was a crazy overtime victory — it looked as if neither team wanted to walk off the field with a win.
Peterson led the dysfunctional bunch to victory while reaching a career milestone; AP became the fifth running back in NFL history to reach 10,000 career rushing yards.
The Ravens, somehow, squeaked out a two-point victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is usually a heated rivalry game, but unlike meetings in the past, this was NOT one for the ages. HOWEVER, the hilarious moment when Mike Tomlin interfered during a Jacoby Jones kickoff return, which probably would have resulted in a touchdown was, indeed, entertaining (to say the least).
Flacco threw for 251 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, didn’t make any mistakes. His solid performance aside the effort of the growing -and consistent- defense earned the W and a seat in second place among the AFC North.
The Vikings head to Baltimore to face the Ravens on Sunday, just so they can suffer another loss. The Ravens are a hungrier opponent and have no desire to join the likes of the New York Giants and Steelers as teams who will fail to make the postseason the year following a Superbowl victory.
Who knows if Baltimore will somehow finally flick the switch that fixes their offense. But as we’ve seen in years past, as long as Flacco doesn’t make mistakes and manages the game -playing within his abilities- the Ravens have proven they’re a tough, tough team to beat.
The Vikings lack firepower, and to be frank — they suck. They’re going up against a talented and growing defense and Ponder is going to feel pressure the entire game. But, and this is the case in every game, Minnesota still has Peterson.
Eventually, because 11 defensive players will find a way to tackle AP (most of the time) the Ravens will walk off the field having won the game with the score ending in something like 27-10. This win keeps Baltimores head above water fighting for a playoff spot, and the Viking submerged in college statistics — they’re going to have one of the top draft selections this offseason.