Vikings vs. Ravens: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan

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Vikings vs. Ravens: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
If the Minnesota Vikings are to win in Baltimore, Adrian Peterson needs to have another big game.

The Minnesota Vikings can salvage a little of their dismal season by beating the reigning Super Bowl champions. If the game were being played at the Metrodome, they might actually have a shot—the Baltimore Ravens are 1-5 on the road this season.

The problem is, at home the Ravens are a very different team—at M&T Bank Stadium they are 5-1. To make the situation worse, the Vikings are 0-5-1 on the road this season. Baltimore has an extra incentive because it is in the running for the last playoff spot in the AFC. According to Pro Football Reference, the Ravens are currently the sixth, and final, seed. 

Yeah, this would appear to be the perfect setup for a Baltimore win.

A quick look at common opponents doesn't shed much light. Both the Vikings and Ravens have played the Steelers, Browns, Bears and Packers. Baltimore has a 2-4 record—with two games against the Steelers and Browns, which it split. The Vikings are 2-3-1, with wins over the Bears and Steelers.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Packers beat the Ravens 19-17 in Week 6.

According to head coach Leslie Frazier on Wednesday during his press conference posted on Vikings.com, Matt Cassel will most likely get the start at quarterback for Christian Ponder. Ponder did not pass the tests required for him to get back on the practice field, and Frazier doesn't think there is enough time for him to be ready for Sunday.

Another surprising move Frazier announced is that linebacker Audie Cole will remain the starter as the middle linebacker. Erin Henderson, who has not played in the past two games after being arrested on suspicion of DWI, will move back to the weak-side linebacker, the position he started 10 games last season.

 

When the Vikings Have the Ball

A good place to start for the Vikings, would be to look at what the Packers did on offense to beat the Ravens at home. Green Bay used a balanced attack behind 120 rushing yards from running back Eddie Lacy in 23 carries.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 315 yards, and Mason Crosby kicked four field goals, the longest from 50 yards. 

No doubt, the Vikings are as good or better on two of those fronts—with running back Adrian Peterson and kicker Blair Walsh. 

A crude comparison between Cassel's performance last Sunday against Chicago to Rodgers' performance in Week 6 against the Ravens is very interesting. 

Quarterback Comparison
Quarterback Opponent Comp Att Yds TD Int Rating
Aaron Rodgers Ravens Week 6 17 32 315 1 1 84.8
Matt Cassel Bears Week 13 20 33 243 1 1 80.7

ESPN

Before anyone makes a comment about this being an apples and oranges comparison, I realize that. It's just weird how close the statistics were for the two quarterbacks.

 

Give Peterson the Ball As Much As Possible

If Peterson can effectively run the ball, then the passing game might open up for Cassel and the Vikings.

Data from Stat Milk

The Vikings offense should continue to revolve around Peterson. Last week against the Bears, Peterson had his best game of the season, rushing for 211 yards on 35 carries. Ironically, it was the same week last season when Peterson had his best game of the season. He rushed for 210 yards against the Packers.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It was his performance over the final four games that led the Vikings to four straight wins and a playoff berth. Perhaps it just takes Peterson 12 games to get warmed up. 

Adrian Peterson's Production in 2012
Time Frame Yds/Game TD
Weeks 1-12 112.4 7
Weeks 13 - 17 172.2 5

ESPN

The Vikings should strive to get Peterson 30 or more carries against the Ravens. If that happens, it will accomplish two things—keep the Vikings defense on the sideline, and keep the clock moving to shorten up the game. 

 

Make Rookie Wide Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson a Big Part of the Game Plan

Cordarrelle Patterson finally became a triple threat with his 32-yard touchdown run against the Bears. He now has four touchdowns on the season—two on kick returns, one touchdown reception and one rushing.

With both Patterson and Peterson on the field together—dare we dub them the "P&P Boys"—the Ravens will have to account for both. That should open things up for wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings and tight end John Carlson.

 

When the Ravens Have the Ball

Stats from NFL.com

Surprisingly, the Ravens have not been that effective running the ball this season. They are on a three-year slide that has seen their rushing average per game fall each season.

Baltimore Ravens Running in Reverse
Year Yds/Game Ranking
2013 81.1 29th
2012 118.8 11th
2011 124.8 10th

NFL.com

Unfortunately, the Vikings defense has not been as effective against the run. Currently ranked 23rd in the NFL, the Vikings are on a five-year downward trend in the ranking of their rush defense. 

Minnesota Vikings Rush Defense
Year Yds/Game Ranking
2013 120.6 23rd
2012 105.8 11th
2011 107.0 11th
2011 102.2 9th
2009 83.3 2nd

NFL.com

 

Don't Let Ray Rice Get Going

The Vikings will need to keep tabs on running back Ray Rice. Rice is an effective pass-catcher, and he is the Ravens' second-leading receiver with 43 receptions for 213 yards to go with his 482 rushing yards. 

David Banks/Getty Images

With Henderson back as the weak-side linebacker, the Vikings will be stronger in the second line of defense than with Marvin Mitchell. This will help to contain Rice.

 

Give Xavier Rhodes the Top Assignment

According to an article from 1500ESPN, before the season started, cornerback Chris Cook had aspirations of finally being the shutdown corner the Vikings have been hoping for—that flat out has not happened. Against the Bears, Cook gave up two long touchdowns to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery finished with 12 catches for a franchise-record 249 yards. 

On the other side of the field, Xavier Rhodes shut down wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall finished with just four catches for 45 yards. It was the fewest catches and yards for Marshall in six career games against the Vikings.

As I broke down in my previous article, Rhodes has developed into the Vikings' best cornerback. 

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Rhodes should line up opposite Torrey Smith—no matter where he is on the field. Smith leads the Ravens with 54 catches for 952 yards.

That leaves Cook to cover the Ravens' top scoring threat—wide receiver Marlon Brown. Brown only has 29 catches on the season, but five of them have been for touchdowns. Undoubtedly, no matter how the Vikings cornerbacks line up, quarterback Joe Flacco will most likely be looking to pick on Cook.

Sure the Ravens are favored to win this game—Sporting News has them as early seven-point favoritesbut if Peterson can carry the team like he did last season at this time, if Cassel can provide the same kind of spark as he did in the second half of the game against the Bears, if Patterson can be effective in more than one phase of the game and if Rhodes can shut down the Ravens' passing game, then the Vikings have a great shot.

Just in case you weren't counting, that was four pretty big ifs. 

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