The Baltimore Ravens have three difficult games to end their 2013 regular season, so it is crucial that they win their Week 14 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Baltimore has strung together two impressive performances, and it'll need to keep that home form rolling to maintain its place in the AFC playoff picture.
Here are the important aspects of the game plan to watch out for when the Vikings come to M&T Bank Stadium.
Can Baltimore Contain Adrian Peterson?
Normally for these articles, I try to stay away from the obvious points in Baltimore’s game plan. For example, stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback are the primary objectives of the Ravens defense each and every week. Likewise, defensive coordinator Dean Pees always tries to take away the opponent’s best playmakers.
But Adrian Peterson isn’t a normal player. He isn’t even a normal superstar.
Everything about him screams superhuman, including his monstrous 211-yard performance against the Chicago Bears last week.
The league’s leading rusher provides a monumental challenge for any defense, but the state of the Vikings quarterback position makes it even more important to contain Peterson (note the use of “contain” as opposed to “stop”).
If the Ravens can keep Peterson under 100 yards on the ground, they're almost guaranteed to come away with the win as none of the quarterback triumvirate (Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman) have looked competent for an entire game.
That's easier said than done, however. Haloti Ngata will need to be a dominant force anchoring the defense to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Cordarrelle Patterson’s Versatility
The Vikings drafted Cordarrelle Patterson at the end of the first round in the 2013 NFL draft, and the rookie has come along well. He’s a raw prospect with only one year of FBS experience, but Patterson is an elite athlete and a dynamic playmaker.
Additionally, he is a threat because of the many ways in which he can hurt you. Obviously, as a wide receiver he can make some big plays in the passing game, but he’s a force as a runner and a returner.
Just last week, the Tennessee product scored the first rushing touchdown of his career with a 33-yard score out of the backfield that included broken tackles and an impressive burst of speed.
Patterson only has four rushing attempts on the season, but he’s such a threat with the ball in his hands that he could very well get more touches out of the backfield and on end-arounds (something the Ravens have struggled to defend this season).
The more devastating aspect of Patterson’s game is his kickoff returns. He leads the league with an average of 34 yards per return and is the only returner to have scored two touchdowns this year.
Baltimore’s special teams unit has been playing very well after a dreadful Week 7 performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which resulted in roster moves to acquire more special teams players.
That said, the coverage team will have its hands full with one of the deadliest return men in the game.
Keep Working the Deep Ball
Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has made it a point to take shots down the field in recent games, and it’s been successful. The big plays have been a huge help to an offense that has struggled to consistently construct long drives and march down the field.
The Minnesota Vikings defense has been awful this season, so Baltimore will have chances to put together another good offensive performance.
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One of Minnesota's starting cornerbacks, Josh Robinson, is out for this game, which leaves Chris Cook and rookie Xavier Rhodes as the starters. Neither of them have been particularly impressive in coverage, and Alshon Jeffery just hung 249 receiving yards on the Vikings secondary.
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While it would obviously be ideal for the rushing attack to get back on track, the Ravens need to make sure that they keep attacking the Vikings with deep passes.
Don’t Forget About Brian Robison
Jared Allen is the face of the Minnesota Vikings defense, but he hasn’t performed up to his lofty standards this season.
Instead, it’s been Brian Robison who has carried the Vikings pass rush. Allen still leads the team with seven sacks, but Robison has been the one generating most of the pressure.
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In fact, Robison has quietly been one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and he’s generated the second-most quarterback pressures in the entire league behind only Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams.
Jared Allen is definitely a key player for the Vikings defense, but the Ravens offensive line can’t underestimate Brian Robison.