By Joseph Gunther
As the Vikings (3-8-1) begin the final quarter of the season with at the Baltimore Ravens, they are coming off a bizarre 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears. The Ravens (6-6) are coming off a Thanksgiving night home win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens are still in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC, despite a noticeable downgrade from the team that won the Super Bowl last season. The Ravens have been a different team at home as they are on the road with one home loss and one road win. The Ravens have defeated the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Steelers at home. The Jets and Steelers wins have come in each of the last two weeks. The only team to beat the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium is the Green Bay Packers.
Ravens on Offense
Quarterback Joe Flacco had a great run through the playoffs last season that resulted in the Super Bowl championship. He was rewarded handsomely with a lucrative long-term contract, but ranks 14th in passing yards (2,993), 25th in completion percentage (59.8 percent), tied for 16th in touchdown passes (15), tied for fifth most interceptions (14) and 28th in quarterback rating (78.5) among all quarterbacks that qualify for the league lead. To qualify, a player must attempt at least 14 attempts per their team’s games played.
A big part of his drop off was the loss of Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the San Francisco 49ers last offseason. Torrey Smith has stepped up to fill his loss, but finding a No. 2 receiver has been difficult.
Marlon Brown, a rookie from Georgia, was becoming that guy, but has just three catches for 23 yards in the last four Ravens games. He leads the team in touchdown receptions, but hasn’t gotten into the end zone since scoring twice in Week 9 against the Browns.
Ravens on Defense
The Ravens still use the same 3-4 base scheme that won them the franchise first Super Bowl championship in 2001. The only difference is the names have changed. The same defense that allowed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos score 49 points on opening night hasn’t had half that many in any game the rest of the season. Opponents average just 15.75 points per game over their last four games.
Overall, the Ravens rank 10th in total yards allowed (329 per game), 12th in passing yards allowed (228.9 per game) and sixth in rushing yards allowed (100.1 per game).
Ravens Players to Watch
Wide Receiver Torrey Smith. The 6-foot, 205-pound third-year veteran is the go-to guy for the Ravens offense. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, yards per catch and is second on the team in touchdown catches.
Nose tackle Haloti Ngata. The 6-foot-4-inch, 330-pound eighth-year veteran is one of the most dominant defensive lineman in football – when healthy. This season he has missed just one game with a knee injury – a Week 11 loss at the Bears. He commands double and triple teams because of his quickness off the ball and size.
The Ravens currently occupy the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. They control their own destiny with plenty to play for this season. They have won three of the last four (all at home) and have nine days off before facing the Vikings. The Vikings are coming off an emotional win, but it wasn’t pretty and the Vikings are winless on the road.
For more Vikings news and updates, visit Vikings Central.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.