Keep the Play Fakes Coming
In the last two games the Ravens have played, we have seen the return of play-action as an effective early down tool to spring big pass plays. Against the Steelers, the Ravens flashed a hard play fake to get receivers Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith involved on deep post patterns. The play to Jones was a miss but the play to Smith was the big hitter of the night. With the vertical passing game established, Flacco was able to hit a steady stream of underneath throws as the coverage loosened up.
The Vikings are the third worst pass defense in the league, but they weren’t necessarily getting killed on deep balls until last week, when Bears receiver Alshon Jeffrey nailed them downfield. Now the deep parts of the field are fair game and it will be up to Flacco to convert.
Depending on how well he sells his fakes, the Minnesota secondary is undisciplined enough to be baited out of position. Play-action with motion and movement could be a deadly combination on at least two or three shots downfield.
Control the Airwaves
Flacco is starting to heat up at the right time, and he has a great opportunity to keep the momentum going against a Minnesota defense that has been dreadful on third downs (giving up 44.2% for second worst in the league), and nearly as bad sacking the quarterback. The Vikings have only logged 28 sacks through 12 games. This is a unit that doesn’t take many chances with their blitz scheme and largely play zone to protect their leaky secondary.
Flacco needs to stay accurate and precise on the short-to-intermediate passes. He was especially good throwing the ball over the middle and finding the soft spots in Pittsburgh’s fire zone. He’ll need to show the same level of patience and find the dead spots in the Minnesota zone. If he can consistently complete passes, he’ll be able to wear out a group that can’t seem to get off the field.
Lock Down the Edges
Of the 28 sacks the Vikings have generated, 12 have come from Jared Allen and Brian Robison at the defensive end spot. The bookend duo consistently plays with a high motor and is able to collapse the pocket outside-in.
Given the consistent struggles of right tackle Michael Oher, the prospect of blocking either Robison or Allen one-on-one is a scary thought. Teams have been chipping and double teaming Allen all year, but the Ravens will also need to give Oher help against Robison. The backs and tight ends should be involved as chippers, and quick screens should be deployed to deter the pass rushers from pinning their ears back and flying off the ball.
You Can’t Stop Him…You Can Only Hope to Contain Him
In case you haven’t heard, there is this player named Adrian Peterson coming to Baltimore this weekend. He is part cyborg, part human. And for NFL defenders, he is their worst nightmare.
AP is the type of back who can rip through an eight-man front just as easily as a seven-man front. In fact, if the box is loaded too tight, Peterson only needs some daylight to hit the second level and create a big play for his offense. And that’s why the Ravens need to be extra careful when they defend him.
First and foremost, gap integrity will be vital, as the Vikings will run some zone plays and use pulling action to draw defenders out of position. The linebackers and defensive backs will also need to play at the right depth when they prepare to tackle Peterson. They need to let the reigning MVP make his cut and come to them. By staying gap sound and not crashing too hard downhill, the front should be able to force Peterson into being more of a singles hitter than a home run masher.
Cover 3 Means Every Man for Himself
Given that Peterson will demand attention from an eighth “box” defender—most likely James Ihedigbo—it will be up to the corners and safety Matt Elam to hold down the back end without help. While Elam will have deep coverage support to either side, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb will be tasked with man-to-man responsibilities.
The Minnesota receivers may not be consistent but they can’t be dismissed. In particular, rookie Cordarrelle Patterson has been especially deadly as a big-play threat.
Regardless, Smith and Webb have been up to the challenge in recent weeks. Their ability to play physical, tight coverage will be the key to the defense’s success.
Bring Down the Cassel
It will be interesting to see how quarterback Matt Cassel performs in place of second-year man Christian Ponder. The Vikings have been playing musical chairs at the QB position all season, but one could argue that Cassel gives them their best chance to make plays in the passing game. He is a veteran who sees the field better than Ponder and has the ability to make accurate throws underneath.
However, Cassel is not nearly as good when he is pressured and dared to stretch the field. He doesn’t have the arm strength to consistently hit strikes downfield.
If the corners do their job, that should open up opportunities for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to expand his blitz packages. The goal should be to bring extra rushers, especially in obvious passing situations, and force Cassel to beat the Ravens deep.
One-on-One Battle of the Week
Terrell Suggs versus Matt Kalil
In his second year, Kalil is starting to live up to the status of being a top-five draft selection. The former USC Trojan is a better run-blocker than pass protector at this point. In passing situations, he still makes mistakes with his technique and footwork. Still, the blindside blocker has the long wingspan and quick feet to clamp down the left side of the line. He’ll face off against a slumping Suggs who hasn’t sizzled in weeks. The former DPOY has gone four games without a sack, and also failed to capitalize against the Steelers’ second and third-string left tackles. He’ll need to do a better job of getting home and finishing the play on Sunday.