By Ben Butanis
Coming off of two consecutive disappointing losses, the Ravens (3-2) travel to Minneapolis to square off against an impressive undefeated Vikings team, featuring the league's best running back and an unretired NFL legend.
And the Vikings defense isn't too shabby, either. Anchored by DE Jared Allen, the Vikings' D leads the league with 18 sacks and nine forced fumbles this season.
In order for the Ravens to pull off the upset in Minnesota, they need to:
1) Force Brett Favre to make plays (by stopping Adrian Peterson).
Facing the Vikings offense, you really need to pick your poison: they're capable of beating you through the air or on the ground. Only the Saints (36) and Eagles (31.8) average more points per game than the Vikings (31.2). Brett Favre has been playing extremely "un-Favre-like" -- he has nine touchdown passes and only two interceptions to go along with a 69% completion rate -- and a 104.1 quarterback rating. Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing touchdowns (7) and is six yards behind league-leader Cedric Benson's 487 total rushing yards.
If the Ravens are able to contain Adrian Peterson, they put pressure on Favre. When Favre is forced to make plays, throughout his career, he tends to throw a costly interception or two. But if Peterson is effective early, it opens up the play action -- which the Ravens have struggled with so far this season (i.e. New England).
Player to Watch: MLB Ray Lewis.
The Vikings' offensive line is one of the best in the league, and their ability to run the ball effectively will hinge on how well Ray Lewis is able to shed his blockers and get to Peterson. But let's be clear: stopping Peterson won't fall to just one person -- he's too strong and quick. The Ravens cannot miss tackles, and if they can't bring Peterson down, they must hold on until someone else comes to help. ESPN offered some advice for the Ravens on how to tackle Adrian Peterson.
2) Keep Jared Allen in check.
Allen is far and away the most explosive player on the Vikings defense. He plays with a high motor and thrives on hitting the quarterback. Allen already has 6 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles this season, and if the Ravens must contain him in order to give Joe Flacco adequate time to throw downfield. Allen certainly made former Ravens QB Kyle Boller look bad last week...or maybe it was just Boller making himself look bad...yeah, that's probably it.
Last week, the Bengals were able to get early pressure on Flacco and maintain coverage on the receivers -- an effective means of controlling the Ravens offense. You can bet the Vikings were taking notes.
Player to Watch: T Michael Oher.
LT Jared Gaither (neck) is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, and he didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday -- which means the task of stopping Allen will probably fall to Oher, who did a nice job against league-leading sack leader Antawn Odom last week.
3) Run the football.
Last week against the Bengals, Willis McGahee had one carry for a two-yard loss and Le'Ron McClain didn't touch the ball. In order to negate the Vikings' pass rush, the Ravens must get the run game going. Much like the Ravens will look to take Adrian Peterson out of the game, they need to get their running game going. By effectively running the football, the Ravens open up the passing game and give Joe Flacco more time to go downfield.
Player to Watch: RB Willis McGahee.
McGahee is more physical than Ray Rice, and the Ravens really have an opportunity to wear down the Vikings defense. I'd like to see McGahee and McClain share the bulk of the carries, with Ray Rice in on passing downs. Time for the Ravens to get back to smashmouth football.
Prediction: Vikings 21, Ravens 17
Notes: C Matt Birk will play in Minnesota for the first time since signing with the Ravens this offseason...Birk spent 11 years playing for the Vikings after being born and raised in Minnesota...Cam Cameron addressed WR Demetrius Williams' lack of playing time...Rush Limbaugh is pissed about the NFL denying him a chance to own the St. Louis Rams...Marshall Faulk may join the investment group to purchase his former team...SportingNews' Vinne Iyer picked the Ravens to upset the Vikings, 20-17... Raiders WR Javon Walker wants to be traded...Panthers LB Jon Beason apologizes for calling out DE Julius Peppers...Titans DE Kyle VandenBosch is the latest victim of the ridiculous "roughing the passer" rules...Lions QB Matt Stafford is still out with a knee injury...49ers WR Michael Crabtree will make his debut on Oct. 25...Broncos WR Brandon Marshall may finally be getting his big pay raise.
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