On the Minnesota Vikings’ second offensive play Sunday, running back Latavius Murray took a handoff from Case Keenum and was immediately met by Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who pushed through the line of scrimmage to take down the ball carrier for a 3-yard loss.
Williams was back after missing four games with a foot/toe injury and so, too, was his team’s rushing defense, or so the Ravens hoped. However, even with the return of Williams and defensive lineman Carl Davis, who missed a game with a hamstring injury, the Ravens’ struggles in stopping the run continued in a 24-16 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
They allowed 169 rushing yards and a 29-yard touchdown run by Murray in the third quarter that essentially put the game out of reach. Murray finished with 18 carries for 113 yards, while Jerick McKinnon had 47 yards on 14 attempts as the Vikings took control of the line of scrimmage in the second half against what appeared to be a worn-out defense.
“I mean those cliches — worn down, gap control — it’s just all meaningless chatter,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We have to play better against the run. We have to get a stop. They did a good job [and] we didn’t.”
Williams flashed at times and finished the game with five tackles. He appeared to find some solace in the fact that the Ravens showed improvement after allowing a franchise-record 231 rushing yards against the Chicago Bears a week ago.
That performance, which included Jordan Howard’s 167 rushing yards on 36 carries, left the Ravens ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 141.3 yards per game.
“I feel like we did well in the run defense,” Williams said. “Obviously, we still gave up over 100 yards, which is unacceptable for us. But it was definitely better than 231 last week. Obviously, it's getting better. That's one aspect we were trying to get better in. Other than that, we've been stuffing the run. We've been doing a good job. Obviously, they get paid just like us, so they're going to leak a few. But we still have to get better at that.”
Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs offered a much harsher assessment than Williams.
“I read something one of you all wrote [that] we’re like 30th against the run. In 15 years of me being here, we’ve never been that low,” Suggs said. “I think we gave up two back-to-back 100-yard rushers. For me being the veteran on the defense, I take more of a blame for that than anything, because I know how we’re supposed to play. I know how it’s supposed to look.”
The run defense’s struggles were crystallized by Murray’s 29-yard touchdown run. Suggs was rubbed out by a tight end, Williams was double-teamed, and nose tackle Michael Pierce, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle couldn’t get off blocks. Murray was barely touched.
“It just seems like it’s leakage, just little bleeding,” Suggs said. “It seems like teams are just trying to stall us out, eat up the clock. We just have to be better. We’ve got to get off the field. We have to identify what they’re doing and play better. I don’t even think it’s an X’s and O’s thing. It’s just man for man, we’ve got to click and get our chemistry and play better together.”
Tucker excels: Until Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass to Chris Moore with no time on the clock at the end of the game, the Ravens’ sole offense was provided by Justin Tucker, who was engaged in a kicking duel with the Vikings’ Kai Forbath.
Tucker made field goals of 48, 57 and 47 yards and connected for his only extra-point try, while Forbath was good from 52, 51, 43 twice, 34 and 32 yards. He missed his only extra-point attempt. The nine combined field goals tied an NFL single-season record.
Tucker’s 57-yard field goal at the new enclosed stadium would have been good from far more than 60 yards, prompting a question about whether he’d like to kick in a domed stadium every week.
“No, I am happy to play for the team I play for,” Tucker said. “I don’t think about that. I take it week-by-week and assess the conditions every pregame and whatever they are, they are. We roll with it. Today, we happened to be playing in a much more controlled environment. We were able to take a couple shots from long range. Morgan Cox was throwing back good snaps, Sam Koch was giving me good spots, and the ball was flying pretty well for us today.”
Hill debuts: Ravens undrafted rookie cornerback and preseason standout Jaylen Hill was inactive for the first six games of the regular season as he recovered from a hamstring injury. He acknowledged after his NFL regular-season debut that it felt far longer than that.
Hill got his first defensive snap in the second quarter and then he played extensively in the second half. He made a stop on a running play and was credited with one pass defended. He also was just a step behind in giving up a 14-yard completion to Adam Thielen late in the fourth quarter.
“Just to live up to this moment and actually go out there and be a part of it was very special. I wish we could have gotten the win,” Hill said. “It went good. Get out there and fly around and get back to the normal things, playing on defense, playing special teams. It felt really good.”
End zone: Cornerback Brandon Carr picked off Keenum on the Vikings’ first drive, giving him three interceptions this season. He’s one short of tying his career high, set in 2011. … Along with Hill, wide receiver Griff Whalen and inside linebacker Steven Johnson also made their regular-season debuts for the Ravens. Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, who was released Thursday and re-signed two days later, was also active … Inactive for the Ravens were running back Terrance West (calf), wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), Breshad Perriman (concussion) and Chris Matthews (hamstring), guard Matt Skura (knee), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) and outside linebacker Tim Williams (hamstring).