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Scouting report: Breaking down the Ravens vs. the Vikings

By Jeff Zrebiec

The Baltimore Sun

8:33 AM EST, December 6, 2013

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RAVENS PASSING GAME: Though he's not posting gaudy numbers, quarterback Joe Flacco has strung together two consecutive solid games, completing 67 percent of his passes for 524 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His improved decision making, coupled by the return of the deep pass, has the Ravens optimistic that their offense is starting to get hot. The return of tight end Dennis Pitta, who is expected to make his 2013 regular debut Sunday, can only help matters.

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VIKINGS PASSING GAME: Three different quarterbacks have taken snaps for the Vikings and none of them have performed particularly well. Vikings' quarterbacks have completed 60.3 percent of their passes for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. With Christian Ponder dealing with a concussion, veteran Matt Cassel is expected to get the start. He's provided a little bit of a spark for Minnesota, but he's still turnover prone. Greg Jennings leads Minnesota with 43 catches but he's not the threat he once was.

EDGE: RAVENS

 

RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Barring a reappearance by the Chicago Bears' porous run defense, it's hard to imagine the Ravens having much success in the run game the rest of the way. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, they gained 74 yards on 25 carries. They rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (81.1) and last in yards per carry (2.9). Over the last two weeks, Ray Rice has 28 carries compared to 20 for Bernard Pierce so their respective workloads bear watching. The Ravens say they'll stay with the hot hand.

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VIKINGS RUNNING GAME: Star running back Adrian Peterson has been on every Ravens' defender's mind this week. Peterson rushed for 211 yards against the Bears last week to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark for his career and up his league-leading total to 1,208. Despite facing defenses designed solely to stop him, he has more rushing yards than 10 NFL teams, including the Ravens, and he's scored 11 total touchdowns. The Vikings average 132.8 rushing yards per game, which is sixth in the NFL.

EDGE: VIKINGS

 

RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens allowed their second rushing touchdown of the season and their first since Week 4 last Thursday, but they again were mostly able to contain the opponent's run game. The Ravens have allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season and that was Green Bay Packers' rookie Eddie Lacy in Week 6. However, they'll face their biggest challenge yet with Adrian Peterson in town. Daryl Smith leads the team with 95 tackles but slowing Peterson will require gang tackling.

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VIKINGS RUSH DEFENSE: Minnesota had been known for its big and physical front, but this year's group has struggled at times, allowing 120.6 rushing yards per game and 13 rushing touchdowns. Former Maryland standout Erin Henderson was demoted to weak-side linebacker this week with Audie Cole starting in the middle. Henderson is second on the team with 81 tackles, including 13 for losses. Veteran strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway leads Minnesota with 87 tackles.

EDGE: RAVENS


RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Where has the pass rush gone? The Ravens are tied for fifth in the NFL with 37 sacks, but they have just five over the last three games. Their pass rush was shut out for the first time all season against the Steelers and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs hasn't had a sack since Nov. 3. The Ravens have been more formidable on the back end with Jimmy Smith emerging as a shutdown corner. The Ravens are allowing 228.9 passing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the NFL.

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VIKINGS PASS DEFENSE: There is talent here, led by perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen who has six sacks in what has been a down year by his standards. However, the Vikings' secondary has been abused all season, allowing a league-high 26 passing touchdowns. Teams are converting 44.2 percent of the time on third down against the Vikings and are averaging 287 passing yards per game. The Vikings haven't been able to consistently get to the quarterback or get off the field.

EDGE: RAVENS

 

RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: So shaky earlier this season, the Ravens' special teams have factored prominently in their last two wins. Kicker Justin Tucker has played the starring role, making nine field goals over the past two games and converting on 27 straight attempts. Kick returner Jacoby Jones has re-emerged as a big-play threat, gaining 269 return yards over the past two weeks. With Sam Koch punting better and the coverage teams playing solid, the Ravens' special teams have been clicking on all cylinders.

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VIKINGS SPECIAL TEAMS: Outside Peterson, rookie return man Cordarrelle Patterson is Minnesota's most dangerous player. The speedster leads the NFL with 1,008 kickoff return yards and two touchdowns. Expect Justin Tucker to try and avoid kicking to him as much as possible. CornerbackMarcus Sherels also has a punt return touchdown for Minnesota. In two seasons, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh is 57-of-63 on field-goal attempts and he's made 12 from 50 yards or more.

EDGE: VIKINGS

 

RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens enter the last quarter of the regular season in pretty good position. They hold the sixth and final playoff spot and they are playing their best football. They are relatively healthy, well rested and they're at the one place where they've been at their best. The Ravens are 5-1 this season at M&T Bank Stadium. Under coach John Harbaugh, they are 10-1 at home against NFC foes. With their final three games against first-place teams, they know they can't slip up here.

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VIKINGS INTANGIBLES: The Vikings have been a disaster on the road this season, going 0-5-1 and giving up an average of 28 points per contest. Their overall defense ranks 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (407.6) and last in points allowed per game (30.5). On offense, they make too many mistakes, exhibited by their minus nine turnover ratio. Effort, however, hasn't been a question. Leslie Frazier's team has lost three games by four points or less.

EDGE: RAVENS

 

PREDICTION: When the Ravens began their stretch of three consecutive home games, they knew that they had to win all three to get in good playoff position. All that's now standing in their way is a 3-8-1 team with a backup quarterback and a struggling defense. That's not to say that this will be a cakewalk. They've given several good teams problems and Peterson can win a game on his own. The Ravens also haven't played consistently enough to expect them to overwhelm anybody. However, they should get a relatively comfortable win with their defense turning up the head and Flacco throwing a couple of long touchdown passes.

Ravens, 23-13.