The Ravens are coming off their bye week and getting healthier. They’ll face a Minnesota Vikings team Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that has been largely inconsistent this season and owns a 3-4 record. Here’s who has the edge in each phase:
Ravens passing game vs. Vikings pass defense
Lamar Jackson took five sacks in the Ravens’ 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a result of uneven pass protection and his propensity to hold the ball as he looks downfield. He completed just 15 of 31 passes but averaged more than 17 yards per completion. First-round pick Rashod Bateman continued his productive start with three catches for 80 yards in his second career game. Bateman already makes a potent pairing with Marquise Brown, who leads the Ravens with six touchdown catches and is on pace for almost 1,400 receiving yards. Veteran Sammy Watkins could join them against the Vikings after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, though he did not practice Wednesday. Tight end Mark Andrews (37 catches on 51 targets, 516 yards) has graded as the league’s best player at his position, according to Pro Football Focus. In sum, Jackson is throwing to the most dangerous set of targets he has ever worked with, and the Ravens rank seventh in the league in yards per attempt, up from 21st last season.
The Vikings will try to exploit the Ravens’ uncertainty at right tackle, where Tyre Phillips stepped in for the injured Patrick Mekari (ankle) in Week 7. But they’ll do so without their best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, who suffered a season-ending injury in last Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. They still have veteran Everson Griffen (five sacks, nine quarterback hits) on the edge and one of the league’s best backlines, built around safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods. Linebacker Eric Kendricks (three sacks, three passes defended) also excels in coverage. The Vikings have allowed 6.4 yards per attempt, 16th in the league.
Vikings passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is one of the NFL’s least daring passers, averaging just 6.6 air yards per attempt (compared to Jackson’s league-leading 10.8), according to Next Gen Stats. He has generally made it work, completing 69% of his passes with just two interceptions and 10 sacks through seven games. But the Cowboys held him to 184 passing yards on 35 attempts and kept the Vikings out of the end zone after their opening drive. Cousins has a pair of dangerous receivers in Adam Thielen (43 catches on 59 targets, 471 yards, six touchdowns) and Justin Jefferson (43 catches on 63 targets, 563 yards, three touchdowns). He also throws frequently to tight end Tyler Conklin (27 catches on 37 targets, 297 yards). As we saw in the Ravens’ loss to the Bengals, even short passes can turn into big plays against a defense that has struggled to tackle for much of the season.
Joe Burrow became the third quarterback to surpass 400 yards against the Ravens, who rank last in pass defense after ranking sixth in 2020. Cincinnati’s superstar rookie, Ja’Marr Chase, torched Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey in that loss, and Humphrey has acknowledged he will need to play better. Meanwhile, opponents have targeted cornerback Anthony Averett relentlessly, with mixed results. Averett was overwhelmed as the Ravens surrendered more than 400 passing yards to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz in Week 5 but held up better against the Bengals. Given their coverage struggles, the Ravens are rushing more conservatively, blitzing on 32.5% of dropbacks, compared to 44.1% last season. Veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston has been their most effective pass rusher in recent weeks, though rookie Odafe Oweh still leads the team with three sacks.
Ravens running game vs. Vikings run defense
The Ravens are still searching for a productive formula at running back after Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell and Ty’Son Williams combined for 29 yards on 11 attempts against the Bengals. They hope to have Latavius Murray (ankle) back soon, though he did not practice all week. No matter which combination they have used, they have not moved the ball consistently against good run defenses. They still rank third in the league in rushing, largely because of Jackson, who’s on pace to surpass 1,000 yards for the third straight season. Even he is relying more on scrambles than designed runs.
The Vikings have allowed 4.6 yards per attempt, 27th in the league, so this might be another chance for the Ravens to get well on the ground. The Vikings do not have a dominant run defender on their front seven and had surrendered more than 100 rushing yards in every game until they held the Cowboys to 78. They will go without former Raven Michael Pierce (elbow) at nose tackle.
Vikings running game vs. Ravens run defense
Star running back Dalvin Cook has been up and down for the Vikings, missing two games because of a sprained ankle and rushing for just 34 yards on nine attempts in a 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns. He’s nonetheless one of the league’s most gifted runners, with two 100-yard games this season and a career average of 4.7 yards per carry. The Vikings have struggled to move efficiently on the ground, ranking 28th in run DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. None of their starting offensive linemen have excelled as run blockers, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades, and center Garrett Bradbury will not play Sunday.
The Ravens faltered late against the Bengals, giving up a pair of long touchdown runs to Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, but they rank fourth in run defense and held the Los Angeles Chargers to 26 yards in Week 6. Veteran Calais Campbell has been the team’s top run defender up front, and Josh Bynes brought stability when he replaced Patrick Queen as the starter at middle linebacker against the Chargers. Queen has played better in the Will linebacker role.
Ravens special teams vs. Vikings special teams
The Ravens easily rank first in special teams DVOA. Kicker Justin Tucker has made 14 of 15 field-goal attempts, and Devin Duvernay is arguably the league’s most dangerous returner, averaging 16.9 yards on punts and 25.1 yards on kickoffs.
The Vikings rank near the bottom in special teams DVOA. Kicker Greg Joseph has missed four field-goal attempts and one extra-point attempt. Dede Westbrook has averaged just 4.3 yards on 12 punt returns.
Ravens intangibles vs. Vikings intangibles
The Ravens played their worst game of the season in Week 7, but they will be at home coming off their bye week, and they have generally performed well when they have extra time to prepare under coach John Harbaugh. They know they will have a chance to build on their lead in the AFC North over the next few weeks before their schedule turns brutal in December.
The Vikings just fell at home to a backup quarterback and are already 0-2 against the AFC North. They have played close games almost every week but have struggled to put away victories against the better teams on their schedule. Mike Zimmer often makes lists of coaches on the hot seat, and that talk picked up again after his team’s desultory loss to the Cowboys on Sunday night.
If the Ravens struggle to tackle again, they could be in for a long afternoon against Minnesota’s dink-and-dunk offense. No one has blown out the Vikings this season. But the Ravens will be rested and eager to put their loss to the Bengals behind them. Their running game will come out of hiding against a porous Vikings front, and Jackson will mix in enough big strikes to get his team back on track. Ravens 27, Vikings 20.