BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-3) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (4-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, noon, U.S. Bank Stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: Sixth regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 3-2. The teams have not met since Dec. 8, 2013, in Baltimore. In that game, the teams combined for five touchdowns in the final two minutes. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with four seconds remaining to give the Ravens a 29-26 victory. The Vikings won the only other meeting in Minnesota, 33-3, in 2009.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Ravens’ offense has been so inconsistent from week-to-week, it has become difficult to gauge how they plan to attack opposing defenses. One week after deep shots against Oakland, quarterback Joe Flacco did not attempt a pass over 17 yards against Chicago. The Ravens have stressed having more balance between throwing and running the ball. However, Flacco attempted 41 passes against the Bears, and the Ravens ran just 26 times.
Baltimore will try to run more on the road against the Vikings. But that could be difficult because Minnesota has a run defense that is ranked sixth in the league. If Baltimore falls behind, that could spell trouble because Flacco is prone to throw interceptions. His receivers consistently struggle to catch the ball.
The Ravens have labored to defend the run and the Vikings will test this unit. Baltimore ideally will shut down Minnesota’s run game and force quarterback Case Keenum to beat them. However, they failed to execute that plan last week against Chicago and rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears ran for 231 yards, the most the Ravens have ever allowed on the ground. Baltimore will have to play much better to beat the Vikings on the road.
Protecting the ball will be paramount for Minnesota against a Ravens defense that has 14 takeaways, including nine interceptions. The Vikings won the turnover battle (3-2) against the Packers last week, but they still handed Green Bay 10 points off two turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Vikings lead the NFL in third-down defense and are coming off a three-interception game. If they can contain Baltimore’s seventh-ranked running attack, they should be able to disrupt Flacco, who ranks 31st in passer rating (66.1) and has thrown eight interceptions and only four touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Vikings FS Harrison Smith. Smith, a Pro Bowler the last two years, is coming off arguably the best game of his career. He had 1 1/2 sacks and a diving, one-handed interception. All three plays came on third down, as did another excellent strip of a ball that Jordy Nelson had in his grasp. Smith did all of this against Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who had thrown just 11 career passes before being forced into action last Sunday. Flacco is a much more experienced quarterback. He has won a Super Bowl MVP. But he also is having an atrocious year; his 66.1 passer rating ranks 31st, just ahead of Browns rookie DeShone Kizer.
–Vikings LT Riley Reiff vs. Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs. Reiff has solidified a left tackle position that was in complete disarray a year ago. Five guys played left tackle for the Vikings last year. There were concerns about Reiff when he was made available in free agency as the Lions looked to upgrade from the former first-round pick. The concerns were heightened when Reiff spent a large portion of training camp sidelined by a back injury. But since the season started, he has been a steady force on the blind side. Suggs, meanwhile, keeps on knocking down quarterbacks as a 35-year-old rush linebacker. The 265-pounder leads the Ravens in sacks with 4 1/2 and also had two forced fumbles.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens RG Jermaine Eluemunor. The rookie, who is originally from England, got his first start in Week 6 against the Bears. Eluemunor had an uneven performance, especially in pass protection, but coach John Harbaugh was pleased under the circumstances. Eluemunor, a fifth-round pick from Texas A&M, is the third player to start at right guard this season because of injuries. He will get another shot this week against Minnesota.
FAST FACTS: Ravens QB Joe Flacco passed for 385 yards with two TDs and no interceptions for a 109.2 passer rating in the last meeting on the road. In the past six games on the road vs. NFC teams, he has 1,720 passing yards (286.7 per game) with 10 TDs and three interceptions for a 96.4 passer rating. … RB Alex Collins leads the team with 335 rushing yards. His 6.44-yard average is the highest in the NFL. … LB C.J. Mosley leads the NFL with 55 tackles. Has 56 tackles (9.3 per game), an interception, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in the past six games vs. NFC teams. Has eight-plus tackles in four of the past five games on the road. … Vikings QB Case Keenum has 827 passing yards (275.7 per game), four TDs and one interception in three home games with Minnesota. … RB Jerick McKinnon has 245 scrimmage yards (122.5 per game) and three TDs in past two games. He has five TDs in his past seven games at home. … DE Everson Griffen ranks second in the NFC with seven sacks. He has a sack in all six ggames this season. He has four sacks in the past three games vs. AFC teams.
PREDICTION: The Ravens win when one would expect them to lose and egg it when one would expect them to win. This looks like a tough matchup for them, given the Vikings’ stout defense and Keenum’s surprisingly good play in Sam Bradford’s place.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 23-17.
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