Minnesota Vikings: Four keys to victory against the Baltimore Ravens

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 15: Latavius Murray
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 15: Latavius Murray /

1. Jerick McKinnon AND Latavius Murray need to have big days against a miserable rushing defense.

The Baltimore Ravens’ passing defense is ranked fifth in the league, allowing only 189.5 yards per game. They also have eight interceptions, good enough for second in the league thanks to the likes of Eric Weddle, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Ladarius Webb in their defensive backfield. Not to mention, 35-year old outside linebacker Terrell Suggs still gives the defense a consistent pass rush and leads the team with 4.5 sacks.

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Basically, the Ravens are one of the premier defenses against the pass.

On the other hand, Baltimore has started out the year among the worst against the run. As matter of fact, they are third worst in the NFL giving up 141.3 yards a game. Last game, the Bears rushed for 231 yards against them, featuring a 53-yard rush by Jordan Howard that helped set up Chicago’s game-winning field goal in overtime.

The likely return of starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams from injury will boost the Ravens’ rushing defense. That being said, the Vikings have much better odds of getting a consistent run game going against this defense than a pass game. In doing so, Minnesota hopefully can establish the play-action pass game and slow down the pass rush headed by Suggs.

Fortunately, McKinnon has rushed the ball effectively since Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL. In the last two games, he’s ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 81 yards on 11 catches and a touchdown receiving. He’s going to be counted on to produce similarly in this game.

Yet, the Vikings are also going to need production from Latavius Murray. In a game where passing may prove difficult, both backs have to be going strong. While McKinnon has establish himself as the lead back, Minnesota needs to keep the fourth-year back fresh by giving carries to Murray. So far, the former Oakland Raiders back hasn’t done much with those carries, rushing for only 59 yards on 27 carries in the last two.

The Bears rushed 54 times against the Ravens last week, so expect at least 30-35 carries between McKinnon and Murray on Sunday. Ideally, both backs combine for around 140 yards, which should give the Vikings opportunities passing against the tough backend of the Ravens defense.

2. Case Keenum has to continue taking care of the ball against an opportunistic defense.

Keenum has done an unbelievable job filling in during Sam Bradford‘s absence from a knee injury. Outside of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 29-year old hasn’t lit up the stat sheet, but he’s been highly efficient to say the least. Essentially, he’s given the Vikings enough to win games, which is all anyone can ask for from a backup quarterback.

What sticks out most about Keenum’s performances in five games is the fact he’s only thrown one interception during that stretch. Very rarely does a backup quarterback step in and produce while limiting turnovers like that. In fact, most teams would die for a backup quarterback that could come in and run the offense down the field without turnovers as well as Keenum has.

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So, the goal for Keenum this week is…. keep doing what you’re doing.

As already stated, the Ravens are second in interceptions, but they are also second in total turnovers with 14. So, Baltimore is what you would call an opportunistic defense, which can help an offense that ranks 28th in total offense.

I’d go as far to say that the only way the Ravens come out on top is if they win the turnover differential and set up the Baltimore offense with good field position to score points. Given Minnesota’s top notch defense, I don’t see the Ravens offense having much success unless the Vikings offense puts the defense in poor situations.

But, if Keenum limits turnovers to one or less, Minnesota should be well on the way to their fifth win of the season.