Chip Scoggins is a Star Tribune sports columnist. He has temporarily returned to cover the Minnesota Vikings. He had the beat from 2008-2011 after covering college football for five years. Chip has been with the Star Tribune since January 2000. He can be followed on twitter at @chipscoggins.Find Chip on Facebook.
Mark Craig has covered football and the NFL the past 20 years, including the Browns from 1991-95 and the Vikings and the NFL since 2003. Since 2008, Craig has served as one of the 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. He can be followed on Twitter at @markcraignfl.
For this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines,” we reached out to Aaron Wilson, Ravens beat writer for the Baltimore Sun. Here are five questions we posed to Wilson in advance of Sunday’s Vikings-Ravens game at M&T Stadium.
1. What’s been the biggest issue with Baltimore’s ground attack (gaining 81.1 yards a game, tied for 29th in the NFL, after averaging 118.8 last season)?
AW: They really miss [center] Matt Birk. Matt was a mainstay on the line and now Gino Gradkowski has to learn on the job, and he doesn’t get as much push as Matt did and doesn’t know the line calls as well. He’s a more inexperienced player going from a six-time Pro Bowler.
[Running back] Ray Rice, he hasn’t been as explosive this year. He doesn’t break many tackles, doesn’t elude many tackles. He had one good game against a suspect run defense [Bears] where he had 131 yards, but he’s struggled mostly this year and doesn’t look the same. He had a strained hip flexor earlier in the season, and they haven’t got a lot out of the backup running back Bernard Pierce. He’s had some nagging injuries too; nothing serious but enough to slow him down.
2. With an inconsistent run offense, the Ravens have relied more on quarterback Joe Flacco. How has he looked after a Super Bowl MVP and a 120.6 million contract in the offseason (highest-paid player in NFL history)?
AW: Since Jacoby Jones got healthy the last couple of weeks, they’ve had two deep threats with him and Torrey Smith, which I think has opened things up for Joe. They run it enough for people to respect the run, and they play action a lot. They still run about 25 times a game, so people will have to take it serious enough where they just can’t stay back and play the pass.
He’s had an up-and-down year. He had one terrible game where he was forcing the ball into traffic and throwing off his back foot against Buffalo. He threw five picks. The biggest problem he had is he didn’t adjust well to not having [wide receiver] Anquan Boldin and [tight end] Dennis Pitta. I think that affected his confidence. He used to have a bunch of contested catches that Anquan and Dennis would make a play. Just throw it up and they’d come down with it, and he really doesn’t have that without those guys. The pass protection took a step back this year too.
3. Pitta is on injured reserve with designation to return (hip) and has practiced over the last two weeks. Will he play on Sunday?
AW: He looks to be on schedule on Sunday in a limited role. They still have to activate him, but I think they will this Saturday. We don’t see much, but I’ve seen him run some routes before and after practice and he looks pretty sharp. He doesn’t have any real difficulty planting and cutting. He seems to catch the ball cleanly. I think it’s just a matter of the unanswerable question: Can he take a hit? This was the first week he did team drills, and I’ve heard it’s been positive.
4. Without safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis, how has the Ravens’ defense improved statistically (10th in NFL allowing 329 yards a game compared to 350.9 yards last season)?
AW: They’re better without those guys. I don’t think everyone anticipated that but this is a younger, faster defense. I think two pass rushers in [linebackers] Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs really makes things difficult for people. They have a good front seven. …They’re not the stoutest group ever [against the run] but the stats are pretty good and they do a solid job overall. (The Ravens allow 122.8 rushing yards a game, 20th in the NFL).
5. The Ravens are 6-6 and two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North. Could they catch Cincinnati and win the division?
AW: I don’t think winning the division is realistic. I don’t think Cincinnati will collapse. I think the Wild Card is down to them and Miami. They still have to play Detroit, New England and Cincinnati. Is it conceivable they could win this game and lose a couple more and not win the Wild Card? Yeah I think that is, but they really can’t take anything for granted. They lost to Chicago, which Minnesota just beat them.
I pick them to win, but I don’t feel like it’s anything where, ‘Oh, they’ll definitely win.’ They usually win at home. …I think they have a good chance to if they contain [Vikings running back Adrian] Peterson.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Vikings 13
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was held out of Thursday's practice due to a lingering groin injury. Head coach Leslie Frazier said Peterson is expected to practice on Friday after missing consecutive practices.
Peterson has had issues with his hamstring and groin all season, but he leads the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards.
"It just tells you how amazing he is," Frazier said. "Not only does he play, but he plays extremely well. It's just incredible when you think what those injuries could for any position, less someone at running back."
Quarterback Christian Ponder still hasn't passed the NFL concussion protocol and Frazier said he will likely not have a role Sunday against the Ravens.
Wide receiever Greg Childs practiced again on Thursday, marking the first time he's participated in consecutive days. Frazier hopes Childs can practice again on Friday. The Vikings must make a decision by next week to either activate, release or place Childs on injured reserve.
"Childs has looked pretty good; he's made a lot of progress," Frazier said.
Frazier said tight end Kyle Rudolph (broken foot) hasn't progressed as fast as the team hoped. Rudolph was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. He will miss his fifth game on Sunday after suffering the injury against the Cowboys on Nov. 3.
Linebacker Larry Dean (knee) missed practice again. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (illness) was also limited in practice.
VIKINGS-RAVENS INJURY REPORT
Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson (groin), LB Larry Dean (knee), QB Christian Ponder (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) and S Jamarca Sanford (ankle) did not practice Thursday. DE Jared Allen (finger) and LB Chad Greenway (wrist) were limited.
Ravens: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), S Brynden Trawick (ankle) and CB Asa Jackson (thigh) did not practice. DE Chris Canty (shoulder), WR Brandon Stokley (knee) and CB Lardarius Webb (abdomen) were limited.
He has one NFL MVP award, five All-Pro honors and more than 10,000 yards rushing. But Vikings running back Adrian Peterson still considers himself a work in progress in some areas.
One of those areas is having the patience to play behind a fullback and linemen or tight ends who pull to block for him. The Vikings relied heavily on a number of those power calls with All-Pro fullback Jerome Felton and a variety of pulling linemen and tight ends last week. The result was a 23-20 overtime win over the Bears and 211 yards rushing on a career-high 35 carries for Peterson.
Peterson was asked a series of questions about Felton today. He said the two have a close relationship and a strong trust that's developed over the past two seasons. But when asked why he didn't like playing with a fullback earlier in his career, Peterson's answer was a bit of a surprise in its bluntness.
"I still kind of don't like it now, at times," Peterson said. "It all depends on the play call. ... It varies."
Peterson also said on some plays, such as the toss sweeps, he doesn't care whether there's a fullback in or not.
Peterson was asked how difficult it is to match up the timing with a fullback.
"Based off last week, I wouldn't say it's difficult," he said. "But I can say for myself, I'm just so quick to shoot the gun sometimes. When you have two pullers or three pullers in front of you, you have to be more patient. I haven't had a lot of time over my career being patient. That's why sometimes, I don't like the fullback in front of me.
"When I work on myself and try to be more patient, you see what happens last week. Allowing those guys to get in front of me, you see how effective it can be in the running game. It worked out well."
Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was still thinking about the final play of regulation on Wednesday.
What could’ve been is all we’re left asking on a missed 66-yard field goal attempt by Bears kicker Robbie Gould that Patterson fielded in the end zone. He didn’t score, but if he would’ve followed his blockers, Patterson thought he would’ve had a better shot.
“I could’ve got passed all of those guys in my eyes with the way they set the blocks up,” Patterson said. “I went the wrong way. I tried to set it up the way they were blocking it up, I tried to go the opposite way, but I should’ve gone to our side on our bench.
Let’s break it down and see if in fact he did have a shot at scoring:
Patterson fields the missed field goal about eight yards deep in the end zone without anyone within at least 30 yards near him.
Patterson has two defenders at the 20-yard line before he even exits the end zone, but the Vikings begin the start forming a wall for Patterson.
With Patterson at the three-yard line, the Vikings have their wall formed. If he can somehow get by the first Bears defender (circled in red), Patterson has a great shot at scoring if the four Vikings players circled in yellow make their blocks (circled in red).
Instead Patterson goes the opposite way of the wall. He wanted to draw some defenders away before following his blockers, but Patterson slipped right before this screenshot and forced to stick to his right.
You can see linebacker Marvin Mitchell (in blue) clearly pointing at Patterson to follow his blockers.
...and that's Mitchell's reaction (in blue) after Patterson commits to the right side. He jumps up in the air with his hands on his helmet almost in disbelief. The Vikings nearly had an Auburn-Alabama finish.
"I know I didn’t [score], but we got the win so that’s all that matters," Patterson said.
Vikings cornerback Chris Cook revealed after practice that the NFL, according to Cook's agent, has fined him "something like $26,000" for making contact with an official and being ejected after giving up a 46-ayrd touchdown pass in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Bears.
"My agent already appealed it," Cook said. "We'll see what happens. Most of the guys in here don't think it will be reduced, but we'll see."
Cook said he's learned from the incident and his ensuing talk with coach Leslie Frazier, who obviously wasn't happy to lose one of his starting corners, especially considering the secondary already was undermanned because of injuries and last week's release of A.J. Jefferson.
"I know I have to keep my composure; that's basically what [Frazier] told me," Cook said. "I was just frustrated with some things in the game and lost my composure. I can guarantee it will not happen again."
Cook said he was most upset about what he thought was offensive pass interference two plays before he was ejected.
"I know it was pass interference, but I'm not a referee, so it's not my call to make," Cook said. "The ball was literally falling into my lap and my arm was being grabbed and I couldn't get my arm up. I was frustrated about that, and they turn around and score and it made me even more mad. I let my emotions get the best of me. I know I can't act like that, especially towards an official."
As for making contact with the official, Cook said it was minor.
"I kind of touched his arm, but it wasn't really like I was trying to push him on the ground or something," Cook said. "They made it seem like I was trying to push him on the ground. But I just got up and said, `That was bull' about the play a few plays before. But I can't really do anything about what they call within the game. I have to be a man about it and move on to the next play."
Cook also was asked what's at stake for him over the final four games. His contract is up at the end of the year.
"Your guy's guess is as good as mine," he said. "My future, that's really the thing that's at stake for me. It's a contract year for me. I've had a pretty rough year by my standards. I just have to go and ball out these last four games."
Updated injury report:
Six Vikings did not practice. They were RB Adrian Peterson (groin), CB Josh Robinson (sternum), TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle), S Jamarca Sanford (ankle), LB Larry Dean (knee) and QB Christian Ponder (concussion). DE Jared Allen (finger) and LB Chad Greenway (wrist) were limited.
Two Ravens did not practice. They were DE Elvis Dumervil and S Brynden Trawick, both because of ankle injuries.
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