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Vikings mailbag: Will free agency reshape the Vikings' defensive line?

Every week send any Vikings-related questions to @Andrew_Krammer and I’ll answer them here on Fridays.

A: Three of those four, not including Robison, are set to hit free agency this spring. I could see all returning except Floyd, who we’ll get to later. So really it comes down to two key interior defenders. Johnson isn’t blowing up the box scores, but he’s improved his play against the run this season and would be an asset on any D-line. Stephen, the former seventh-round pick, has developed into a reliable role player. Given the time invested and Stephen’s development, the Vikings may value him more than another team. Robison is likely to stick around after restructuring his contract this spring to add the 2018 season, potentially his last. He’s still got it, posting a team-high five QB hits out of the Vikings’ 13 on Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley. Out of those three, Johnson would be the one most likely to go since the Vikings have long-term plans established at the other three positions along the defensive line.

A: The Vikings are playing a Ravens team hurting at receiver, where Jeremy Maclin didn’t play last week due to an injured shoulder, Breshad Perriman hasn’t practiced this week because of a concussion and tight end Benjamin Watson led the way with six catches in their overtime loss to the Bears. Oh, and Watson hasn’t practiced this week due to a knee injury. So Mike Wallace could be a primary target for Joe Flacco, who has actually targeted backs and tight ends more often this year. If anybody shadows Wallace, it’ll be Xavier Rhodes, who has tracked a receiver in every game so far except the win against the Bears.

A: We’ll see if Stefon Diggs practices Friday, or misses his sixth session from the team since straining his groin Oct. 9 in Chicago. Diggs has said the injury isn’t as severe as last year’s, which took him a couple weeks to heal before returning. But he’s missed the bulk of a second week, so the Vikings also may be a little thin at receiver against the Ravens. Michael Floyd has not practiced this week due to an injured hamstring.

A: I haven’t seen Floyd around the Vikings facilities this season after he’d worked through his physical rehab alongside the team this summer. His return to the Vikings appears improbable at this point. The former first-round pick suffered a devastating turn when complications from knee surgery caused nerve damage affecting his quad muscle, a source told the Star Tribune this spring. Floyd said during OTAs he was still unable to run, about eight months after the September 2016 surgery that has kept him sidelined. It’s a bad break for the talented Floyd, who had already overcome a tough childhood in Philadelphia to make it to the NFL.

Ravers prone to turnovers; Flacco and receivers share the blame

Just when you thought it was impossible to make the Chicago Bears defense look like ballhawks, along came the Ravens last Sunday in Baltimore.

In their 27-24 overtime win, the Bears had not one, not two, but three takeaways. Yes, the Bears.

The same Bears who set a franchise-record low for takeaways in 2015 (14), broke that with an NFL-record low 11 last season and had only three through five games this season.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions. He enters Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium with eight interceptions and a 66.1 passer rating that ranks 31st, one spot ahead of Browns rookie DeShone Kizer.

Ouch.

But a look at Sunday’s interceptions shows why Ravens coach John Harbaugh is more upset with his receivers than he is with the former Super Bowl MVP quarterback.

Third-and-four at the Baltimore 44. Ravens trail 3-0 with 3:54 left in the first half: Receiver Breshad Perriman finds a soft spot in the defense up the right sideline. Flacco delivers the ball right to Perriman’s hands 23 yards downfield. The ball bounces off them as Perriman gets clobbered by the safety. Bryce Callahan dives for the deflected ball, makes the interception, gets up and returns the ball 52 yards. The ensuing two-play, 20-yard touchdown drives gives the Bears a 10-0 lead. Making matters worse: Perriman suffered a concussion on the play and has missed the first two days of practice this week.

Second-and-10 at the Chicago 30. Ravens trail 17-13 with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter: Backup receiver Chris Moore is lined up wide right. He is seeing more action because  starter Jeremy Maclin was inactive (shoulder) and another starter, Perriman, was concussed. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller is playing off coverage at six yards from the line of scrimmage. The Ravens motion left and run play-action that way. Flacco rolls right and throws 15 yards downfield to Moore. It wasn’t the prettiest pass. And it wasn’t one of those well-placed, back-shoulder deals that you see the great ones deliver. But Moore should have caught the ball. It hit him in the chest area. And he probably could have done a better job coming back to the ball, which would have helped prevent Fuller from playing the ball and the man perfectly. The ball deflected another five yards down the field. Adrian Amos grabbed it and weaved 90 yards the other way for a pick-six.

This week, Harbaugh was asked why the Ravens didn’t throw more deep balls, as they had in a win over the Raiders the week before.

“It is a combination of things,” he said. “[The Bears] were playing [deep coverage]. There were deep calls. There were deep shots taken. We dropped on that turned into an interception, and we dropped another comeback that turned into an interception. Those are things that when you throw the ball, you have to execute. It is one thing to take the punches; it is another thing to land the punches.”

On paper, the Ravens look impressive with a plus-2 turnover ratio that’s the same as the Vikings’ ratio. But the Ravens have struggled the past four games.

In their first two games — wins over the Bengals and Browns — the Ravens had 10 takeaways, including eight interceptions, and three giveaways. They were plus-7 and 2-0.

But in their past four games, they’ve gone 1-3 while posting a minus-5 turnover ratio (nine giveaways, four takeaways).

Meanwhile, the Vikings are 3-1 in their last four games with a plus-3 turnover ratio (eight takeaways, five giveaways).

It’s not all Flacco’s fault. He needs help.

A look at the Ravens’ injury report makes you wonder how much help he’ll have. There are 16 players on the injury report. Nine are offensive players. Four are receivers.

Maclin is still limited. Perriman hasn’t practiced yet this week. And the other starter, former Viking Mike Wallace, did not practice Thursday because of a back issue.

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