One man’s prediction: The Vikings showed good offensive balance in the second half last week behind Adrian Peterson’s relentless running and Matt Cassel’s efficient passing. Cassel gets another crack as the starter because of Christian Ponder’s concussion. The Vikings still are engaged mentally and playing hard despite their record, but the Ravens are a tough team at home.
A nagging groin injury essentially has eliminated Adrian Peterson’s ability to practice during the week and allegedly taken away some of his explosiveness. His production doesn’t reflect that, though. In his two past games, Peterson has rushed for 357 yards on 67 carries. The Ravens own the sixth-ranked run defense in the NFL, so this should be a tougher test than the dreadful run defenses of the Packers and Bears.
On the flip side
Conversely, the Ravens don’t run the ball very well. Baltimore is ranked 29th in rushing offense and has reached 100 yards in only two games. Ray Rice averages only 2.9 yards per carry. If the Vikings can make the Ravens one-dimensional, that should help their pass rush focus on quarterback Joe Flacco and possibly disrupt his timing with receivers.
Special talent playing deep
The matchup features some pretty dynamic special teams players. The Vikings’ Blair Walsh and Baltimore’s Justin Tucker are two of the NFL’s best young kickers. Tucker has made 27 consecutive field-goal attempts, the NFL’s longest active streak. Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson and Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones are elite returners. Jones became the first player in NFL history to record two kickoff returns of at least 105 yards last season. Patterson accomplished that this season.
MANO-A-MANO: MATCHUP TO WATCH
Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes vs. Ravens WR Torrey Smith
The rookie first-round pick has played well since being moved into the starting lineup because of the injury to Josh Robinson. He’s already tied the team’s rookie record for pass breakups with 19.
Smith has established career highs in catches (54) and receiving yards (952). He is on pace to set a franchise record for receiving yards in a season. His 17.6-yards-per-catch average ranks fourth in the league.
Who has the edge?
Rhodes has faced a string of tough matchups in his first season and this is his next one. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, as evident by his eight pass breakups the past two games. Smith is tied for second in the NFL with seven catches of 40-plus yards.
THE BIG NUMBER
23.7 The Vikings’ third-down defensive percentage the past three games. A major problem early in the season has turned; their past three opponents were only 9-for-38 on third downs.
Matt Cassel, Vikings: He had the entire week to prepare as the starting quarterback after giving the offense a spark in the second half against the Bears last week. He has built a rapport with Greg Jennings, so the veteran wide receiver could see plenty of passes come his way.