The Vikings turned the ball over twice and won against the Packers on Sunday, marking the first time they’ve done both in a game this season.
So entering Sunday’s game against the opportunistic Ravens, a defense ranked second in the NFL with 14 takeaways, the Vikings are focused on playing keep-away. Fortunately for the Vikings defense, the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco are generous with the football. Their 12 giveaways are the third most in the NFL.
“We have to cut the turnovers out,” Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “If we don’t give them the ball and play a true team game, I like our chances.”
The Ravens have generated nine interceptions, many off tipped passes (29 pass deflections as a team), including two picks from All-Pro safety Eric Weddle. Weddle also forced a fumble last week on Bears running back Tarik Cohen. Meanwhile, Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon has put the ball on the ground in three consecutive games.
“Weddle tries to disguise a lot,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He tries to give you some different looks, tries to trick you. Their whole defense is good.”
A top-10 defense has boosted the Ravens for four of the past six seasons, thanks in part to Pro Bowlers such as Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. Quarterback Case Keenum, who is expected to start again Sunday, has seen the 20 batted passes by the Ravens secondary this season and doesn’t want to add to their highlight film.
“We’re really going to have to know where those guys are at and make sure we protect the football,” Keenum said.
Murray looking inward
Running back Latavius Murray has 97 rushing yards on 41 attempts this season, leaving the veteran wanting more from his own game as he continues to split backfield duties with McKinnon. Murray has started the past two games, but McKinnon has finished with more snaps, touches and yards in each.
Murray picked up 28 yards on 15 carries against the Packers.
“There were some positives I took from it,” Murray said. “But I still think I could’ve played much better and eliminate some of the negative runs I had.”
Diggs, Barr held out
While quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returned to practice Wednesday, the Vikings were still without a handful of starters, including quarterback Sam Bradford.
Bradford (knee), receiver Stefon Diggs (groin) and guard Nick Easton (calf) have not practiced since they were injured, or reaggravated injuries, during the Vikings’ Oct. 9 victory in Chicago. Linebacker Anthony Barr did not practice after a concussion knocked him out of Sunday’s victory against Green Bay. Barr is also dealing with an ankle injury.
Receiver Michael Floyd (hamstring) also was unable to practice after being injured against the Packers.
Can’t overlook specialists
Ravens special teams has the Vikings’ attention this week. Baltimore fields two-time All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker, the league’s best kick return team and top-10 units on punt return and kick coverage. The Ravens returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in their overtime loss to the Bears.
“They’re the best special teams that we’ve played by far,” Zimmer said. “They’ve got the two best specialists in the league. They can make a field goal from any distance, just about. It’s going to be a big factor in the ballgame.”
The Vikings’ third-ranked run defense in the NFL (78.7 yards per game) has been a driving force to their 4-2 record. Nose tackle Linval Joseph is the first man to thank. Let defensive end Everson Griffen explain.
“He’s like the anchor in the middle,” Griffen said. “It’s like you got a big cruise ship, they set the anchor right down the middle of the ship. That’s what happens.”
Keenum has dropped back 168 times this season, and he hasn’t taken a sack in his past 64 pass plays. A big reason why is the unheralded play of left tackle Riley Reiff, a Parkston, S.D., native who doesn’t talk much once you flip on a microphone.
“He’s just a good old country boy,” Keenum said. “He’s almost mean. You like having tough, mean guys on your team. Now, once you get to know him, he’s a great guy.”