Ravens, Vikings heading in opposite directions
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Ravens and the Minnesota Vikings look to be headed in opposite directions.
After a 2-0 start, the Ravens (3-3) have lost three of four, including last weekend in overtime to the Chicago Bears. Questions about their once-feared defense are growing.
After appearing to be an also-ran in the NFC North early, the Vikings (4-2) have won two division games in a row, and the injury to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers seemingly opened the door for Minnesota to control its own destiny.
The two purple-clad teams meet on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week that 10 wins is the realistic need to eye the playoffs. And despite Baltimore's recent struggles, he sees his team within striking distance of that goal after six weeks of play.
"Spinning your wheels right now, being .500 is in the hunt. We're very much in it," Harbaugh said. "We've had three pretty good games, in some ways excellent games. And we've had three not so good games, and it's not been across the board, it's been this and that that's cost us. We need to find a way to win games. That's what it boils down to. We need to stack as many wins as we can."
And they need to find a way to stack the defensive line despite key injuries that have opponents running the ball more effectively.
Defensive line star Brandon Williams hinted at a return last week against Chicago but was stuck on the sideline for the fourth straight game with a foot injury. Williams, who hopes to return this week, practiced Wednesday. The coach feels the addition of Williams would make a big difference defensively against Minnesota's run game.
"It's taken an edge off the run defense, no question about it," Harbaugh said of the injuries to Williams and defensive end Brent Urban. "But we're getting a lot of tackles for loss. Terrell Suggs made a lot of big plays in the backfield. Our guys are flying around to the football.
"I love the way we're playing as far as the style of play, the effort, the tenacity, the physicality. It's all there, but we want to be dominant. We want to have a dominant run defense. That's what we had at the beginning of the year, and we want to get back to that. Getting Brandon back would be a big plus."
No matter the status of the Ravens' defensive roster, the Vikings see places for concern with quarterback Case Keenum expected to make his fourth start.
"They're aggressive," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the Ravens' defense. "If they get in some of these third-down situations, they attack the football. They've got a bunch of different looks in the coverage as far as some of their fire zones and zone blitzes and things they do."
The quarterback job is Keenum's for the time being, with Sam Bradford still nursing a knee injury. But this week the Vikings got additional good quarterback news with Teddy Bridgewater coming off the physically unable to perform list and practicing for the first time since sustaining a serious knee dislocation 14 months ago.
While the Vikings are encouraged by the former starter's return to the field, Zimmer was quick to preach patience.
"I think everybody feels really good for Teddy. He's worked extremely hard to get to this point where he can get back out on the practice field," Zimmer said. "We still don't know where it's going to go or where that's going to lead to.
"But I think everybody feels good for him because they know what kind of kid he is and how hard he has worked. He's probably not going to play this week. We need to put the brakes on things a little bit."
The Vikings could try to pick on a Baltimore defense that is allowing the third-most rushing yards in the NFL, 141.3 per game. Conversely, Minnesota's rush defense ranks third best at 78.7 yards allowed per game.
The Ravens hold a 3-2 edge in their all-time series with the Vikings. The last meeting was on a snowy Baltimore day in December 2015. The Ravens prevailed 29-26 with the teams scoring five touchdowns in the final 2:09.