By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens had a lot of problems against the Cincinnati Bengals. Some of those problems are coachable mistakes and some of them felt more like broken spirit. Today, we’re going to give the defense the benefit of the doubt and expect a “Play Like a Raven” effort. Let’s focus on the coachable aspects of it all. What are the keys to beating the Minnesota Vikings you ask? Here’s three big ones.
1. Baltimore Ravens must prevent the big play
The Minnesota Vikings have some big-time playmakers on their roster. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thelin, and Dalvin Cook offer the same challenges that the weapons of the Bengals did. The cornerbacks need to show up for this game. In the last outing for the Ravens, the cornerbacks lost the battle for the ball to the opposing receivers. They often were out of position and they got beat from the snap of the football. I don’t know what that was on October 24th, but it wasn’t a typical Marlon Humphrey performance.
Communication in the backend has to be better than it was against the Bengals. Remember three Ravens going to the flat and leaving C.J. Uzomah wide open for a touchdown? The Ravens have to be on the same page and the safety play has to be better. The Ravens are giving up more big plays through the air than any team in the NFL. Is some of that on a lack of pass rush? Sure. Is some of that just life being harder without Marcus Peters? To an extent. The thing is that Chuck Clark and De’Shon Elliott have to be extra diligent in taking away big plays.
Don Martindale’s positionless defense concept is cool. Creating a little extra chaos with the looks you present is a great idea. This defense is lacking all the fundamentals. Martindale can’t dumb the defense down to the point of oversimplification, yet he’s got to dial some things back. The Ravens need to play gap sound upfront. Linebackers have to read keys, fill gaps and run through the football. It sounds simple though that’s exactly what this defense needs.
2. Open-Field Tackling:
Look, guys, I’m harping on the simple things for a reason. The Ravens defense is making mistakes this season that you expect from high school football teams. Key one is basically about being in the right place and not making things easy by making mental errors. Key number two is about doing the basic thing when you’re in the right position. How many times have the Ravens given up points just because they couldn’t tackle a player in the open field?
The Ravens need to learn to take the right angles, wrap up and run through. There’s too much throwing of arms. There’s too much going exclusively for the fumble, The Ravens have to start using their shoulder pads much more on defensively. They are there for a reason and long runs in the open field against Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook sounds like a recipe for losing a winnable football game.
3. Baltimore Ravens winning matchups upfront
We can dog Don Martindale all we want but the players have to play. Did Martindale call the right game against the Bengals? Probably not. He backed off when the pressure was making Burrow get tough completions. It led to it all being too easy. At the end of the day though, the last defensive effort we saw from the Ravens falls much more on the players. The Ravens need to play better football. Football is about matchups to a large extent. Getting to Kirk Cousins is about beating the man across from you if you play in the Ravens’ front seven.
Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston have to create pressure by winning off the edge. The Ravens need some interior pass rush. This would be a good day for Justin Madubuike to take a step forward on that front. Martindale should send Patrick Queen on the occasional blitz. This game is going to be won or lost by the front seven. If the Vikings can run the ball and Cousins has all day to throw, you know bad things are on the way.
A Ravens win means bottling up Dalvin Cook. That doesn’t just mean tackling him in the open field, it means making sure he barely sees daylight, to begin with. By winning the line of scrimmage the Ravens can prevent Cook from having a full head of steam.
A Ravens win means sacking Cousins three to five times and forcing a turnover or two. The Ravens secondary needs all the help it can get and it needs to be allowed to focus on creating a no-fly zone. Baltimore has to win the battle with the players six inches in front of their face. The Ravens must win the battle of the line of scrimmage.