Defensive tackle Brandon Williams returned to the field Sunday after a four-game absence, but wasn’t the fix-all solution to Baltimore’s run issues that Ravens fans hoped for.
Williams flashed with a few impressive plays and was definitely an improvement. But when the Vikings ran the ball, they still hit big plays and put up big stats in the Ravens’ 24-16 loss in Minnesota.
Baltimore’s run defense entered the game ranked 30th in the NFL with 141.3 yards allowed per game and tied for 21st with 4.3 yards surrendered per carry. Last week against the Chicago Bears, the Ravens gave up a franchise record 231 rushing yards.
On Sunday, Minnesota finished with 169 rushing yards on 33 carries (5.1 yards per run) and a touchdown.
Midway through the third quarter, the Vikings built an 18-6 lead with a 29-yard touchdown run. At that point, the Vikings had 138 yards on 21 carries – an average of 6.6 yards.
After the game, dejected veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said it’s “disappointing and extremely frustrating.”
“We’re not playing good football right now,” he said. “The team is built around the defense. We don’t have to be perfect, but we definitely have to play better than what we’re doing.”
Last week, one big play – a 53-yard run in overtime after safety Eric Weddle went for a strip instead of a tackle – skewed the stats and led to a game-winning field goal for the Bears. In Minnesota, a good chunk of the damage came on two plays in the third quarter.
Murray ran for 35 yards on the first play of the second half when he cut back and exploded up the field. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith lost backside containment, defensive tackle Michael Pierce didn’t get off his block and safety Tony Jefferson was stiff-armed in the open field.
Murray also scored the 29-yard touchdown later in the quarter, breaking open what was a nip-and-tuck field-goal battle. This time, Williams and Suggs were blocked down and wide receiver Adam Thielen walled off Weddle. Murray juked out Jefferson on his way into the end zone.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens have to “tighten up” their run defense, and was asked whether it’s technique problems or if the unit is getting worn down.
“Those clichés, worn down, gap control, it’s all meaningless chatter,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to play better against the run. We’ve got to get them stopped. They did a good job; we didn’t.”
Williams’ return from the foot injury was immediately felt on the Vikings’ second offensive play (the first was an interception). He bulldozed his way into the backfield to stop Murray for a 3-yard loss.
The big man finished with five tackles, including the one for loss, a pass deflection and one quarterback hit. He said he physically felt “great” after the game. Still, his effort was overshadowed by the overall rushing defense struggles.
“That was me doing my job. That’s what I’m paid to do,” Williams said. “Obviously, we still gave up over 100 yards, which is unacceptable for us, but it’s definitely better than 231 last week.”
Suggs wasn’t as optimistic after the game. He was shocked when he found out this week that the Ravens ranked 30th against the run.
“In 15 years of being here, we’ve never been that low,” he said Sunday. “We gave back-to-back 100-yard rushers. For me being a veteran on the team and veteran on the defense, I take more of the blame for that than anything, because I know how we’re supposed to play. I know how it’s supposed to look.”
The Vikings also had injury issues Sunday. They were without their star rookie running back, Dalvin Cook, but turned to Murray and Jerrick McKinnon (14 carries for 47 yards). Minnesota also took hits on the offensive line during Sunday’s game.
Still, Minnesota found enough success on the ground to have a balanced offensive attack and take the pressure off third-string quarterback Case Keenum, who threw 31 passes and handed it off 33 times.
“It just seems like it’s leakage. It’s just little bleeding,” Suggs said of the run defense. “I don’t think it’s an Xs and Os thing. It’s man for man, we’ve got to click and get our chemistry and play better together.”
With the offensive struggles this season, teams have been able to be patient against Baltimore’s defense and attack them on the ground. Baltimore scored just nine points until the final play of the game when quarterback Joe Flacco found wide receiver Chris Moore for a touchdown.
“Ravens defense is historical here. We know that it comes down to us getting out there and keeping offenses at bay,” Williams said.
“At the same time, I’m proud of my guys. We only gave up one offensive touchdown. The rest of them were field goals. I’m proud of my guys fighting their butts off and doing whatever they can to keep it a close game.”