Five thoughts on the Ravens' 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium:
Vikings Defense So Good That Even a Healthy Ravens Offense Would've Struggled
Even if the Ravens had been healthy on offense, with most of their original parts in place, it was going to be a challenge for them to make much happen on the road against Minnesota's dominating defense, which is among the league's best. With their receiving corps severely depleted and their patchwork offensive line overwhelmed, the Ravens had little hope of putting enough points on the board to win. Their only hope was for their defense to shut down Minnesota's offense while something unforeseen happened to put points on the board – a big play or two, a kick or punt return that broke long, some turnovers that produced points. It was a longshot scenario and it didn't come close to happening. The score was 6-6 early in the second quarter, but from that point on, the defense couldn't get off the field as Minnesota controlled the tempo with its running game. Meanwhile, the Ravens' beleaguered offense simply was outmanned. A last-minute touchdown made the score appear closer than the game was. It was the offense's first touchdown in 11 quarters (including overtime against the Chicago Bears).
Not Fair to Even Give Joe Flacco a Grade
I'm sure Joe Flacco will take some heat for not making enough happen, and maybe that's fair when viewing the 2017 season as a whole so far; Flacco certainly won't get high marks. But I'm not sure it's fair to give him ANY grade for this game other than incomplete. Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman were inactive, and when Mike Wallace went out with a concussion early, it meant Griff Whalen, signed earlier in the week, was the Ravens' most accomplished wideout. Flacco simply didn't have a target who might frighten a defense downfield. The Vikings had little trouble in coverage, which freed them up to stuff the interior box and slow down the Ravens' sixth-ranked running game. Meanwhile, the Vikings' aggressive pass rush sacked Flacco five times and was in his face all day. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg tried to shake things up with three reverses, but the Vikings spotted them. What was Flacco supposed to do? Surrounded by backup receivers, an outmanned line and little running game, he was doomed.
Rush Defense at a Crisis Point
The Ravens had high hopes that Brandon Williams' return would tighten up a run defense that had consistently leaked without him for the past month. On the defense's first snap, Williams burst into the backfield and tossed a runner for a loss – a great start. But the rest of the game didn't go the same way. The Vikings' backs found plenty of room to run on many plays. Latavius Murray picked up 35 yards on one carry and raced right through the Baltimore interior for 29 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Williams did make his presence known with five tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hit. But the Vikings offensive line scored a clear victory overall, which doesn't bode well for the run defense going forward. Even with Williams back, it still took a beating, allowing 169 yards and 5.1 yards per carry. "They did a good job. We didn't," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Now there's no salvation to hope for, as there was with Williams' return. It's a crisis point, no question. "We've got to tighten up the run defense. The pass defense is solid," Harbaugh said.
Mike Wallace's Fire Earns Respect, But Medical Staff Made Right Call
Wallace's competitive fire was evident as he roamed the sideline after being declared out of the game with what Harbaugh called "some kind of a concussion to some degree." Still in uniform, he bickered with trainers and seemed to think he might be able to grab his helmet and sneak back onto the field. When he saw that wasn't going to happen, he was escorted to the locker room. It's a tough sport, and the kind of emotion and determination Wallace showed will earn respect in the locker room. He obviously wanted a crack at the team that let him go before he joined the Ravens, and he knew the Ravens were in big trouble without him. But the league put a concussion protocol in place for a reason, to protect players who might be in vulnerable situations. Wallace was, it seems, after taking a brutal hit that drew a penalty for roughness. Let's just be clear about this: The 100 percent correct thing to do is that situation is keep the player from getting back onto the field.
While the run defense is taking heat, please note, the Ravens' pass rush has now gone two straight games without a sack ... How good is Minnesota's defense? By converting 37.5 percent of their third downs into firsts (6 of 16), the Ravens actually fared better than the Vikings' first six opponents, who converted just 25 percent combined ... In a way, with no turnovers and just three penalties, the Ravens played the kind of clean game that normally translates into success. But so much else went wrong that it just didn't matter ... The Ravens' young punt coverage team had its worst game of 2017 as the Vikings' Marcus Sherels averaged 27.7 yards on three returns and almost broke several for touchdowns ... In their history, the Ravens have only one road win in 10 games against the NFC North: at Detroit in 2013.
Check out all the best photos from Minnesota as the Ravens battle the Vikings in week 7!