Minnesota is converting a remarkable 48.6 of its third-down opportunities, which ranks third in the NFL. (League average: 37.7 percent.) In '08, with
Chalk that all up to one man:
This is the type of improvement that can push the Vikings over the hump, but first they need to show they can keep doing it against stiff competition. Only one of their first five opponents -- who've combined for a 7-17 record -- even boasts a pass defense in the top 10. (That would be No. 10 Cleveland, whose figures are skewed by their opponents' success in running the ball.) None of those teams has a third-down defense in the top 12.
And the Ravens? They're No. 8 in the league on third down, largely thanks to a nasty pass rush that employs blitzers from an array of angles. So far, Favre has a stupendous passer rating of 113.54 against the blitz. Question is, can he keep it up against Baltimore's aggressive 'backers?
In that game, the Ravens leaned heavily on
Against Minnesota, it's safe to assume that
But questions remain: How effective will that be in slowing the Vikings' pass rush? And with Rice getting most of his touches as a receiver -- not a runner -- how can Baltimore build up for a few play-action, long-ball connections, to which the Vikings' secondary has been vulnerable of late?
If not, we'll most certainly know as much by the end of Week 6. Why? Up next for Oher is my leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Jared Allen. The guy's playing out of his mind. Three forced fumbles, a safety, 6.5 sacks and a pass defended through his first five games. The only thing keeping him from running away with the award is his lack of competition.
Allen's lone quiet game came against rock-solid
Thinking longer term, guess who Oher faces next week? (Assuming he's still on the left side.)
While there's a part of me that wants to think the officials are out to get the Ravens (just try telling me
First a little on the Game of the Week pick itself: Why wasn't it Denver-San Diego? Or New York-New Orleans? Simply put, these are, in my opinion, the two best teams in the two best divisions, making this game much more important. (Sorry, Cincy fans, I still think Baltimore wins last week's game seven times out of 10.) For the Ravens, a win is absolutely necessary to stay in the thick of things before a rough stretch that includes Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay over their next six games. For the Vikings, the going gets just as tough (Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Seattle, Chicago, Arizona and Cincy in their next six). They'd be doing themselves a huge favor by staying ahead of the NFC North pack.
On to the pick: Baltimore simply needs it more, and I believe it's a better team than we've seen the past two weeks. I think its experienced 3-4 defense (as opposed to Green Bay's learning-on-the-fly version) will cause fits for a Vikings line that's still young and whose best player,
I think Adrian Peterson, the most fumble-prone player in the NFL during his three-year career, had better be careful against a defense that has caused the most fumbles in that same time frame. And I think Brett Favre is due for a flop of a game against an opportunistic defense. Favre's only other game against Baltimore in the past five years yielded two interceptions and zero touchdowns.