Friday, December 6, 2013
By Ben Goessling
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As we close out the week and get you ready for the Minnesota Vikings-Baltimore Ravens game on Sunday, I've got a few items left in the notebook to pass along. This post will serve as a place to discuss a handful of odds and ends. Here we go:
Cole looking set at MLB: If the fact the Vikings moved Erin Henderson back to weak-side linebacker didn't clear it up, the fact the Vikings plan to make Audie Cole, and not Henderson, their middle linebacker in the nickel package should suggest the plan to make Cole the middle linebacker isn't a passing fancy. Coach Leslie Frazier said Henderson took to his old outside linebacker spot "like riding a bike," and as well as Cole has played in pass coverage the past two weeks, there's probably no reason to switch anything up there. Henderson admitted the move hurt his pride, but he seems to be accepting it for now. Given what Frazier said this week about Henderson not being the Vikings' preferred plan at middle linebacker, it's safe to assume he could stay outside if Cole keeps showing he can handle the middle.
Special teams could be pivotal: The Ravens and Vikings both have dynamic return men who could affect Sunday's game; Baltimore kick returner Jacoby Jones has a 26.5-yard return average this season, and punt returner Tandon Doss is averaging 15.6 yards per return, with an 82-yard touchdown to his credit. The Vikings, of course, have three TDs between kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson (two) and punt returner Marcus Sherels (one). "Their kickoff return guy, Jones, he's impressive," Frazier said. "Of course, our guy is special as well. Whether it be a turnover or kick return or punt return, it could turn this game for sure."
Preparing for Pitta: Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta is hopeful he'll make his season debut on Sunday after dislocating his hip in July, and if he does, the Vikings will have another element of the Ravens' offense to think about. They've been burned by several tight ends this year, giving up at least 60 yards to an opposing tight end in six games, but Cole's presence could help there. If Pitta plays -- which coach John Harbaugh wouldn't divulge on Friday -- the Vikings will be in for a test. "He’s a pretty tough matchup for linebackers and sometimes even safeties," Frazier said. "He’s almost a wide receiver in a lot of ways and it seems like he’s one of those guys that their quarterback looks for often. So he presents some challenges for your defense for sure."
Wet weather possible: Aside from rain in Week 2 in Chicago, the Vikings haven't had to deal with much inclement weather the past few seasons. That could change on Sunday, with the game-time forecast calling for a mix of rain and snow. And as we mentioned earlier this week, the Vikings are just 1-6-1 since 2006 when game-time temperatures are 40 or below, according to ESPN Stats & Information. "The guys will figure it out. We'll go play, regardless of the elements," Frazier said. "Depending on how bad the conditions are, it'll determine how much you're throwing the ball and how much you're running the ball. We'll see when we get out there in pregame."
Cassel vs. Ravens: Even though he'd spent his entire career in the AFC before this season, Matt Cassel had only started one game against the Ravens -- and he probably doesn't have many good memories about it. He completed nine of his 15 passes for 92 yards and two interceptions last year, being knocked out with a head injury and missing the Kansas City Chiefs' next game after they lost 9-6 to the Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium. The Ravens' defense looks quite a bit different than the one Cassel faced last year, but he'll look to solve Baltimore's scheme on Sunday.