As the Vikings spent the week of preparation for the Baltimore Ravens looking at game film, many of them had a sense of déjà vu – the feeling that they had seen many of the plays they were watching on film before. Why? Because they've seen many of them in practice.
While there are many differences between the Vikings and Ravens, their similarities and formulas for success are strikingly identical – starting with the head coaches on down.
Brad Childress and John Harbaugh both came from the Philadelphia Eagles and are branches of the Andy Reid coaching tree. Both teams have offenses that are predicated on running ball, yet have quarterbacks capable of making big plays through the air. Both teams have a run-first mentality on offense. Both teams are noted for their success in stopping the run – the Vikings haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in almost two years and the Ravens had a streak of 40 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher snapped just last week by Cedric Benson of the Cincinnati Bengals. Both teams have opportunistic defenses known for getting turnovers and taking them back for defensive touchdowns. There are a lot of similarities and the players say it goes well beyond just the style of play both teams employ.
"When you look at the numbers of both offense and defense in the key categories – turnovers, fumbles and interceptions on defense and third-down conversions and rushing the ball on offense – there are a lot of similarities there," offensive lineman Artis Hicks said. "You might think that maybe both head coaches came from the same teachings in Philly. The personnel is different, but the outcome gets the same results."
Because of the sameness, the preparation for both teams has been centralized on scheming against what both teams do best. The offenses both have strong O-lines that will undertake trench warfare with a pair of the best defensive lines in the league. Both teams will look to control the clock and there likely won't be a lot of surprises.
"It's very similar," linebacker Ben Leber said of the Vikings and what he's seen on film of the Ravens. "It is kind of playing a mirror image, which I think is going to be a good test for both teams. We always try to stop the run first and so do they. I'm sure both teams are going to try to establish the run early, so it will be a good matchup of strength on strength."
With Baltimore riding a two-game losing streak, coincidentally which coincided with the team going away from its three-running back approach to give second-year man Ray Rice more carries, the Vikings believe that they will see a heavy dose of all three runners, including Willis McGahee, who, despite being used sparingly the last two games, is tied for the league lead with seven touchdowns, and Le'Ron McClain, a power between-the-tackles runner used to wearing down defenses.
The Vikings are likely going to try the same approach, establishing Adrian Peterson and former Raven Chester Taylor to avoid letting the Ravens utilizing their multiple blitz packages. The basic game plans for both teams will be identical, which convinces linebacker Chad Greenway that the game will come down to which team is able to accomplish their pregame goals more effectively on Sunday.
"There are a lot of things in them that we see in ourselves," Greenway said. "They've stopped the run effectively for a long time and we've tried to get and stay to that level. The offenses both have players capable of making big plays, so it's going to be a fun game to watch because it will come down to which team executes its game plan better than the other."
In the end, Sunday's game will be a matchup of two teams trying to impose their will on the other. It will be reminiscent of the kind of games the Vikings have had over the years with the Chicago Bears. The hitting will be fierce. Tempers will likely flare. Emotions will be high. But that's the way the Vikings want it and, just as likely, the way the Ravens want it too.
"The only thing that we know for sure is that it's going to be a hard-hitting game," defensive end Jared Allen said. "Both teams have a reputation for making big hits and hitting the other guys in the mouth. This is going to be an old-school game with blood on the field. That's the way we like it."
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Vikings and Ravens mirror images?
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