Jacoby Jones (Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY)
The Vikings and Ravens each have their warts on offense and defense, but their return games are something that could turn the tide of a cold game. Plus, maintenance continues on Adrian Peterson, who is listed as questionable on the injury report.
Sunday’s game with the Baltimore Ravens is a special teams paradise … for those who enjoy the minutia of the game.
The Ravens have the 29th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked rushing offense. The Vikings have the 30th-ranked defense and 30th-ranked pass defense.
There are a lot of ways Sunday’s game could be decided, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an explosive return or two dictate the winner.
The Vikings, of course, have Cordarrelle Patterson on kick returns and Marcus Sherels on punt returns.
Patterson leads the league with a 34.0-yard kickoff return average and is tied for the franchise’s single-season lead with two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Sherels is third in the league with a 13.1-yard punt return average, tied for second-best in a season in Vikings history.
The Ravens counter with a formidable return game of their own. They have the best punt-return average in the league and that is split effectively between Tandon Doss, who leads the league with a 15.6-yard average on 23 returns, and Jacoby Jones, who isn’t far behind with a 14.4-yard average on nine returns.
Jones is a solid kick returner, too, averaging 26.5 yards on 17 returns.
“He’s so good,” Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said of Jones with a mixture of admiration and exasperation. “He’s big. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s elusive. He’s got great vision.”
As a team, the Ravens are first in punt return average, but Priefer said his decision on how to approach the kicking game will be based largely on the weather conditions.
“It’s a weather game. That’s going to come into play, and I think the different kicks, that’s what we’ve got to be ready for,” he said. “I’ve talked about the clubs (Locke) has in his bag and the different types of kicks he has and what he has to do well on Sunday for us to be successful.”
After another week of maintenance and rest for RB Adrian Peterson, head coach Leslie Frazier admitted that the reigning MVP’s groin injury could require him to rest a practice or two each week for the remainder of the season.
“I think so. It’s similar to what we had to do a year ago when he had a similar injury in the month of December,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to manage it throughout the rest of the regular season.”
The Vikings gave Peterson two full days off last week and this week, but he returned again on Friday and looked fine in what Frazier called a “ramp-up to Sunday.”
“No real need to burst or go 100 miles per hour today, but just something to make him feel comfortable about Sunday,” he said.
Officially, Peterson is listed as questionable on the injury report. Last week, he was listed as probable.
After last week’s rest, the Vikings ran Peterson a career-high 35 times for 211 yards, so he is likely to continue playing through the injury with rest during the week, much like how the Vikings approached his practice regimen last year in December when he was dealing with a sports hernia.
In addition to Peterson, the Vikings listed Larry Dean (knee) and Jamarca Sanford (ankle) as questionable.
Christian Ponder (concussion), Josh Robinson (chest) and Kyle Rudolph (foot) are out. All others are probable, meaning a virtual certainty they will play.
For the Ravens, LB Elvis Dumervil, who has 9.5 sacks, is doubtful with an ankle injury. So is S Brynden Trawick (ankle).
“I think it’ll be a game-time (decision) on Sunday,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “If he’s healthy enough … earlier in the week, we felt he was going to make it. He’s not a guy that has to practice to play, so if he goes out there and feels like he can go, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.”
DE Chris Canty (shoulder), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (knee) and CB Lardarius Webb are questionable.
TE Rhett Ellison was fined $7,875 his face mask in overtime that negated a 39-yard, game-winning field goal.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.