From the moment Joe Flacco's head slammed to the turf on the third play of the game, it was obvious that he and the Ravens were in trouble against Minnesota's stifling defense.
It's a defense that opposing quarterbacks should dread. They suffocate the run (3rd in the NFL), shut down your best receiver with Xavier Rhodes and fly around the field with speedy, skilled players in all three levels.
But the recipe for defensive dominance has one common denominator: Quiet the quarterback.
So far, Minnesota's Super Bowl-worthy D", as coined by NFL.com, has quieted Drew Brees, Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky, Brett Hundley and Joe Flacco en route to victories. And in their losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit, Ben Roethlisberger (243 yards, 2 TD) and Matthew Stafford (209 yards, 0 TD) didn't exactly write the script for how to beat them.
Here's a win-by-win view of how nasty Minnesota's defense was.
29-19 over New Orleans: Brees racked up some garbage time stats en route to 291 passing yards and one touchdown. It's the only game this season he's failed to either reach 300 yards or throw for multiple touchdowns.
34-17 over Tampa Bay: Winston has topped 300 yards or thrown for multiple touchdowns in all but one game this season (minus the Week 5 loss to Arizona in which he left injured in the first half). The Vikings held him to 204 yards and one touchdown.
2017 over Chicago: Trubisky, making his first career start, completed just 48 percent of his attempts for 128 yards. His lone touchdown should've been intercepted but was tipped to Zach Miller in the end zone.
23-10 over Green Bay: Granted, Aaron Rodgers getting injured in the first quarter helped, but the defense suffocated Brett Hundley the rest of the game, intercepting him three times while holding him to 157 passing yards.
24-16 over Baltimore: According to the Baltimore Sun, Flacco averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt while fumbling three times and absorbing five sacks.
Statistically, the Vikings' pass defense ranks 12th in the NFL allowing 206.4 yards a game. But the key to their success is that they've allowed the second fewest passing plays of 20+ yards – just 16 of them – all season. For comparison, the Colts have allowed 48.
Basically, these quarterbacks on Minnesota's schedule should bring some extra toilet paper (their passer rating is the number on the right).
- Week 8 at Cleveland: DeShone Kizer: 47.8
- Week 10 at Washington: Kirk Cousins: 106.4
- Week 11 vs. L.A. Rams: Jared Goff: 90.3
- Week 12 at Detroit: Matthew Stafford: 89.3
- Week 13 at Atlanta: Matt Ryan: 89.3
- Week 14 at Carolina: Cam Newton: 80.9
- Week 15 vs. Andy Dalton: 83.1
- Week 16 at Green Bay: Brett Hundley: 40.5
- Week 17 vs. Chicago: Mitch Trubisky: 79.2
Kizer, or whomever the Browns go with, is in trouble. Goff got off to a hot start this season but Seattle and Jacksonville – two similarly awesome passing defenses – kept him quiet. Ryan could be dangerous but the Falcons have yet to replicate their Super Bowl offense from a year ago under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Newton has thrown 10 interceptions despite facing five opponents with passing defenses ranked 20th or worse.
Basically, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings defense should be licking their chops, partially because they're devouring everything they touch but also because there isn't a Tom Brady or Rodgers left on the schedule.