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MINNESOTA VIKINGS (8-5) GAME #14 ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-5)

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Date: December 14, 2008 Location: Glendale, AZ
Time: 3:15 P.M. CST Stadium: University of Phoenix Stadium
TV: FOX
DirecTV Ch. 716
Know Thy Enemy: Revenge of the Birds
Gonzo's Prediction: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24
Final Score: Vikings 35, Cardinals 14

As I've mentioned previously, the "magic number" for the Vikings to clinch their first division championship since the division was still called the NFC Central is 2. Any combination of Vikings' victories and Bears' losses that add up to 2 (i.e. 2 Minnesota wins, 1 Minnesota win and 1 Chicago loss, or 2 Chicago losses) will wrap up a division title for the Beloved Purple.

Even after the Bears' victory over New Orleans this past Thursday, the Vikings are still in control of their own destiny. If the Beloved Purple can win their next two games, the division title is theirs and we won't have to worry about whether or not the New York Giants will be playing people or resting people or anything else.

Common wisdom says that the Vikings shouldn't be able to win this game. We all know of the prolific nature of the Cardinals' passing attack, Minnesota is generally pretty bad on the road, and Arizona is 5-1 at home this year. However, that one home loss for the Cards game in Week 12 against the New York Giants, and a big reason for that was that the Giants put pressure on Kurt Warner all afternoon. Yes, the stats for that game only show one sack for the Giants, but Warner also fumbled twice and threw an interception because of the Giants' pass rush.

The Vikings' pass rush is nothing to sneeze at, and their ability to get pressure on Warner is going to be key this afternoon. Warner has looked pretty bad in the last two games he's had to play against good defenses (the aforementioned game against the Giants and a 3-INT performance in a loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving). If Minnesota can get pressure on Warner, it will force him into making some bad decisions. He's played at a high level for most of the year, but he can still be rattled by a good pass rush.

The other key is for the Vikings to be sure tacklers when Arizona's receivers do catch the football. Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Breaston aren't going to drop many passes, so it's imperative on Cedric Griffin, Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper, Madieu Williams, and Benny Sapp to get them to the ground after they make the catch. They'll have plenty of opportunities to do so, as a) the Vikings have what may be the best run defense in the NFL, and b) Arizona's rush offense is rated 32nd in the league.

On offense, the Vikings need to do two things to be successful. They need to not be afraid to give Tarvaris Jackson the entire playbook. In his two starts to begin the season, the Vikings' offensive game plan was incredibly conservative, and that led to Tarvaris Jackson overthinking a lot of things rather than using his impressive athletic ability and strong arm to get the job done on offense. Jackson has said this past week that the time as a backup has allowed him to relax and not put so much pressure on himself. That's essential for an NFL quarterback. Playing mistake-free is important, yes, but not to the point where you don't allow yourself to use your abilities to move the ball downfield. Jackson's presence should also allow us to use more rollouts and move the pocket more frequently than we've been able to do with Gus Frerotte. The Arizona pass defense isn't totally awful or anything (though they have allowed more TD passes than any team in the league), but they've started playing better as of late.

The other thing the Vikings need to do is what they do best. . .pound away with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, shorten the game, and limit the number of times the Arizona offense gets to have the football. Warner, Boldin, and Fitzgerald can't score points if the best running tandem in the league is toting the rock. . .provided Peterson can hold on to the damn thing this week. Then again, since he's not facing the Detroit Lions, maybe ball security won't be an issue. . .of Peterson's six fumbles this season, four of them have come against the Motor City Kitties.

The Cardinals have an 8-5 record, but part of that can be attributed to playing in what might be the worst division in football. The Cards are 5-0 against their NFC West rivals to this point, which leaves them at 3-5 against the rest of the league. They also haven't beaten a team with a record of .500 or better since Week 6, when they beat the Cowboys in overtime. If the Vikings can pressure Kurt Warner and pound away with their rushing attack, it's quite possible for those trends to continue and for Minnesota to get one step closer to making reservations for January.

Two hours to kickoff, ladies and gentlemen. . .let's give Joe Buck something to legitimately cry about this afternoon.

SKOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL VIKINGS!!!!