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Previewing the Cardinals

Sizing up Arizona’s starting roster, and how it matches up with the Vikings

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Minnesota Vikings hit the road again this weekend, after suffering a disappointing loss to the Bengals week one on the road. The Arizona Cardinals took advantage of a Titans team that lacks talent on defense, and really looked out-of-sync offensively, jumping to a 17-0 lead largely off of Titans’ miscues, and coasting the rest of the way to a 38-13 win that was never close.

It was difficult to say whether the Cardinals win was because of how good the Cardinals were, or how bad the Titans were. The Titans had -1 yard of offense on four drives in the first quarter, including an allowed strip sack that was nearly a touchdown, but gave the Cardinals offense the ball on the Titans one yard line. The Titans defense also gave up a few big plays to DeAndre Hopkins, and by the time they got things together in the second quarter, it was 17-0. That took the Titans offense out of their feed King Henry game plan, and allowed the Cardinals to tee off on Ryan Tannehill, which they did 6 times, five coming from 31.5 year old DE Chandler Jones.

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray made a number of good plays with his arm and feet, so keeping Murray from extending plays and running wild will be a top priority for the Vikings defense. Murray had an interception, but also a number big time throws- some on the run and some with plenty of time in the pocket.

The Cardinals defense started off strong with Jones’ sacks wreaking havoc with the Titans offense, but the Cardinals secondary gave up some plays against a Titans’ passing attack that struggled with poor situations and lack of rhythm/timing much of the game. Some of that may been due to the game situation, but the Cardinals secondary also lacks high end talent.

Key Matchups

Arizona’s offense is all about the pass attack. QB Kyler Murray may also be the Cardinals’ leading rusher, with the loss of RB Kenyan Drake- their leading rusher last year. James Connor and Chase Edmonds are their running backs, but the heart of their offense is Murray and his receivers- All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, AJ Green, Christian Kirk, and rookie Rondale Moore. Containing Murray and maintaining tight coverage on his receivers will be the tall task the Vikings defense will face all afternoon on Sunday.

Patrick Peterson vs. Arizona WRs

It may not be Favre vs. the Packers, or Brady vs. the Patriots, but Patrick Peterson playing against his old team is definitely a storyline. There is some bad blood there, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Peterson got a mixed reaction from fans in his return to the desert.

But the key thing here is the oppo research Peterson will have on Arizona, knowing their schemes and players well. The Bengals picked up Jake Browning a week before last Sunday’s matchup, and doubtless he provided some useful tidbits on the Vikings offense. Peterson will know a lot more, having gone up against Cardinals receivers in practice, and fully versed in what the Cardinals do on both sides of the ball. Of course Arizona’s receivers will also know Peterson and his tendencies, but that will be the extent of their insider knowledge, if you will.

How these matchups play out will depend not just on the DBs - and the Vikings have a better set of DBs than the Titans - but also on the Vikings pass rush and how much pressure they can put on Murray- and how well they can contain him in the pocket. The Cardinals may be without their starting right tackle, Kelvin Beachum, who didn’t practice with a rib injury suffered during the game week one. He’s said to be a game time decision, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t play. Having a backup going against Danielle Hunter is never ideal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hunter has a lot of pressures on Sunday.

Getting back to the DB/WR matchups, it doesn’t seem like Mike Zimmer will have 31 year-old Patrick Peterson shadow 29 year-old DeAndre Hopkins, who can line up either outside or in the slot in the Cardinals offense, so it will most likely be up to Bashaud Breeland and MacKensie Alexander to keep tight coverage against the Cardinals #1 receiver as well. 33-year old AJ Green has been a big weapon throughout his career, but he fell off his career norm last season, and it looks like Green may not be the receiver he once was. The Cardinals also have Christian Kirk, who had a good game against the Titans, but has been more of an average receiver in his career-to-date. Lastly there is rookie Rondale Moore, who has potential and can be a threat on sweeps and screens as well, but didn’t get as many snaps as Kirk- both of whom work primarily from the slot.

Arizona’s Aging Defense

The key players on Arizona’s defense, particularly their defensive line, while still productive, are also on the wrong side of 30. Chandler Jones, who had a big game against the Titans with 5 sacks, is also 31 years old, while newly acquired JJ Watt is 32. Cornerback Robert Alford is pushing 33, and DE Marcus Golden is 30. Off-setting Alford’s age at cornerback is rookie 4th round pick Marco Wilson, with 3rd year men Byron Murphy Jr. manning the slot and Jalen Thompson at safety. Budda Baker is a solid veteran at the other safety spot.

The Cardinals’ secondary should give the Vikings receivers opportunities, if the Vikings offensive line can give Kirk Cousins the time needed to exploit them. Chandler Jones’ week one performance is not indicative of his performance the last few years, having averaged roughly one sack a game, not 5, in his career and having missed most of last season. He may have been helped by a Titans’ left tackle, Taylor Lewan, who likely struggled in his first game back since an ACL tear last year. He ended up leaving the game early as well. JJ Watt was not his previously dominant self in week one, although he did record 3 pressures. The other two members of the Arizona defensive front, Zach Allen and Markus Golden, have been unspectacular journeymen in their careers to date. It would be nice to see Klint Kubiak employ a brisk pace, if not entirely hurry-up, on offense to wear down the older guys on Arizona’s defense. If the Vikings can stay on their game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Arizona’s defense wear down by the fourth quarter either.

Bottom line, the Cardinals defense will give the Vikings opportunities if the offensive line can do reasonably well in limiting their two big-name players up front. Using a hurry-up offense at times, which they practiced once in preseason, may help in that regard as well.

Containing Kyler Murray

Murray is similar to Russell Wilson, who the Vikings will face next week, in that they’re both short and mobile QBs with arms that can hurt you. But they both are not at their best when contained in a pocket that is collapsing in front of them, limiting their vision downfield. Undoubtedly Vikings D-line coach and co-DC Andre Patterson will have a rush plan to deal with Murray’s mobility and run-threat, and from Mike Zimmer’s press conference on Friday, most likely employ a spy on him as well. Eric Kendricks is questionable for Sunday’s game, but seems likely to play, along with Nick Vigil. It wouldn’t be surprising if Kendricks was used as a spy at times against Murray, especially given the Cardinals don’t have much of a threat at TE (former Gopher Maxx Williams), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikings gave rookie Chazz Surratt some snaps in that role as well- which may include some blitzing.

Zimmer blitzed a lot more than he normally does week one against the Bengals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that continued against the Cardinals, as that may be part of the scheme changes they made this off-season. Using the DEs to help contain Murray, along with a blitzing linebacker, may be just the ticket for limiting Murray’s production on Sunday.

Bottom Line

The key to beating the Cardinals will be to limit their explosive pass offense, and not giving them short fields like the Titans did to build a big lead early.

Beyond that, not beating themselves on offense, like they did last week, should give them the opportunities they need to keep up with Arizona’s offense. And by maintaining some ball control, they could begin to wear down Arizona’s defense as the game gets into its latter stages, giving the Vikings the opportunity to come out with a win.

But this should be a big test for the Vikings pass defense, and an opportunity for the offensive line to show that they can do more than just kill drives with penalties and allowed sacks.


Will the Vikings bounce back with a win against the Cardinals?

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