The Cardinals and Vikings square off in a battle of 4-2 teams at the Mall of America Field in Minnesota on Sunday. The Cardinals have two other teams in their division at 4-2 and need to keep pace. The NFC North is very dangerous as well. The Bears are 4-1 heading into this week, and the Packers should be 4-2 if not for a referee’s botched call in the Packers at Seahawks game earlier this season. The Vikings are tough at Mall of America Field, and the Cardinals are coming off a couple of disastrous losses that have exposed weaknesses in Arizona.
Arizona Offense vs. Minnesota Defense
The Arizona offense is ranked 28th in both passing and rushing. Kevin Kolb will be out a few weeks following his rib injury at the hands of the Bills, and John Skelton will take over. Skelton has shown a stronger arm than Kolb, but has demonstrated inaccuracy problems throughout his career. In his first start coming off an ankle injury, Skelton will be facing a Minnesota defense that is 10th against the pass.
The Vikings like to play back to front, keeping both safeties deep and generating pressure while rotating their talented defensive line, lead by All-Pro Jared Allen. Allen will be rushing predominately from the blindside, putting him against left tackle D’Anthony Batiste. The Cardinals will have to address this blatant mismatch, keeping a running back in to help block, and possibly a tight end as well. The Cardinals poor pass protection, lack of consistency, and their inability to stretch the field has resulted in only 22 points in the last two games.
It will be imperative for Arizona to get some form of rushing attack against the leagues 10th rated rushing defense. William Powell looked good last week against a Bills defense that is worst in the league against the run. LaRod Stevens-Howling actually got the start, and ran 6 times for 7 yards in the first quarter before Powell took over.
Powell will be feature back for Arizona in this game, with Stevens-Howling coming in on 3rd downs and shotgun sets. Larry Fitzgerald had a big game against the Bills, and will need another one facing Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Harrison Smith and company. Winfield, specifically, is playing at pro-bowl level this year. Talented rookie Harrison Smith is deserving of his starting spot, and is making big plays on the back end for the Vikings. Chad Greenway leads the NFL in tackles, but the Minnesota linebackers are their weakest unit, and may struggle against Arizona’s multiple tight end sets.
The Cardinals also use many four wide receiver sets, and in those sets, the Cardinals wide receivers may see someone familiar. A.J. Jefferson was traded to Minnesota earlier this season to relieve the logjam Arizona had at corner. Now he looks to face his old team when the Cardinals go to their four wide receiver sets.
Minnesota Offense vs. Arizona Defense
The Minnesota Vikings are a dangerous offense. Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the league, but the Vikings offense runs through Percy Harvin. Christian Ponder is second in the league in completion percentage, mostly because of the amount of short passes and screens thrown he completes to Harvin and young tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Adrian Peterson is getting his work, but has been battling an injured ankle, and has not seen the end zone since week 1. Peterson is expected to play against the Cardinals 19th ranked rushing defense. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campell have had trouble generating pressure and containing the run over the last two games. The Vikings love to run on the inside, and if the Cardinals are going to contain Peterson, Dockett and Campell will need to hold fast on the inside.
Percy Harvin is the weapon to watch for as the Viking throw 5-6 screen passes a game to Harvin, as well as using him as a deep threat, on end arounds, and returning punts. Harvin is the Vikings yardage monster. The Cardinals defense may give up yardage, but they are 4th in the NFL in points allowed, giving up only 16.1 points per game. Arizona does this with a confusing defense that prides itself on pressure, currently 3rd in the league with 19 sacks.
O’Brian Schofield is having a breakout season, he has learned the Arizona scheme well, and after two sacks last week, is tied for the team lead. Schofield and Sam Acho have important responsibilities this week, with keeping containment on the outside and pressuring Ponder from the edges. Safety Kerry Rhodes is expected to miss the Vikings game, and it may open up the middle for the Vikings tight ends Rudolph and John Carlson.
Superstar corner Patrick Peterson will shadow Harvin most of this game, but the match up on the other side is worth watching too. Jerome Simpson may return to the Vikings after a leg injury and suspensions have kept him out most of this season. If 6 foot 2 inch Simpson returns, he may be facing diminutive 5-foot-10 inch corner William Gay. Gay was replaced by Greg Toler before Toler’s injury put Gay back in the starting lineup.
The Vikings and Cardinals have their superstars doing returns. Patrick Peterson electrified fans with his 4 punt return touchdown last year, yet against the Vikings he was frustrated by Chris Kluwe, receiving 4 punts with 3 fair catches. Percy Harvin already has a kickoff return for touchdown this year, and will be looking for another against the Cardinals. Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels is a viable weapon as well. Sherels is averaging 13.4 yards per return, and has a return touchdown.
(Stats and information obtained via NFL.com, AZCardinals.com, Vikings.com, and Profootballfocus.com)842563