Looking to log their first win of the season, the Vikings will head back to Mall of America Field this weekend to host a familiar foe in the 1-3 Arizona Cardinals. The Vikings and Cardinals aren’t in the same division, of course, but they’ve been regular adversaries since the 2006 season, with this weekend’s matchup marking the fourth in as many seasons and the sixth since 2006.
Another reason the Cardinals may seem familiar is because they’ve arrived at this point of the season in similar fashion to the Vikings. While the Cardinals have already collected their first victory, they’ve also lost 3 games and in all 3 games they’ve been in position to win. Arizona lost an 8-point 4th-quarter lead on the road to the Washington Redskins, they held a 10-6 lead at halftime in Week 3 before Seattle came back to beat them, and then last week the Cardinals surrendered 21 fourth-quarter points to squander a 10-point lead in the 2nd half. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Even more, Arizona’s struggles have manifested themselves on 3rd down offense, where they rank 28th with just a 29.8% conversion rate, and on passing defense, where they rank 26th in the NFL and are allowing 282.8 yards per game.
Overall on defense, the Cardinals rank 24th in yards allowed (388.3 per game) and tied for 12th in scoring (21.8 points per game), while offensively the Cardinals rank 18th in yards per game (352.5) and 19th in scoring (21.5 points per game). Also, Arizona is -1 in turnover ratio and has allowed 26 gains of 20+ yards (2nd-most in the NFL).
Through all of that, they’ve been in position to win each week and their average margin of defeat is the 3rd-smallest in the NFL at just 2.67, behind only Tennessee and Washington at 2.00 (the Vikings average margin of defeat is just 4.75 points).
So while Arizona comes in with an unimpressive record of 1-3, this is not an opponent to take lightly. Their offense features one of the best WRs in the NFL – Minnesota native Larry Fitzgerald – and then last week their running game came alive, as RB Beanie Wells carried the ball 27 times for 138 yards and 3 TDs. Arizona may not be lighting up the scoreboard, but they can be a balanced offense and they have an elite talent at WR, which will be a challenge for the Vikings secondary. Where the Vikings can strike against this offense is in the trenches. Look for either or both DE Jared Allen and DT Kevin Williams to win their matchup and either change the game or open up opportunities for others along the defensive line to make an impact.
Defensively, Arizona runs a 3-4 scheme and their front seven is pretty solid. Eight-year veteran DT Darnell Dockett is probably the best player up front for Arizona, and if not properly accounted for he can ruin the game for the opposing offense. DE Calais Campbell, who has 2.5 sacks this year, can flash and become a factor, and a sneaky-good player is LB Daryl Washington, who has 3 tackles for a loss, a sack and an INT on the season. In the secondary, CB Patrick Peterson is progressing into a very good player; he was their 1st-round pick last April. And you can’t forget about S Adrian Wilson, who is one of the League’s grittiest players and is the defensive leader.
One special teams note is that Arizona has just 5 touchbacks on 18 kickoffs (27.8%), which means there could be opportunities for Percy Harvin (and Lorenzo Booker) in the return game.
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