It’s Wednesday, and you know what that means: Flip the calendar from last week to this week. Wednesday also means it’s time to preview several storylines we’ll be chasing all week here on vikings.com and within the various platforms of the Vikings Entertainment Network.
A pair of 4-2 teams will battle at Mall of America Field in an attempt to carve out 1st-place standing in their respective divisions, with the Vikings set to host the NFC West’s Arizona Cardinals. Both teams were out of the gates quickly this season with 4-1 starts, but both teams also lost last week. The Vikings dropped a 38-26 decision at Washington while Arizona fell to Buffalo by a 19-16 margin in overtime at home.
Here are 7 storylines to watch this week…
Cardinals QB Carousel Spins Skelton For Matchup With Vikings
For the 4th consecutive week, a Vikings opponent is dealing with an injury to their starting QB. This week it’s the Cardinals and Kevin Kolb. There will be no “Will he or won’t he?” discussion this week with Kolb, as the Cardinals official website has disclosed that he has cartilage damage in his ribs and a SC joint sprain that will keep him out an “unspecified period of time.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter went a step further, citing a team source for the Cardinals and reporting that Kolb will be out on Sunday in Minnesota and is expected to miss “several weeks.”
With Kolb out, the Cardinals will turn to John Skelton. Losing your starting QB is never a good thing, but in turning to Skelton this Sunday the Cardinals are actually turning to the QB they named the starter to open the season. Skelton beat out Kolb during a training camp and preseason competition, but then injured his ankle in the season opener and lost the starting job to Kolb.
Skelton was a 5th-round pick of Arizona in 2010 out of Fordham. He measures in at 6-5, 243 pounds and could be described more as a pocket passer than a guy who thrives while getting outside of the pocket. In 3 seasons, Skelton has played in 15 games with 12 starts and has completed 51.7% of his passes with a 13-18 TD-INT ratio.
Will Vikings Pass Rush Overwhelm Cardinals?
With a fairly inexperienced QB coming to town, this could be a good opportunity for a productive Vikings defensive line to change the game by pressuring the passer. The Vikings have more sacks (65) than any other team since the start of 2011, while the Cardinals have allowed the most sacks (82) since the start of 2011 and they’ve allowed the most sacks (28) so far this season. On top of that, the Vikings best pass rusher – Jared Allen – is starting to get hot, as he’s registered 1.0 sack in each of the last 4 games.
In last year’s matchup against the Vikings at Mall of America Field, the Cardinals allowed 4 sacks to the Vikings while completing just 47.9% of their passes and throwing 3 INTs.
The Cardinals are fairly experienced along their offensive line, with rookie RT Bobbie Massie the least experienced and no other starter with fewer than 7 seasons to their credit. The matchup to watch will be Allen against Cardinals LT D’Anthony Batiste. Allen had 2.0 sacks against the Cardinals last year, but he didn’t go against Batiste. In fact, only 2 of the Cardinals current starting offensive linemen started last year’s game between these two teams (LG Daryn Colledge and C Lyle Sendlein).
Two other factors to consider here are the Vikings depth along the defensive line and the advantage the Vikings defense has playing at Mall of America Field.
Vikings In The Red Zone
This has been talked about ad nauseam over the last three days after the Vikings settled for 3 FGs on their first 3 possessions and ultimately scored just 2 TDs in 7 red zone trips against Washington last week. The Vikings rank middle of the road in red zone TD efficiency, but this offense is solid in so many other areas and has enough talent that the expectation is for the offense to be more efficient in the red zone.
The Vikings offensive coaches and players are out to improve in this area, and my guess is you’ll see a big jump forward on Sunday. But, the Vikings will be tested in this aspect because the Cardinals rank 5th in red zone defense, having allowed just 6 TDs in 17 opponents’ red zone possessions.
Can Adrian Peterson Get Back On Track?
Adrian Peterson is not having a bad season by any reasonable standard. He ranks 3rd in the NFC and 6th in the NFL with 499 yards. But as well all know, Peterson’s self-established standards are sky-high. So from that perspective, he’s looking to get back on track. In coming back from his knee injury, Peterson was off to a fast start with 2 rushing TDs in Week 1 and then his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season in Week 4. Outside of those two outings, though, Peterson has rushing totals of 60, 86, 88 and 79 yards. Again, reasonable numbers for most RBs, but not good enough for him.
Peterson has a chance to get back on track this week against the Cardinals. In last year’s game, Peterson rushed for 122 yard and 3 TDs on 29 carries in pacing the Vikings to their first win of the season. You can bet Peterson will be looking for a similar outing – plus more – against Arizona this week.
Jerome Simpson’s Status
After missing the first three regular season games, coming back for Week 4, being limited because of leg weakness/numbness in Week 5 and then being held out of Week 6, Jerome Simpson is anxious to play. And the Vikings are anxious to have him out on the field. The Vikings were hopeful last week that Simpson would be able to play in Washington, but things didn’t pan out that way. His status will be talked about all week, and it’s unlikely we’ll know with much certainty whether he’ll play or not before Friday afternoon – it could even be a game-time decision.
There’s no question his presence on the field gives the Vikings offense an added dimension. We saw that in Week 4 at Detroit, when Simpson drew a pair of pass interference calls down the field and then hauled in a clutch 27-yard reception late in the game to help the Vikings take time off the clock and flip field position.
Fitzgerald And Floyd Come Home
Since being selected with the 3rd overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has returned to his home state of Minnesota to play the Vikings four times. He grew up in the Minneapolis area and attended Holy Angels Academy in Richfield before attending the University of Pittsburgh. Fitzgerald, 29, has been the consummate professional for the Cardinals, and last week he joined Randy Moss as the only receivers in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards before turning 30.
As Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals back to Mall of America Field for a 5th time since entering the NFL, he brings with him yet another Minnesota native who is catching passes for Arizona – Michael Floyd. The Cardinals selected Floyd, who attended Cretin-Derham Hall and then Notre Dame, with the 13th overall pick this past April, giving them a pair of tall, fast and physical pass-catchers who will try to challenge the Vikings secondary.
Dome Field Advantage Returning?
A key to the Vikings early-season success in 2012 has been their performance at home, as they’ve won their first 3 games at Mall of America Field. The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982, winning 64.5% of their games in the building. Last year, though, it was a different story. A 3-13 record included an atypical 1-7 mark at home. As the Vikings have gotten off to a solid 4-2 start in 2012, it’s no surprise that a big reason for the fast start has been a 3-0 record at home. Sunday gives the Vikings an opportunity to move to 4-0 at home and continue their return to form as a dominant team at home.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Jerome Simpson
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 88 Comments »