Setting the Stage:
It's an "early game" this Sunday. Last week, Cards won a squeaker on a last-second Catanzaro FG. They enter this game 4 - 4 - 1. After opening the season with five straight wins, the Vikings then dropped four straight to the Eaglles, Bears, Lions and Redskins to go 5 & 4. Like the Cardinals, when they take a look at their playoff position at this point in the season, Minnesota's arm-pits are beginning to leak. While not "life or death", both teams figure to view this game as a "must-win."
Opponent's Last Game
Vikes lost to the Redskins in Washington 26 - 20. Vikes scored all twenty points in the 2nd quarter to build a 20 - 14 halftime lead. Redskins came back with 4 field goals in the second half to eke out the come-from-behind win.
Vikes won the toss. TB on the KO. Vikes went 3 & out. Wash returned the punt to its own 32. Cousins started out with completions of +12 and +25 en route to putting togerther a 10-play TD drive capped by a 4-yd Cousins to Crowder TD pass. Every snap but one resulted in a gain of 3 or more yards/ Washington 7 - Vikes 0.
TB on the KO. A 6-yd loss on an end-around, a holding call and a sack forced Minn to punt. Fair caught at the Redskin 9. Completions of +13 and +15 helped move Wash to the Viking 46 as the quarter ended.
First Quarter Score: Washington 7 - Vikes 0.
On the second play of the quarter, Cousins hit Vernon Davis deep-left for a 38-yard TD. Washington 14 - Vikes 0.
KO returned by Patterson to the Viking 23. Minn tried a lot of short stuff (longest gain of 9 plays was for +13-yards) and punted from their own 38. Fair caught at the Wash 21. Wash held to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Minn. 33. A 36-yard Bradford-to-Diggs hookup, an 11-yd gain by Thielin on an end around and a 13-yard completion to Rudolph helped bring the Vikes to the Wash 1, where Asiata ran it in off RG. Washington 14 - Vikes 7.
KO returned to the Wash 22. An offensive holding penalty helped stall the Redskin drive and Wash punted from their own 34. Fair caught by Diggs at the Viking 25. 3:38 on the clock. Bradford led his team on a 7 play TD drive which knotted the score. Key gainer was a +23-yard completion: Bradford-to- Diggs. Washington 14 - Vikes 14.
TB on the KO. 0:58 on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Joseph caused Thompson to fumble. Recovered by Griffen. Viking ball on the Redskin 33 with 0:50 still left till halftime. They moved to the Wash 3-yd line on the first play of the possession on a 28-yd completion to Diggs. Three plays later, Bradford hit Thielen for a 3-yard TD. Walsh's XP kick was wide-right. Vikes 20 - Washington 14.
2nd Half Score: Vikes 20 - Washington 14.
Wash received and Thompson ran out the KO to the Wash 33. Cousins led them on a 12-play drive resulting in a 30-yd Hopkins FG. FCousins shredded the Viking short-pass defense on the drive (Four plays were for +16, +14, +13 and +12-yards). Vikes 20 - Washington 17
TB on the KO. A delay of game flag helped contribute to a Viking 3 & out. This time, Cousins took his team on a 12-play march resulting in a 37-yard Hopkins FG to tie the game. Vikes 20 - Washington 20.
TB on the KO. After a 9-yard gain, the quarter ended. (Note - Washington chewed up 11:23 worth of clock-time on two drives in the 3Q).
Third Quarter Score: Vikes 20 - Washington 20.
Vikes ball on their own 34. Couldn't get anything going and punted from their own 43. Fair caught at the Wash 8. First three plays were pass completions of +21, +17 and +14 yards to set up a 50-yards Hopkins FG to give Washington the lead. Washington 23 - Vikes 20
KO returned to the Minn 12. Vikes marched to the Wash 39 in 7 plays (aided by a roughing the passer flag) but on the 8th play, Bradford's pass for Thielen was intercepted and returned to the Minn 42 with 5:44 left. Cousins led his team on an 8-play drive which was stopped at the Viking 8, but resulted in a 28-yard FG with 2:31 left on the clock. Washington 26 - Vikes 20.
TB on the KO. Bradford made it all the way to the Redskin 21 before being sacked twice on the 10th and 12th play of the drive. Knee time.
Final Score: Washington 26 - Vikes 20.
Team Stats to Date
First Downs - Vikes 164 / Opponents 166
Third Down Conversions - Vikes 50/127 / Opponents 47/119
Fourth Down Conversions - Vikes 5/10 / Opponents 1/7
Offensive Yards - Vikes 2,721 / Opponents 2,779
Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Vikes 235/2.7 / Opponents 213/4.1
Passing Compl/Att/Int/AvgYds -Vikes 215/316/2.7/1.0 Opponents - 192/328/10/6.3
Sacks -Vikes 22.0 / Opponents 24.0
Field Goals - Vikes 12/16/ Opponents 16/18
Time of Possession -Vikes 31:11/ Opponents 29:33
Turnover Ratio - +12
Key Player Stats
Passing: Bradford - 197 of 283 for 2,022 yds, 69.6%, 7.1 YPA 11 Td's, 2 Ints. 99.0 Rating.
Rushing: McKinnon -81 for 241 yds (3.0 YPA). Asiata - 80 for 241 yds (3.0 YPA).
Receiving: Diggs: 61 for 710 yds (11.6 ypr), 2 TD's. Rudlolph: 37 for 392 (10.6 ypr), 5 TD's. Thielen: 32 for 453 (14.2 ypr), 2 TD's. Patterson: 30 for 256 (8.5 ypr) 2 TD's.
Field Goals - Walsh missed 4 of 16 and was cut after the Wash loss.
Punting -Locke: 43.2 gross avg
Punt Returns - Sherels 13.7 ypr
Kickoff Returns - Patterson - 26.9 YPR
Tackles -Smith (63), Kendricks (55), Sendejo (41) Joseph (41), Barr (38)
Sacks -Griffen (6), Hunter (5), Robison (4) and Joseph (3). Opponents racked up 24 sacks vs. Vikes' 22
Interceptions - 10 Picks (Opponents had 2): Sendejo, Waynes and Rhodes had 2 apiece.
Fumble Recoveries - Vikes had 8; Opponents had 9. Joseph and Robison had 2 apiece.
WR1....19 Thielen (AA)...............12 C Johnson (P)........11 Treadwell (BA)
LT.........xx R Hill (R) .............
LG.......76 Boone (A).....67 Kerin (P)
OC 61 Berger (AA).....62 Easton (BA)
RG 63 Fusco (P).....64 Beavers (R)
RT 68 Clemmings (P).....78 Sirles (P)
TE 82 Rudolph (A)....85 Ellison (BA).........89 Morgan (BA)
WR2 14 Diggs (HQ)............84 Patterson (BA).......17 Wright (BA)
21 McKinnon (P)..............44 Asiata (BA) ........33 Hillman (BA)...
FB .....48 Line (P)
QB.....08 Bradford (AA)............13 Hill (BA).....06 Heinicke
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality. R = Rookie))
LDE 93 Campbell (HQ) .....72 Stinson (P)
NT 98 Peters (A)..............69 X Williams (A)......72 Pierre (Inc.)
DT 95 Gunter (P)........)....92 Rucker (P) ..........97 Mauro (A).....90 Nkemdiche (P)
SLB 55 C Jones (HQ).........57 Okafor (A)
ILB 20 Bucannon (AA) ....50 G Martin (P)
ILB 51 Minter (A)..............54 Bartu (Inc.)
WLB 44 Golden (AA).......... 96 K Martin (P)
LCB 21 Peterson AA)........29 Simon (A)
RCB 41 Cooper (P)............26 B Williams (P) ......28 Bethel (P)
SS 36 Swearinger (AA)...32 Mathieu (A)
FS 22 T Jefferson (E)... ..25 Bryant (Inc.) (E).
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality. R = Rookie. Inc. = Incomplete Info)
Matchup: Viking Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
I've always been a Sam Bradford fan, but havd to concede that he hasn't lived up to expectations. Judging from his stats and last week's performance vs. Washington, it seems as if Zimmer is keeping Sam on a tight leash in somewhat of a "game manager" role. (Against the Panthers, only 7 passes were for 10 yds or more. In that same game, Bradford's main target was his TE (Rudolph). The good news is that he's only thrown 2 interceptions thus far (The +12 turnover ratio has, no doubt been responsible for Minnesota's early season success. The bad news is that he's being asked to go the "drink & dunk" route and - without his injured star RB (Adrian Peterson) it's hard for him to sustain drives or be effective in the red zone.
Bradford's receiving corps consists of TD threat Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson. Kyle Rudolph is Bradford's target at TE. Diggs had a huge game vs. Washington - dominatng rookie Kendall Fuller. (He also blocked well for Rudolph). I'm not positive about this, but the Card defense figures to breath a bit easier in that Bradford doesn't pose the kind of running threat they've seen from Kaepernick, Newton and Wilson.
Minny's offensive line has been shredded by injury (LT Jake Long is one of the latest victims). Their best lineman is their center (Berger) but he and OG Alex Boone are the only two linemen PFF rates "average" or better. Judging from what PFF says, the right side of the Viking OL (Berger, Clemmings, Fusco) has overachieved; but, based on recent results, they look like they might be wearing down. (Example, their depth chart leaves the LT position blank - Clemmings is likely to step in at LT, but their LG Boone has volunteered to help out - not a model of stability).However, the Viking OL does have a track record of turning things around when they had to - in the Giant game, Bradford was only pressured 18.7% of the time vs. 43.1% the previous two contests.
Jim Bettcher can go one of two different directions: (1) he can send the kitchen sink and attempt to rattle Bradford or (2) he can determine the fewest number of rushers he can send to put pressure on the Viking QB while putting more guys in coverage. From what both coaches say, they expect Peterson to be covering Diggs all game long (This could be a huge difference - Fuller was a rookie. PP21 an All Pro).
Key Matchups: Peterson figures to go one on one with Diggs. C Jones, Campbell and Golden vs. the Viking offensive line. Bucannon vs. Rudolph.
Matchup: Viking Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
No Adrian Peterson. That sort of sums it up. His replacements (Asiata and McKinnon) are each averaging 3.0 yards per carry. To be fair, at least part of it is due to the depleting Viking O-line. Whatever the reason, the Vikings are not running the ball well.
Where this may matter greatly is in the lack of aplay action running threat to keep Cardinal pass rushers off Bradford. The chess-match "cat & mouse" aspect of this matchup is where the Cards ignore the run and send the house vs. Bradford, while Bradford dials up draws and screens in an attempt to cross up the Cardinal defense.
Key Matchups: Cardinal team run-defense (especially Mauror, Mointer and Okeafor) vs. Viking run blockers (esp. Berger and Boone)
WR1 11 Fitzgerald (HQ)....10 Golden (P)..........19 Hubert (R)
LT 73 Wetzel (P).............75 Ulrick (Inc.)
LG 76 Iupati (A)
C 53 Shipley (AA)..........70 Boehm (BA).......65 Boggs (Inc)
RG 78 Watford (P)...........61 Toner (R)
RT........74 Humphries (A)
TE .85 Fells (P)................89 Valles (P)
WR2 15 M. Floyd (BA).......12 John Brown (A)..14 JJ Nelson (BA)
QB 03 Palmer* (A)...........05 Stanton (P)
RB 31 D Johnson (A)......23 C Johnson*........38 Ellington (BA).......30 Taylor (BA)....33 K Williams
TE 84 Gresham (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality R = Rookie. Inc = Incomplete Info))
LDE......96 Robison (P).......99 Hunter (A)
DT........93 Stephen (P).....73 Floyd (P)
NT........98 Joseph (AA).........92 T Johnson (A)
RDE.....97 Griffen (A)......94 Trattou (P)
SLB.....55 Barr. (P)....51 E Robinson
MLB....54 Kendricks (A).......57 Cole (P).......40 Brothers (R)
WLB....52 Greenway (P)......59 Lamur (P)
LCB.....23 Newman (HQ)......26 Waynes (BA).........35 Sherels (A)
SS.......34 Sendejo (A)........27 Kearse (P)
FS.......22 H Smith (HQ)......41 A Harris (BA)
RCB....29 X Rhodes (A)......24 Munnerlyn (A)......20 Alexander (P)
PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality, R = Rookie)
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Viking Pass Defense
Carson Palmer has the experience and talent to execute at a high level,but continues to have a couple of mental-lapses each game which are just simply brutal. (I couldn't help but imagine what Fitz or Floyd must have felt like when - after selling out their bodies to make sensational catches in traffic - they watched Carson throw a terrible pick that rendered those sensational catches moot.
It usually happens when he's under pressure and forces him to make poor decisions or display poor throwing mechanics (i.e. throwing floaters off his back foot).
Card offensive line is just so-so without the injured Veldheer and Mathis. Individual backup linemen (most notably Wetzel at LT) have done heroic jobs keeping enemy pass rushers off Palmer's back.
The usually deep group of Cardinal receivers have been thinned by injuries - Jaron Brown is on IR and both Fitzgerald and Floyd took ferocious amounts of physical punishment in the Niner game. The TE corps is down to Gresham, Fells and Valles.
Minnesota's defensive strength is in its secondary (where its safeties - Sendejo H Smith and CB's - Rhodes and Newman are rated Average to High Quality by PFF). The story of the Vike defense has a lot to do with turnovers (including 10 interceptions vs. their opponents' 2). But Vikes have also shown they can rush the passer (they sacked Newton 8 times - mostly coverage-sacks). Griffen, Hunter Robison and Joseph are responsible for 18 of Minnesota's 22 sacks. (All four are listed as 4-3 defensive linemen - suggesting that the Vikes are abe to use only four defenders to pressure enemy QB's. This may be why the Viking secondary is able to look so good).
We expect BA to stay with his regular MO of (a) using the threat of the pass to set up the run and (b) running early and often to set up chunk-pass plays.
With Floyd and Fitz a bit dinged up, we might see BA taking some of the load off his WR via screens and outlet passes to D Johnson and short stuff to his TE's. Also, don't be surprised if BA uses Nelson and Smokey Brown multi-receiver sets to put more pressure on Minnesota backup defenders,
Key Matchups: Floyd and Fitz vs, Newman and Rhodes. D Johnson vs. H Smith. Gresham vs. Sendejo. Jo Brown or Nelson vs, Munnerlyn or Waynes. Griffen and Joseph vs. Wetzel and Humphries.
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Viking Run Defense
Vikes are giving up 4.1 yards per carry on the ground. David Johnson had an "off" day Sunday and still gained over 100 yards in runs and receptions.
To put things bluntly - If you take away that killer "Turnover Ratio" stat from the VIkings, "they got nothing." Ergo - Reduce the interception-threat by pounding away with David Johnson. (Of course, football is all about matchups, adjustments and readjustments, so you can expect Zimmer to make "stopping the run" his top priority. And should the Vikes stone the Cardinal running attack, BA might be forced to adjust by going to the air.
Note - According to PFF, nose tackle Linval Joseph had an significant impact early in the game vs. the Giants but wore down as the game progressed. Therefore - even though a heavy dose of Cardinal runs may not deliver early results - BA might decide to run early and often if only to wear down Minnesota's defense. (Note - Joseph drew raves from PFF for his consistent play last week vs. the Skins).
Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Kendricks and Sendejo. Cardinal OL vs. Viking front seven
K xx Forbath
P 18 Locke
H 18 Locke
LS 47 McDermott
KR 84 Patterson
PR 35 Sherels
K 07 Catanzaro
P 02 Butler
H 02 Butler
LS 46 Brewer
KR 38 Ellington
PR 12 Jn Brown
Matchup: Viking Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Walsh missed his 4th XP Sunday, and Zimmer cut him. He's replaced by Forbath. On the Cardinal side of the ledger, Butler is b-a-a-c-k as the punter (& Quigley was released). Nothing jumps out at you on either team's special teams, but the neat thing about special teams is that the sample-size is so small, that a long return can turn a rotten unit into a pro bowl one in an instant. (Of course the flip side of that equation is that a couple of screw-ups can turn a formerly explosive team into bums).
Catanzaro had a good game last Sunday vs. SF (but that could mean he's due to lay an egg against the Vikings).
Key matchups: Patterson and Sherels vs. Cardinal punt coverage team.
SF: Zimmer comes from a defensive background. One thing you could say that he isn't afraid to make midseason moves - first he fires Norv Turner as his OC and then cuts his kicker midseason.
It's hard to evaluate the Turner move (Norv enjoys a great deal of respect throughout the League, but we can't help but wonder how much the dislocation has hurt the offense. (especially when they've had to break in Bradford, find a RB to replace the injured Adrian Peterson and cope with injuries along their OL. Football teams can deal with this type of situation in one of two ways (1) they can fold up like a cheap tent or (2) they can fight back like cage rats.
AZ: Cards have gotten back to .500 but haven't performed to the high level they reached a year ago. There's no reason why the Cards can't be at the cusp of a long winning streak, (but it's equally within their grasp to go on a 4 or 5 game bender). It will be up to BA to keep the team culture pointed in the right direction and his injury-depleted squad playing at a consistently high level.
The SF win should have been a laugher. It wasn't It wa left to our kicker (not known for his stellar consistency) to win it. (Fortunately he did). We can't keep doing things like this and expect luck to fall our way every time.
The instinct is to point fingers and urge management to cut every offending player. We think a better (though not fool-proof) alternative is for each player to be held accountable for how they screwed up and then fixing it. (Example: there should be a way to get Carson Palmer - even at his AARP age - to avoid throw blindly into spots populated by the other guys (especially when the overriding priority is to run out the clock).
On paper, the Viking game is more than winnable, but the Cardinals seem to find novel ways they can put those kinds of games at risk Take care of business in Minnesota, Sunday!