The Arizona Cardinals (4-3) travel to Minnesota this week to take on the Vikings (4-2) at Mall of America Field. The Cardinals got off to a hot start this year but have since fallen back to earth a bit. The Vikings will be seeking a win to keep pace with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. Here are my keys to the game for Minnesota:
Adrian Peterson, Vikings Rushing Attack vs. Cardinals Run Defense
The Vikings are 8th in the league with 126.7 yards per game on the ground, with the bulk of that coming from a healthy Adrian Peterson (83.2 YPG, 2 TD). But the team is also getting yardage from backup Toby Gerhart (16.8 YPG, 0 TD) as well as Christian Ponder (15.0 YPG, 1 TD) and Percy Harvin (10.5 YPG, 1 TD).
The Cardinals have a great pass defense, led by Patrick Peterson, but they are vulnerable on the ground. Arizona gives up 113.3 rushing yards per game, 19th in the NFL. If the Vikings can execute their rushing attack and mix up their playcalling, they can keep the Cardinal defense guessing.
Get an Early Lead, Establish the Run
If the Vikings hope to win the game, they have to establish an early lead—similar to their gameplan against San Francisco. While Ponder aired it out last week against Washington, he was throwing to try to recover from a large point deficit. If Minnesota can establish their running game in the early stages of the game, they can avoid throwing deep to the likes of Patrick Peterson and Kerry Rhodes, and can exploit the size mismatch that Kyle Rudolph brings to every game.
Win the War in the Trenches
It’s a football cliché, but so often games are decided by who wins the war in the trenches. Both teams have great defensive lines, with Arizona registering 19 sacks (good for third in the league,) and the Vikings with 15. Both teams have forced seven fumbles, but the Cardinals have been able to recover all seven while the Vikings have scooped up five.
Keep the Score Low
Minnesota was able to jump out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter against Washington last week, but the Redskins scored the next 24 points. The Cardinals have not had a good offense all year, with a bottom-five passing and rushing attack. In addition, starting Quarterback Kevin Kolb will not be playing this week, thanks to having several of his ribs detach from his sternum last week against Buffalo (ouch!!) If the Vikings could have turned a couple of those early field goals into touchdowns, they would have stood a better chance at holding off the Redskins’ comeback. This week, the Vikings don’t have to be as worried about giving up the big play, as Arizona QB John Skelton is not the big-play threat that Robert Griffin III is.
Play All Four Quarters
There’s another cliché for you…but last week the Vikings were buried in the fourth quarter after a pick-six and a 76-yard touchdown run by RG III. With the Cardinals anemic offense, the Vikings should look to grab a lead and then play their ball control game, making good short passes, moving the chains, and not making turnovers. Arizona will have enough trouble scoring on the Vikings without them helping the cause by fumbling or throwing costly interceptions.
Hit Kyle Rudolph in the End Zone
You can’t teach 6-foot-7. There, I completed my trope quota for the whole month. The Vikings don’t have the benefit of a quick-strike offense, and they have difficulty stretching the field. What they do have is a giant of a man who wears number 82. The Vikings are perhaps the most dangerous in the red zone. As if having Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and a shifty Christian Ponder wasn’t enough, Rudolph creates ridiculous size mismatches, as evidenced by his five receiving touchdowns (the rest of the team has three combined.) If the Vikings can run the ball effectively between the twenties, they could give the Cardinals fits by forcing them to pick their poison in the red zone.