NFL Gridiron Gab Week Nine Preview: Arizona at Minnesota

Season Records:

Cardinals: 3-4, 3rd in NFC West, Last Week: Loss vs. Tampa Bay, 38-35

Vikings: 2-5, 3rd in NFC North, Last Week: Loss @ New England, 28-18


Sunday, November 7, 1:00 p.m., EST, Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN

Things Could Really Head Downhill Quickly for the Cardinals:

The Cardinals lost back-to-back games for the first time since November 2008 with their losses in Weeks 7 and 8.  In a flash, Arizona slid back to third place, one game behind the Seattle Seahawks (4-3) and half a game behind the St. Louis Rams (4-4).  It seems that the Cards are starting to lose their collective balance on the tight rope they’ve been walking since Week 1 against the Rams.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be many reasons to think Arizona will collect themselves immediately.

The reasons for the pessimistic outlook are many.  First, at Week 9 the head coach has flipped flopped back to Derek Anderson to start this Sunday, but it’s clearly by default.  Against the Buccaneers, Max Hall started out fast with a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald on Arizona’s second possession, but promptly followed it up with two pick-sixes.  Derek Anderson also started fast when he relieved Hall before the half, but he also threw two interceptions (though one was a tipped ball), the second of which slammed the door on a Cardinals comeback.

The quarterback situation is obviously in shambles and there’s no reason to think it will get any better for the remainder of the season.  Anderson isn’t going to magically figure it all out any time soon and Hall needs a lot more time to develop, which leads one inexorably to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter who Whisenhunt puts out there.  Neither quarterback can be relied upon to carry the offense.  The best the Cardinals can hope for is to not allow defensive points off turnovers and to not throw the game away, like Anderson did last week.  Hopefully, the Cardinals can get it going on the ground and limit the damage Anderson can inflict via interceptions.

Speaking of turnovers, the Cardinals have a turnover ratio of (-9); only the Carolina Panthers are worse.  Arizona has lost 11 fumbles, second-most in the NFL.  The Cardinals have been intercepted 12 times, once again second-most in the NFL.

Things honestly haven’t been that much better on defense, despite the recent optimism.  Perhaps the fact that they haven’t given up another 41 point game leads some to believe that things are improving, but they did give up 38 points to the Bucs, which is close enough.  In addition, the Cardinals have given up 198 points in eight games for 24.8 points per game.  Further, they haven’t held an opponent other than New Orleans to less than 23 points since Week 1.  Finally, the defense is 21st in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (231.0) and 29th in rushing yards allowed per game (143.1).

Unfortunately, the coaching staff is sinking the Cardinals as well.  On offense, with Kurt Warner recently gone and Todd Haley long gone, the coaching staff is exposed, specifically Whisenhunt.  When Warner was running the offense, instead of Whisenhunt, the head coach could hide behind Warner’s amazing ability to read defenses, beat the blitz, and fire pinpoint accurate passes to hot receivers.  Now that Whisenhunt is responsible for game planning and calling plays, we’ve seen mistake after mistake so far this season.   It was never more apparent than last week against the Buccaneers.

On defense, Bill Davis should be fired for the same reason that Clancy Pendergast was fired: he is absolutely terrified of dialing up consistent pressure by blitzing, even on clear passing downs.  There is no excuse for sending the minimum amount of guys on 3rd and 10, which the Cardinals did constantly against the Buccaneers and really all season.  There’s no way the defensive secondary can be asked to hold their coverage for five, six, seven seconds or more while opposing quarterbacks stand back and pick apart the coverage.

Whisenhunt recently tried to put his finger on exactly what’s plaguing the Cardinals in the last few weeks.  Here’s how he put it:

The biggest issue we are having now as a football team is that when it doesn’t show up like it does in practice, we’re not adjusting to it very well.  The only way to get better at that is by experiencing it.”

I would think the biggest issues the team is facing is abysmal quarterback play, giving up too many points on defense, allowing an ridiculous amount of turnovers, and making bad play-calling decisions.  It’s about more than execution at this point.  It’s about game-planning and fielding a competitive team (especially on offense) that is prepared to win.

The Vikings Are Dealing with Issues of Their Own:

Luckily, the Cardinals are facing a team that’s in a relative mess as well.  There’s the never-ending saga regarding Brett Favre and Brad Childress.  As if that wasn’t enough, Randy Moss has been cut by the Vikings within a month of being signed.  Despite these headlines and the fact that they are 2-5, the Vikings are a very dangerous team whether they have Favre or Tarvaris Jackson at the helm.

In terms of statistics, the Vikings aren’t doing so bad, which could mean that their season is due for a turnaround, despite the fact that league sources are buzzing about Brad Childress losing his job.  Whether that’s in the future or not, you can’t deny that Minnesota runs and stops the run very well.  They rank 7th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (134.6) and 13th in rushing yards allowed per game (102.4).

Adrian Peterson is having another fine season and he can take over any game at any time.  He’s the most violent runner in the NFL and he’s already racked up 776 yards on 165 carries (4.7 yards/carry) and six touchdowns.  He’s the heart and soul of the Minnesota offense.  If the Cardinals are going to have any shot against the Vikings, they must neutralize Adrian Peterson; easier said than done.

While the Vikings are down one obvious receiving threat, they still have other weapons, namely Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe.  The two have combined for 51 catches, 658 yards, and four touchdowns.  Peterson has also been a reliable target, totaling 22 catches for 194 yards, with three receptions over 20 yards.

I suppose the big question, however, will be at the quarterback spot for the Vikings.  As everyone knows, Brett Favre suffered a chin laceration against the New England Patriots last week.  The injury knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter; the laceration took eight stitches.  Before Favre was knocked out of the game, he completed 22 of 32 passes for 259 yards and 1 INT.  It’s unclear at this point who is really making the personnel decisions over in Minnesota, but many suspect that Favre is running the Vikings’ ship, rather than Childress.  Here’s what the head coach had to say on the subject:

Let’s have a little history lesson … and you can probably venture a pretty good guess in whether you thought he’d go, you know.  I think, probably, he takes a swing at it next week.  What do you think?”

Something tells me to expect Favre on the field against the Cardinals this Sunday.  It’s a feeling confirmed by USA Today as well, considering that Favre says he’s okay and expects to play.  It seems that if he’s got two legs to stand on and an arm to throw the ball, Brett Favre will be out there.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings surprisingly haven’t gotten a very consistent pass rush.  They only have six sacks through eight games.  The fearsome combination of Jared Allen, Pat Williams, and Kevin Williams have only totaled two of those six sacks.  Something tells me, however, that Jared Allen could jump start his season against Cardinals’ left tackle Levi Brown.

The Vikings defense isn’t creating many turnovers (9 total), having only recovered three fumbles and intercepted six passes.  Favre alone has accounted for 11 interceptions, which has obviously been destroying their turnover ratio, which stands at (-7).  You don’t necessarily have to create turnovers on defense to be successful.  It’s not like the Vikings have been blown out in any other their five losses.  In fact, their largest margin of defeat was 10 points against the Patriots last week at Foxboro, which isn’t too bad a job against that team in their own stadium.  Statistically, Minnesota’s defense is close to a top 10 unit in defending against the pass and run; they rank 14th and 13th in those categories, respectively.  It could be very tough sledding for the Cardinals’ weak offense, especially on the road.

The Bottom Line:

I would never consider a road trip to Minnesota a welcoming endeavor, despite what hardships the Vikings may currently face.  Adrian Peterson is still a beast and the Cardinals give up 143 rushing yards per game.  If Arizona allows it, Peterson could have a day of days, which would make the question of who’s playing quarterback for Minnesota irrelevant.

If, however, the Cardinals are able to stuff Peterson (which they did handily in 2009 at home against Favre and the Vikings) and create a few turnovers, they could steal one on the road.

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2 Responses to “NFL Gridiron Gab Week Nine Preview: Arizona at Minnesota”

  1. Will Brodsky says:

    Correction: The Cardinals’ defense gave up 20 points against the Saints in Week 5.

  2. Russ Loede says:

    Thanks Will.