Who will win: Vikings at Cardinals?
By: Grant Schwieger
Is it crazy to say a game in Week 2 of the NFL season, before Minnesota has even played at home, feels like a must-win already? The Vikings entered Cincinnati last week as road favorites and quickly alerted their fans and the league why being confident or optimistic about them is a terrible idea. There were more than 8 months between Minnesota’s last two games, yet Week 1 seemed as if the team picked up right where they left off at the end of the 2020 season. This team is too good to be blown out every game, but they also are not good enough to put away the teams that they should. This results in a lot of gut-wrenching endings like the game against the Bengals was in every sense of the word.
No one wants to start 0-2, but the season is 17 games long now. The season would not be over. However, games against the Seahawks and Browns loom on the horizon and the Vikings might be underdogs in both of those as well. There is also this statistic that team reporter Courtney Cronin dug up:
There is no reason to ignore the obvious. If the Vikings start 0-2, Minnesota might be in for a looooong season. The Vikings face the tall task of taking on a Cardinals team that dropped 38 points on the road in Tennessee. Let’s take a look at what the Vikings need to do in Week 2.
Slowing down Kyler Murray and Company
If Mike Zimmer gets double-digit hours of sleep this week while trying to gameplan for Kyler Murray, I think we would all be surprised. There is simply no way to truly prepare for someone who can do this.
Zimmer intelligently said earlier this week that he knows the Vikings’ defense will not be able to keep Murray in the pocket all day, and of course, he is right. That does not mean they can’t slow him down, though. The entire defense has to stay disciplined and trust their assignments and their teammates. For Minnesota to do that, though, they would need their defense, specifically their linebackers, to be healthy. That doesn’t look to be the case with Anthony Barr out and Eric Kendricks questionable as well. If the Vikings are trotting out a full backup LB core on Sunday, this could be one of those times Minnesota gets blown out.
After looking past Kyler Murray’s insane athletic ability, there are Arizona’s receiving weapons. They have future Hall of Famer DeAndre Hopkins as a headliner, but he and Christian Kirk, AJ Green, and Rondale Moore all received 5+ targets in Week 1. Running back Chase Edmonds also caught all 4 of his targets and is joined by James Connor in the backfield. The Cardinals’ offensive line is also not a big weakness. Either the Vikings’ pass-rush needs to overtake the game (Arizona RT Kelvin Beachum will be a game-time decision, looking at you, Danielle Hunter), or the secondary needs to have the game of their lives and fly towards the ball. Murray led the NFL in Big Time Throws (per PFF) with 6 in Week 1, but he is also good for about one Turnover Worthy Play a game over the last 2 seasons as well. This Minnesota coverage unit needs to take advantage of when that play pops up. There can be no mistakes like this one from Kris Boyd Week 1.
Containing Chandler Jones
As good as Murray and the offense were for the Cardinals last week, Chandler Jones single-handedly made their game a blowout. He had 7 pressures, 5 sacks, including 2 forced fumbles in just 33 pass-rushing snaps. The Titans mistakenly kept their LT Taylor Lewan isolated on Jones all game and it resulted in Lewan’s worst pass-blocking game in what is his 8th season. Bad news for Vikings fans, Taylor Lewan is MUCH better than Rashod Hill. The good news is, though, that Tennessee outlined exactly what NOT to do when facing Chandler Jones. Expect a lot of chips from TEs and RBs and double teams sent Jones’ way. That may open the way for JJ Watt and the rest of Arizona’s pass-rushers to make an impact, but Minnesota just cannot afford to replicate plays like this from last week.
That was one of the best games that Jones has ever played as a pass-rusher, so Minnesota might just be hoping for some regression on his part in Week 2. He is, however, wanting a new contract, so his motivation seems to be at an all-time high. If the Vikings are unable to contain Chandler Jones and Kirk Cousins sustains some of the hits Ryan Tannehill did last week, this game might end with Sean Mannion or Kellen Mond under center. Expect a lot to be thrown Jones’ way by Klint Kubiak.
Exploiting the Arizona Secondary
If there is one area of this Cardinals team the Vikings should be able to take advantage of, it is their secondary. They brought Malcolm Butler over in the offseason to be their #1 CB, and he has since retired. Budda Baker is an underrated safety who has been solid his entire career, but his safety partner Jalen Thompson is mostly unproven. Byron Murphy, Robert Alford, and rookie Marco Wilson make up Arizona’s top three CBs. Murphy is in his third season and has had an up and down career thus far. Alford played Week 1 for the first time since 2018, and Wilson is a 4th round rookie.
This Cardinals secondary performed pretty well last week, but that was mostly due to Chandler Jones and the Titans self-destructing. Tennessee owns what is easily the NFL’s top WR duo in AJ Brown Jr and Julio Jones, yet the two received only 13 combined targets, the first of which being an incompletion to Brown with 10:59 to go in the second quarter. If Minnesota waits that long to target Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins and/or Klint Kubiak may find fans with pitchforks at the Minneapolis airport when the team gets home.
If the Vikings want to expose this Cardinals secondary, they need to make life easier on themselves with play-action, something the Titans did not do last week. Former Tennessee Offensive Coordinator Arthur Smith led such great offenses the last few years that he is now the head coach in Atlanta. Ryan Tannehill had the highest percentage of play-action dropbacks in the NFL last year. Last week, Tannehill had the second-lowest percentage. The blame for that complete 180 on offense for Tennessee falls on new OC Todd Downing. Is it difficult to run play-action when you are down by 25 points? Yes, but it also might be the reason why you are down 25 points. Play-action has been a staple of Kubiak-led offenses for years, so this should not be an issue for Minnesota.
The Vikings also might finally have themselves a solid third WR in KJ Osborn. He caught all of his 7 targets for 76 yards, forcing one missed tackle, and converting 3 first downs, the biggest of which being on 4th and 4 on Minnesota’s game-tying drive in regulation. The Vikings do not need Osborn to be a star, they just need him to be capable of taking advantage of the opportunities left by defenses focusing on Jefferson and Thielen. Through one week, he seems up to the task. Osborn could prove to be an important piece to this offense moving forward.
It is hard to be optimistic entering Week 2 for Minnesota after Arizona’s beatdown of Tennessee and the Vikings’ loss in Cincinnati. However, games like this are why the NFL is so unpredictable. Minnesota could easily come out and look impressive on the road, similarly to how they did in Seattle last season. That game, of course, ended in heartbreak for the Vikings, which is how I envision this one going as well. The Cardinals try to throw the ball too much to AJ Green instead of their three superior receiver options, allowing Minnesota to keep it close. Arizona’s rushing game will prevent the Vikings from getting the ball back at the end of the game, though, with the final score being Arizona 27, Minnesota 20.